Vitamins are essential organic compounds found in plants and other animals and are not made by our body. While they are not part of the building blocks of tissues, they do function as co-enzymes (enzyme partners), speeding up chemical reactions. Vitamins are important for growth, energy, digestion, elimination and proper immune function.
In 1911, the first vitamin was isolated from rice (thiamine). Since then, a total of 13 have been identified. Deficiencies of vitamins may lead to serious/life threatening illnesses.
Vitamin supplements can be natural, extracted exclusively from food sources or synthetic, made chemically in the lab. While their chemical structure is the same, vitamins found in nature are usually available in very small quantities and must be consumed in larger amounts. Synthetic vitamins are more concentrated, however they may contain fillers that cause allergic reactions or intestinal side effects.
The water soluble vitamins are not appreciably stored in the body (except B12) and therefore should be consumed daily. They include the B and C vitamin groups and are found in fresh fruits and vegetables. They are sensitive to heat, air, light and aging so their biochemical value may be lost with cooking or the passage of time.
The fat soluble vitamins include A, D, E and K and are found in the oily part of vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds and the fat of some animals. Over consumption of these vitamins results in their accumulation in body fat and potentially create toxicity.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is a dietary guideline designed to meet the requirements of 98% of the population. It can be used as a general goal for daily intake and will significantly reduce the risk of toxicity.
People, who eat a well balanced diet, get adequate rest and have a low stress lifestyle, may not require supplemental vitamins. However, those who are dieting, very active, recovering from an illness or have a stressful lifestyle would benefit from a daily vitamin.
Healthy Habits of Vitamin Supplementation:
1. Take one multiple vitamin daily.
2. Consume fresh fruits and vegetables to get the greatest vitamin content. Aim for at least two servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables, daily.
3. Don’t over cook vegetables as many of the vitamins may be lost. You can reduce this loss by steaming vegetables until they are still crunchy.
4. Don’t over supplement vitamins, as this can lead to toxicity. If you take more than one vitamin supplement, check the contents on the back panel and reduce duplication.
Next week, starts an individual review of the 13 vitamins. We will examine their function, food sources and symptoms of deficiency and toxicity.