Vitamins and Minerals


To supplement or not to supplement...

The many myths about vitamins and minerals and the widespread research into their benefits show just how much value people attach to these essential nutritional nutrients. But to obtain their benefits, you certainly don't need to swallow whole bottles of pills! Too much of a good thing can be bad...

Adequate amounts

The body cannot synthesize all necessary vitamins and minerals, so it must get them from food. But only small amounts are required and a well-balanced diet will meet the needs of most people. This means eating foods from each of the following food groups each day (as recommended in the Canadian Food Guide) :

 Girls and boysFemalesMales
 2-3 yrs4-8 yrs9-13 yrs14-18 yrs19-50 yrs> 50 yrs14-18 yrs19-50 yrs> 50 yrs
Vegetables et fruits45677-8788-107
Grain products34666-76787
Milk and alternatives223-43-4233-423
Meat and alternatives111-2222333

People in a hurry often skip meals or eat out a lot; they compensate for their poor diet by reaching for a bottle of multivitamins. And yet, vitamins can only do their job when they are combined with specific nutrients; taken on their own won't cure anything. Furthermore, unless your diet is very inadequate or you suffer from certain specific diseases, you probably don't need to take mineral and vitamin supplements on a regular basis.

Vitamins

Thirteen vitamins are considered to be essential. These are divided into two major groups. The first group includes the vitamins A, D, E, and K and they are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. These fat-soluble vitamins are not easily eliminated from the body and when supplemented excessively can accumulate in the system.

The other group of vitamins includes vitamin C and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid or B5, pyridoxine or B6, biotin, folic acid, and B12). Since these vitamins are water soluble, excess amounts are rapidly eliminated through the kidneys.

The largest-selling vitamins are vitamins A, C, and E because they have the reputation of preventing or healing just about everything. For example, vitamin A is said to cure cancer, improve vision, and rejuvenate the skin. Vitamin E is supposed to prevent heart disease, increase sexual performances, and delay aging. As for vitamin C, some say that it is a cure-all, from cold prevention to healing cancer...

Most supplements contain amounts of vitamins largely in excess of the body's daily needs. Except for vitamin E, so-called "natural" vitamins are no better and are no more easily absorbed than other vitamin supplements or those found in food.

Minerals

The body contains over 60 different minerals, and of these 22 are considered to be essential and they are all represented in a well-balanced diet.
Supplements of minerals and trace elements are very popular these days, and many see them as a miracle cure for all the health problems related to our modern way of life. Be prudent, however, and do not to take too many mineral supplements; we still don't know what amounts can be harmful to the body.

Who really needs vitamin and mineral supplements?

Unless you have special needs, it is better to take a multivitamin containing a sufficient quantity of several elements than taking a vitamin or a mineral alone in large quantities.

In general, North Americans don't eat enough foods containing zinc, calcium and iron. In particular, women are at risk of calcium and iron deficiency especially pregnant women. They may also require more vitamin D (found in milk), and folic acid. Post-menopausal women also sometimes need to supplement their diet with calcium and vitamin D. Elderly people of both sexes who eat very little are often advised to take multivitamins. They are also sometimes at risk of zinc deficiency. Alcoholics often have a very bad diet and may require B-complex vitamin supplements. And smokers need more vitamin C - but one glass of orange juice per day is usually enough to cover their needs.

Note: Many North Americans eat too much salt. People who have a heart condition or hypertension should consult their pharmacist before taking salt substitutes; these products contain a lot of potassium, which may interact with their medications.

There are many sources of information on good diet habits and the taking of vitamins and mineral supplements. Make sure that the people you consult are trained professionals with a recognized educational background in nutrition. Their advice should always be adapted to your needs and your health status. For more information on vitamins and minerals, consult your pharmacist or dietitian.

Vitamins
Their Roles in the Body

Vitamins are indispensable to life. They play a variety of roles; some bodily functions need a specific vitamin, while others may require several. Vitamins do not give energy, however, and taking more than you need will give you no benefit.

Here are the main functions associated with each major vitamin:

VitaminsFunctions
Folic Acid Foetus development, protein use, blood formation
Beta-caroteneConverted into vitamin A (see vitamin A)
BiotinHelps transform food into energy
Vitamin ASkin, and bone health; essential for eyesight
Vitamin B1Sugar transformation; brain and nerve health
Vitamin B2Essential to growth and for the use of other vitamins
Vitamin B3Helps transform food into energy
Skin, nerves, and digestive tract health
Vitamin B5Helps transform food into energy
Vitamin B6Protein transformation; brain function support
Vitamin B12Blood formation; nervous system functions
Vitamin CGums and teeth health; improves iron absorption
Vitamin DStrong bones and teeth
Vitamin ERed blood cell support; reduce platelet aggregation
Vitamin KBlood coagulation

This list is not exhaustive but simply shows some of the more important functions carried out by vitamins.

Eating a varied, balanced diet ensures that you have an adequate vitamin and mineral intake.

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