The body is unable to manufacture most of the vitamins we need, which is where our food comes in, and there are essential vitamins you can get from your foods, rather than reaching for the vitamin supplement. The debate about the effects of vitamin supplements continues, with some of the research surrounding the efficacy of supplements stating that vitamin supplements don't make any difference to our health, as the people who are most likely to take them are healthy anyway. The opposing argument is that because of pesticides and over-production, foods have lost their vitamin and mineral potency and we therefore need a supplement to make up for the deficiency. Of course, everybody is different and some people may need to take certain supplements if their body finds it difficult to absorb certain vitamins from the foods we eat. We all have specific needs. For example, the nutrient needs of the elderly differ greatly from those of pregnant or lactating woman. The problem with supplements is that because of the fact we can get them from our foods, the danger is 'overdosing.' For example, Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, as are vitamins D, E and K. This means they're not passed out of the body through urine so excessive intake can be hazardous to health. So, whilst the research and debate continues, here are some essential vitamins and why they're so important to maintain all-round health.
1. Vitamin a
This vitamin is essential for cell development, growth, immune function and vision. It also helps maintain the health of the skin. Vitamin A can come in the form of retinol from animal foods or beta carotene from plant foods. A lack of this vitamin can cause poor night vision, respiratory disorders and increased rise of infection. Get your vitamin A from oily fish, cheese, egg yolks, carrots (yes, there is some truth in the fact that carrots can help you to see in the dark), squash, apricots and leafy greens. This is just one of the essential vitamins you can get from your foods.
2. Vitamin C
The American slang term for the British, 'Limey,' came from the fact that the British Navy issued sailors with vitamin C rich limes to stave off scurvy in the 19th century. A lack of vitamin C can lead to many problems, which is why it's the most popular vitamin supplement. And it's no wonder, because vitamin C is responsible for essentially keeping our body in check. It's an important antioxidant in the body and is needed to make collagen in the body. This in turn is essential for healthy teeth, bones, gums, cartilage and skin. Deficiency in vitamin C can lead to slow wound healing and susceptibility to infection, fatigue, dry skin and appetite loss. So instead of popping a pill, get your dose of vitamin C from citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, black currants and vegetables such as peppers.
3. Thiamin (B1)
This vitamin is needed to obtain energy from carbohydrates and fats. It also helps prevent the build up of toxic substances in the body, which could in turn affect the heart and nervous system. This vitamin deficiency is actually quite common in alcoholics and symptoms include appetite loss, loss of sensation, nervous disorders, muscle weakness and mental confusion. Get your daily dose from fortified breakfast cereals (but watch for the sugar content in these) nuts, pulses, potatoes, brown rice and seeds.
4. Riboflavin (B2)
This vitamin is needed to release energy from food. A lack of this vitamin can lead to dry, cracked lips, dermatitis and bloodshot eyes. Milk, eggs, meat, poultry, fish and yoghurt are good sources, as are fortified cereals but again, be sure to look closely at the sugar content in these.
Vitamin B6 helps to release energy from proteins and is important for immune function, the formation of red blood cells and the nervous system. It's often prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of PMS, such as bloating and mood swings. This vitamin can be found in lean meat, poultry, wholewheat bread, nuts, bananas, soya beans, fish and eggs. A lack of this vitamin can lead to depression and confusion.
Without giving you a biology lesson, this vitamin is vital for making two things which carry genetic information: DNA and RNA. It's also essential for making myelin, which is the white sheath that surrounds the cell fibres. It is needed for cell division and for transporting folate into cells. A lack of this vitamin can lead to fatigue and the degeneration of the nervous system, so get your vitamin B12 from white fish, eggs and milk.
7. Vitamin D
Vitamin D, often referred to as the 'sunshine' vitamin, is needed by the body to absorb calcium and phosphorous for normal formation of teeth and bones. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to muscle and bones weakness. Vitamin D is made when the skin is exposed to sunlight and it can also be found in foods such as fish liver oils, salmon, sardines, tuna and eggs.
8. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant and studies have shown that it helps prevent free radical damage. Get your dose of vitamin E from vegetable oils, wheatgerm, nuts and seeds. Just a small handful of almonds is enough to supply your recommended daily amount of vitamin E.
9. Vitamin K
Green leafy vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, contain the all important vitamin K, which is essential in forming certain proteins. These proteins are vital for healthy tissues and bones, and are also needed for normal blood clotting.
These essential vitamins can be found in all the fabulous foods we eat. Does anyone else take supplements or do you get your vitamins from the foods you eat? What do you think about the vitamin and supplement debate?