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The ABCs of Vitamins

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Know your basics to determine which supplements
may be right for you
Do you take supplements, or are you wondering which ones are best suited for you and why? There’s so much information flooding media outlets about vitamins and supplements, it can be difficult to determine which ones may be right for you. I often find that people may be taking a supplement because a friend suggested it, they read about it or perhaps a physician prescribed it, but they are sometimes unsure as to why or if they need extra supplements. The goal of this article is to educate you on how vitamins and minerals enhance our health, clarify if you need to add more of these nutrients to your diet or determine if you may benefit from supplementing. Because even if you are at your ideal weight, if you’re not eating right it can show in other ways, such as fatigue, poor immune function, dry skin or hair, or difficulty paying attention.

Simply defined, vitamins are organic compounds that the body requires for normal functioning. Our bodies do not produce them so we must get them from food or supplements. They can only be absorbed in the presence of food, which is the catalyst for the absorption of vitamins and minerals.

It’s most effective to take a supplement around mealtime, preferably about a half hour before or after a meal or snack (I usually suggest people take them whenever they will best remember to). There are two types of vitamins, fat-soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K, and must be taken with consumption of fat to be absorbed. Fat soluble vitamins can be stored in tissues for up to six months, and are mobilized when the body needs them. These vitamins present more of a risk of toxicity because they are stored in tissues, however this is rare.

Water soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B vitamins. Water soluble vitamins travel through the bloodstream and what you don’t use is excreted in urine. These vitamins need to be replaced more often. Here is a concise list and description of vitamins to determine what your needs may be:

• Vitamin A – Important for eyesight and healthy skin. Foods rich in vitamin A are apricots, nectarines, cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes (think orange fruits and vegetables) and spinach.

• Vitamin K – Aids in blood clotting. Foods rich in vitamin K include leafy green vegetables, liver, pork and dairy products.

• Vitamin D – Essential for the absorption of calcium, also important for forming strong teeth. Foods high in vitamin D are fortified dairy products, fish and egg yolks. Vitamin D has gotten attention in recent years because it is not as readily available in foods as are other vitamins, and doctors are finding that some are deficient or are on the lower end as far as blood levels of vitamin D. You can get all the vitamin D you need by getting 10 minutes of sunlight every day (without sunscreen), preferably on your arms and legs and not your face.

• Vitamin C – Keeps body tissues healthy, aids in healing and helps your body resist infection by enhancing your immune system. Foods rich in vitamin C are citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, red and green peppers, kiwi and spinach. Plus, vitamin C aids with the absorption of iron. If you are iron deficient, it’s important to consume foods or supplements high in vitamin C in conjunction with iron supplements or foods high in iron.

• The B Vitamins – B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), niacin, B6, folic acid, B12 and biotin. B vitamins are critical for metabolic activity by helping to make energy and distribute it where the body needs it. They also help make red blood cells, which are important for carrying oxygen throughout the body. Good sources of B vitamins include whole grains, fish and seafood, poultry and beef, eggs, dairy products, leafy green vegetables and beans.

Nutritionists have different opinions on whether to take supplements. In theory, you should get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a healthy diet because these nutrients are best absorbed through food. With that being said, we do not all have perfect diets every day. Other considerations can be if you’re ill, have food allergies, do not eat a varied diet or perhaps are a picky eater (like many children). In my opinion, I think everyone should take a multivitamin daily to ensure we’re getting all the nutrients we need. What our bodies don’t use simply gets excreted. This is also why I don’t believe it’s necessary to spend a lot of money on vitamins. A basic multi will do the trick. Remember, supplements will not fix an otherwise unhealthy diet or lifestyle.

Please stay tuned next month, when we will discuss and define minerals.