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The Ultimate Guide to Vitamins and Minerals

Eating the right foods is key to maintaining our health, but even those that eat healthfully can easily miss out on essential vitamins and minerals that their body needs. In fact, many people today have vitamin and mineral deficiencies that deeply impact both their mental and physical health. In order to change this, it’s important to learn about vitamins and minerals, and what they actually do for the body. Getting the proper nutrients into our bodies will help us live long, healthy lives that are free from debilitating diseases. This guide will teach you what these critical vitamins and minerals are and what they do for the body.

Vitamin and Minerals: How Important Are They?

A lot of us go through the day choosing foods based on what food group they are in. A serving of vegetables? Check. A small portion of lean meat? Check. However, even healthy eaters can miss essential vitamins and minerals by using this method. This is why it is so critical that more people learn what nutrients our bodies need to function properly.

Knowledge Is Power

A huge reason why we are missing out on certain vitamins and minerals is due to our vague knowledge of nutrition. Many Americans are in the dark when it comes to our health. In fact, a study from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that only 22 percent of those surveyed were aware that beans, broccoli, and milk are all high in calcium. How are Americans supposed to know what minerals and vitamins they need if they have no idea what foods contain them?

Who Is at Risk?

Who is at risk of vitamin deficiencies? In short, everyone is at risk. However, some groups are more likely to miss out on crucial vitamins and minerals than others. According to a study, those with disabilities were especially lacking in nutrient consumption. This same study found that most U.S. adults don’t get the essential nutrients that they need each day. This problem isn’t limited to adults, either. Children who are picky eaters can also miss out on getting the necessary vitamins and minerals that they need.

Poor Health Due to Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to significant health problems. Some of these health problems include:

  • Osteoporosis (calcium deficiency)
  • Anemia (iron deficiency)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (magnesium and/or potassium deficiency)
  • Constipation or bloat (potassium deficiency)
  • Depression (vitamin C or vitamin D deficiency)
  • Scurvy (vitamin C deficiency)
  • Keratomalacia (vitamin A deficiency)
  • Nerve and brain damage (vitamin B12 deficiency)

While this is not a complete list, the health problems listed here are serious and can significantly impact your quality of life.One of the ways in which people avoid these deficiencies (in addition to a healthy diet) is by taking dietary supplements. For instance, many people are vitamin D deficient and will simply supplement their diet with vitamin D capsules, while others will take a single multivitamin for optimal health. Getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals for the body isn’t always easy, and dietary supplements can help those who could be missing out on vital nutrients.

Vitamins and Minerals 101

Even a basic knowledge of vitamins and minerals can dramatically improve our nutrition.First, let’s talk about what vitamins and minerals are, and their roles in the human body. Both vitamins and minerals are considered micronutrients, but the two are different in certain ways.

Vitamins are organic compounds that can be broken down by air, heat, or acid. They are divided into two categories: water soluble and fat soluble. Water soluble vitamins are found in the water in your food and are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Fat soluble vitamins are dissolved in the body’s fat cells and are stored for later use. The 13 essential vitamins that humans need for our bodies are described below:

Water Soluble Vitamins

What it does:

Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, has various roles throughout the body. One of these roles is metabolizing amino acids and glycogen. It is also instrumental in the normal function of the nervous system, and helps hormone and red blood cell function, as well.

Where it’s found:

Meat, eggs, poultry, fish, bananas, fortified cereal grains, and cooked spinach.

What it does:

Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 plays a significant role in the production of cellular energy, and helps make DNA and red blood cells. This helps contribute to a healthy nervous system. Many people take vitamin B12 in supplement form, particularly vegans and vegetarians, because it is found in foods of animal origin.

Where it’s found:

Animal sources, such as beef, fish, chicken, milk, and eggs.

Biommtin

What it does:

Biotin is a B vitamin that helps the body metabolize carbs, proteins, and fats. It also supports the body’s production of skin, digestive tract, and cells. Biotin is commonly taken as a supplement to treat diabetes, brittle nails, and hair loss.

Where it’s found:

There are many foods that contain biotin, but some of the more common sources of biotin include bread, eggs, dairy products, peanuts, salmon, and yeast.

Folic acid folate

What it does:

Also known as vitamin B9, folic acid plays an important role in the production of DNA synthesis, the metabolism of amino acids, and the formation of red blood cells. You may have heard of this vitamin being marketed to pregnant women because of the vital role it plays in fetal development.

Where it’s found:

Folic acid can be found in breads, cereals, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach and asparagus are good sources), beets, dates, yeast, liver, and avocados.

Niacin

What it does:

Also known as vitamin B3, niacin plays a key role in over 200 chemical reactions in the body. Some of these include cellular production, helps convert food into glucose, and produces macromolecules such as fatty acids and cholesterol. Niacin also supports sex hormones, adrenal function, and circulation. Niacin has been shown to reduce inflammation and could potentially lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Where it’s found:

Niacin is found in foods such as poultry, fish, beef, whole wheat bread, lentils, and peanuts.

Pantothenic acid

What it does:

This water soluble vitamin is instrumental in cellular energy production and supports fatty acid synthesis. It can be found in both plant and animal food sources, and isn’t as much of a concern when it comes to vitamin deficiencies.

Where it’s found:

Pantothenic acid can be found in foods such as egg yolk, organ meats, avocados, whole grains, peanuts, cashew nuts, soybeans, brown rice, milk, and broccoli.

Riboflavin

What it does:

Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, plays a large role in the body’s cellular energy production, red blood cell production, and antioxidant activity. It also contributes to healthy skin and vision.

Where it’s found:

Riboflavin can be found in food sources such as, milk, eggs, salmon, beef, fortified cereals, spinach, and broccoli.

