Vitamins and minerals are perhaps the most eagerly demanded, most easily prescribed and most happily sold medicines! Pharmaceutical companies are making billions by selling them.
Agreed- vitamins and minerals are very important parts of our balanced diet but are they really that necessary to be given as special daily supplements? Let’s find out the truth.
Our guide to vitamins and minerals will give a complete overview to clear many concepts (and misconceptions).
What are vitamins and minerals?
Vitamins and Minerals are considered essential micro-nutrients.
They are ‘essential’ because of two reasons.
- They play important role in body’s functioning.
- They are not synthesized in the body (at least not in the adequate amounts).
That’s why they need to be supplied through food or supplements.
They are ‘micro-nutrients’ because they are required in small quantity measurable in micrograms or milligrams.
Vitamins are organic compounds present naturally in various plant and animal-sourced foods and they are also produced synthetically in laboratory.
Minerals are inorganic compounds which are naturally present in soil and also, in different plant and animal-sourced foods.
Read more on Vitamins and Minerals on Harvard Education.
What are fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins?
- Fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat and Water-soluble ones dissolve in water.
- Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble whereas Vitamin C and vitamins belonging to B-complex group are water-soluble.
- During cooking processes, water-soluble vitamins are much more likely to be destroyed by heat or by dissolving in water.
Importance of Vitamins
|Importance in body
|Growth, immunity, vision and integrity of skin/mucus membranes
|dryness of skin (Xerosis), dryness of eyes (Xerophthalmia) and night blindness
|Strengthening of bones and teeth
|Rickets (weak bones and teeth)
|Anti-oxidant, which prevents tissue damage
|Essential in blood clotting system
|Hemorrhagic disease of newborn (bleeding tendency)
|Wound healing, tissue repair, general immunity and improves iron absorption
|Scurvy (painful bones, bleeding gums and easy bruising)
|Important for red cell formation and normal development of embryo.
|Megaloblastic anemia, congenital problems in embryo
|A role in red blood cell formation and in function of nervous system.
|Megaloblastic anemia, nerve affection
|Other B-complex vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and Biotin)
|Important role in various metabolic processes in body ensuring proper energy production and storage. They are needed for healthy functioning of nervous system.
|B1 deficiency leads to Beriberi (which affects nerves and heart). B3 deficiency can cause Pellagra (which affects gastrointestinal system, skin and brain)
Check out a Video on Vitamins
What are the rich food sources of vitamins?
- Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are usually found in fatty foods such as animal fats like butter and lard; fatty fish, dairy products, liver and vegetable oils.
- Human body can synthesize Vitamin D on exposure to mild sunlight.
- Water-soluble vitamins (C, Folic acid and B-complex) are usually found in fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products.
- Vitamin B 12 is only present in dairy products, eggs, meat and fish. It is not found in vegetable sources.
Also read 12 Top Tips to improve nutrition.
What happens if vitamins are taken in excess amounts?
Hypervitaminosis is a state arising out of excessive consumption of vitamins.
Hypervitaminosis usually doesn’t happen for water-soluble vitamins. If they are taken in excess amounts, they are simply washed out of the body through urine.
Excess fat soluble vitamins- Vit.A and Vit.D can accumulate in body and cause problems.
- Hypervitaminosis A can be acute or chronic.
In acute state, severe headache, nausea, vomiting and double vision occur because of increased intra-cranial pressure (a condition called ‘Pseudotumor cerebri’).
In chronic state, poor appetite, weight loss, hair loss and bone changes can take place.
- Hypervitaminosis D can cause increased calcium level leading to harmful effects on heart, kidneys and eyes. It also can cause pseudotumor cerebri.
What is mega-dose vitamin therapy?
Taking large doses of vitamins –especially of Vit.C and Vit.E is supposed to prevent many conditions like cancer, heart disease and aging. But these theories have not been conclusively proved.
Mega-dose of Vit.A in measles and of Vit.D in Vitamin D-deficiency rickets are found to be useful, if used under medical supervision.
Importance of Minerals
Minerals in diet can be either Macro minerals (required in higher amounts) or Trace minerals (required in very small amounts). Calcium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium are some important Macro-minerals; whereas iron, zinc, fluoride and iodine are some important Trace minerals.
|Strengthens bones and teeth; important in blood clotting, muscle contraction and nerve transmission
|Dairy products (Milk, yoghurt, cheese), fortified cereals, spinach
|Cell function, energy utilization, bone growth
|Dairy products, peas, meat and eggs
|Body’s fluid balance
|Dietary salt, table salt, packaged and processed foods
|Body’s fluid balance, Blood pressure control
|Banana, Sweet potato, soybean, yoghurt
|Part of hemoglobin- a red cell oxygen-carrying pigment, nervous system function, immunity
|Meat (esp. red meat), seafood, green leafy vegetables
|Immunity, nerve function, reproduction
|Red meats, Sea-foods, Fortified cereals
|Prevention of dental cavities, Bone growth
|Fluoridated water, Fluoride toothpastes, Some sea fish
|Forming thyroid hormones
|Iodized salt, Processed foods
Read more about Vitamins and Minerals on NHS.
Do vitamins and minerals improve either appetite or energy?
NO! THEY DON”T!
Although vitamin-mineral combinations are the favourite prescriptions that parents like to ask and doctors like to write for the treatment of reduced appetite or energy levels, they don’t really play any role in that respect.
When are vitamin and mineral supplements necessary?
The vitamin and mineral requirements are fulfilled if one takes a balanced, varied diet. Only when the diet is inadequate or faulty, then these supplements are useful. Make sure that the supplements are not having vitamins or minerals over and above their RDA (recommended daily allowance) levels.
How do we ensure that we get adequate vitamins and minerals from our daily diet?
- Choose fruits and vegetables of different colors.
- Use whole grains instead of refined grains.
- Use fortified dairy products and oils. (Fortification is a process where certain vitamins and minerals are added to food products.)
- If you are a non-vegetarian, then try to eat healthy variety of meat, poultry and seafood.
What are the cooking tips to preserve vitamins?
- Pressure-cooking, microwave cooking, grilling, roasting or stir-frying, are preferred methods of cooking to preserve vitamins.
- Deep frying, boiling or baking, destroy vitamins.
- Cut vegetables and fruits close to cooking or serving time.
- Don’t soak or wash vegetables for too long.
- Don’t throw away the cooking water for vegetables. Use it for making gravies and soups.
- Don’t rinse rice before cooking or if you do that, then use the rinsing water while cooking.