Thiamin

What it does:

Thiamin is vital to cellular energy production in the body and is deeply involved in the synthesis of DNA and RNA. This vitamin is also found in both plant and animal food sources, making it less of a concern for deficiencies.

Where it’s found:

Lentils, whole grains, red meats, yeast, pork, nuts, peas, sunflower seeds, cauliflower, legumes, spinach, and milk.

What it does:

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and helps form collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels. It also helps our bodies absorb iron. You have no doubt heard of its ability to aid the immune system. It may not be the cure for the common cold, but it has been shown to lessen symptoms when taken before the onset of a cold.

Where it’s found:

This vitamin is most abundant in fruits and vegetables such as red bell peppers, kiwis, dark leafy greens, broccoli, berries, papayas, and tomatoes.

Water Soluble Vitamins

What it does:

Vitamin A refers to a group of nutritional organic compounds that include retinol, retinoic acid, and beta-carotene. It is known for helping maintain healthy skin, teeth, and skeletal and soft tissue. Vitamin A has also been used to treat certain cancers and cataracts, although the results of its effectiveness are unclear. Vitamin A taken in excess can be toxic, and it’s important to talk with a doctor before taking vitamin A supplements.

Where it’s found:

Dark leafy greens, fortified cereals, carrots, and yellow fruits and vegetables.

What it does:

This vitamin helps the body absorb calcium in order to build strong bones and teeth. It also supports the body’s immune system by helping it fight infection. While we can get vitamin D through certain foods and though sunlight, it is relatively common to be vitamin D deficient (more than 40 percent of Americans are deficient). Because of this, many people take vitamin D supplements in the winter when sunlight is scarce.

Where it’s found:

Sunlight, orange juice, mushrooms, eggs, fish, and fortified milk.

What it does:

This powerful antioxidant is responsible for protecting cells, tissues, and organs from damage, and could potentially help reduce the risk of various health conditions, such as cancer and heart disease. It is commonly found in skincare products to reduce blemishes and signs of aging.

Where it’s found:

Nuts such as almonds, vegetable oil, seeds, and green leafy vegetables.

What it does:

Vitamin k is known for its role in blood coagulation and building bones. Those in danger of excessive bleeding may be urged by a doctor to take vitamin K supplements.

Where it’s found:

Dark leafy greens, cheese, eggs, and meats.

Minerals are inorganic and are much simpler in chemical composition than vitamins. They are divided into two categories: macro minerals and trace minerals. Macro minerals are needed by the body in large quantities, while trace minerals are needed by the body in much smaller amounts.

Macro Minerals

Calcium

What it does:

This macro mineral helps the body maintain healthy bones and teeth.

Where it’s found:

Dairy, dark leafy greens, salmon, lentils, and legumes.

Chloride

What it does:

Chloride helps maintain the body’s acid-base balance and could help the liver remove waste from our bodies.

Where it’s found:

Olives, tomatoes, celery, and rye.

Magnesium

What it does:

Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, and keeps your bones strong.

Where it’s found:

Spinach, legumes, nuts and seeds, oats, and milk.

Phosphorus

What it does:

MThis mineral is used by all cells in the body and helps support strong bones and teeth.

Where it’s found:

Meats and milk.

Potassium

What it does:

Potassium supports heart and kidney function, as well as being a powerful electrolyte.

Where it’s found:

Bananas, nuts, potatoes, milk, avocados, and leafy green vegetables.

Sodium

What it does:

Our bodies need sodium in order to control blood pressure and blood volume. In addition, it helps our muscles and nerves function properly.

Where it’s found:

Milk, beets, celery, and table salt.

Sulfur

What it does:

Sulfur is one of several amino acids that help cleanse the blood and support protein synthesis.

Where it’s found:

Eggs, milk products, legumes, garlic, onions, Brussel sprouts, and turnips.

Trace Minerals

Chromium

What it does:

Chromium plays a key part in the body’s digestion of food. It may help those with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar.

Where it’s found:

Cheeses, spices, whole grains, potatoes, meats, and numerous vegetables and fruits.

Copper

What it does:

Copper helps form connective tissue and also helps metabolize iron. Copper is also an antioxidant that reduces free radicals.

Where it’s found:

Nuts, seeds, seafood, and whole grains.

Iodine

What it does:

Iodine plays a critical role in normal thyroid function

Where it’s found:

Seafood and iodized table salt.

Iron

What it does:

Iron does a lot of tasks for our bodies, one being the production of hemoglobin. Iron also helps convert blood sugar into energy for our bodies.

Where it’s found:

Red meat, pork, beans, seafood, dark leafy greens, and dried fruit.

Manganese

What it does:

This mineral plays a part in forming connective tissue, bones, blood clotting, and sex hormones. It also helps metabolize fats and carbohydrates, and supports healthy brain function.

Where it’s found:

Whole grains, nuts, and leafy vegetables.

Selenium

What it does:

Selenium supports thyroid function and the immune system. It may also protect the body against free radicals and cancer.

Where it’s found:

Brazil nuts, brown rice, chia seeds, broccoli, and shiitake mushrooms.

Zinc

What it does:

Zinc plays a key role in human growth and reproduction development. It also helps maintain a healthy immune system.

Where it’s found:

Meat, grains, nuts, and dairy products.

Are You Getting the Right Amount of Vitamins and Minerals?

No matter how healthy you think your food choices are, there is always the possibility that you are missing out on certain vitamins and minerals. Our body needs these vitamins and minerals in order to function optimally, and there are many health risks associated with too much or too little of them. To make sure that you are getting the needed amounts, it’s important that you talk with your doctor. With so much at stake, it’s important to educate ourselves on what these vitamins and minerals do for us so that we can live longer and healthier lives.

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