Food is the fuel that keeps our bodies running properly. What we eat supplies us with the nutrients we need to maintain good health. Learn how vitamins affect your health and what foods supply the ones you need.
Fruits and vegetables, grains, meat and fish. All the good foods we eat are chock full of vitaminsorganic compounds that the body needs to function normally. With few exceptions, vitamins cannot be produced by the body, so to maintain good health children and adults must eat a well balanced diet. Why not simply pop a vitamin pill? According to the Health and Human Services branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, your primary source of vitamins should be a variety of foodsnot supplements. But eating the right foods, including the recommended five to six servings of fruits and vegetables daily, is not easy for many people. A national health survey found that on any given day, 79 percent of the population ate no fruits or vegetables high in vitamin A; 72 percent ate no fruits or vegetables rich in vitamin C; and 84 percent ate no high-fiber bread or cereal.
To help you improve your eating habits, here is a list of the vitamins we need daily, their dietary sources, and problems that may result if deficiencies develop.
Vitamin A is necessary for normal eyesight, body tissues, growth and bone formation, and resistance to infection.
· Sources: Liver, fish liver oils, whole or fortified milk, eggs, carrots and dark-green leafy vegetables, like kale.
· Signs of Deficiency: Poor night vision or night blindness, loss of appetite, increased susceptibility to infection, and changes in the skin and teeth.
Vitamin B-1 (thiamin) is vital for the normal functioning of all body cells, especially nerves. It also helps the body break down carbohydrates, protein, and fat for energy.
· Sources: Oysters, green peas, brewer’s yeast, organ meats, lean cuts of pork, dried beans and peas, collard greens, oranges, wheat germ, breads and cereals whole grain, peanuts and peanut butter.
· Signs of Deficiency: Fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, gastrointestinal upsets, nausea and weakness. Signs of a severe deficiency include mental confusion, muscular weakness, paralysis of the extremities, heart problems and loss of reflexes.
Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin) is necessary for the normal release of energy from carbohydrate, protein and fat in food. It’s also important for normal growth and development, the production and regulation of certain hormones, and the formation of red blood cells.
· Sources: Dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, enriched and fortified grains, cereals and bakery products, and green vegetables such as broccoli, turnip greens, asparagus and spinach.
· Signs of Deficiency: Soreness of the mouth, lips and tongue, burning and itching of the eyes, loss of vision, sensitivity to light. As the deficiency progresses, the inside of the mouth, and the eyes and skin become inflamed, and depression and/or hysteria develop.
Vitamin B-3 (Niacin) is essential for the release of energy from carbohydrates. It aids in the breakdown of protein and fats, in the synthesis of fats and certain hormones, and in the formation of red blood cells.
· Sources: Meat, poultry, fish, enriched cereals and grains, and nuts. Although milk and eggs contain very little niacin, they provide tryptophan, which is converted into niacin by the body.
· Signs of Deficiency: Weakness, loss of appetite, indigestion, skin inflammation, and lethargy. A severe deficiency results in the disease pellagra, which causes scaly skin, swollen tongue, tremors and damage to the central nervous system.
Vitamin B-6 helps the body build and break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It plays a key role in the processing of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and the nutrient aids in the formation and maintenance of the nervous system.
· Sources: Chicken, fish, kidney, liver, pork, eggs, unmilled rice, soy beans, oats, whole-wheat products, peanuts and walnuts.
· Signs of Deficiency: Depression, vomiting, increased susceptibility to disease and infection, skin and nerve inflammation, anemia, nausea and lethargy.
Vitamin B-12 is necessary for normal processing of carbohydrate, protein and fat, for the normal production of certain amino acids and fats, and to maintain the nervous system.
· Sources: Meat, poultry, fish, milk, dairy products and eggs.
· Signs of Deficiency: Anemia and neurological problems.
Vitamin C is necessary for the formation of collagen, a protein that gives structure to bones, cartilage, muscles and blood vessels, and contributes to the proper maintenance of capillaries, bones and teeth. Vitamin C promotes the healing of wounds, bone fractures, bruises, hemorrhages and bleeding gums.
· Sources: Green and red peppers, collard greens, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, oranges and other citrus fruits.
· Signs of Deficiency: An increased tendency to get black-and-blue marks, bleeding gums, nose bleeds and wounds that heal slower than normal. Other signs include damage to blood vessels, swollen, tender joints and aching bones, general weakness, loss of appetite and dry, scaly skin. The disease known as scurvy results from a severe vitamin C deficiency.
Vitamin D is essential in the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth by regulating the absorption and use of calcium and phosphorus. It also aids in the maintenance of a healthy nerve and muscle system.
· Sources: Sunlight, fortified milk and margarine, eggs and butter.
· Signs of Deficiency: A prolonged lack of this nutrient results in changes in the bones of children and adults.
Vitamin E protects fats and vitamin A in the body from destruction by destructive oxygen fragments. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E stabilizes cell membranes and protects tissues that are found throughout the body.
· Sources: Vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, nuts, wheat germ and green leafy vegetables.
· Signs of Deficiency: Anemia in infants and nerve damage in adults.
The main function of Vitamin K is to regulate blood clotting.
· Sources: Sunlight, fortified milk and margarine, eggs and butter.
· Signs of Deficiency: Vitamin K deficiency is very rare. But certain conditions or medications that affect vitamin K absorption may lead to abnormal blood clotting.
Biotin is used by the body to manufacture and break down fats, amino acids, and carbohydrates.
· Sources: Liver, egg yolk, soy flour, cereals and yeast.
· Signs of Deficiency: Skin inflammation, depression, conjunctivitis, hair loss, elevated blood levels of cholesterol, anemia, loss of appetite, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, nausea, lethargy, muscle pain, and enlargement of the liver.
Folate (Folacin, Folic Acid) is essential for the normal growth and maintenance of all cells. It’s main function is to maintain the cells’ genetic code.
· Sources: Folate is found in many foods, but as much as fifty percent of it is destroyed during cooking, food processing and storage. Especially rich sources include liver, yeast, leafy green vegetables and legumes.
· Signs of Deficiency: Anemia, poor growth, digestive disorders, malnutrition, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness, irritability, sore tongue, headaches, heart palpitations and behavioral disorders.
Pantothenic Acid is a B-complex vitamin required for the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, and protein for energy. It also functions in the production of fats, cholesterol, bile, vitamin D, red blood cells, and some hormones and neurotransmitters.
· Sources: Pantothenic Acid is found in many foods, but it is most abundant in meat, poultry, fish, whole grain cereals and legumes.
· Signs of Deficiency: Fatigue, heart and digestive problems, respiratory infections, skin inflammation and lack of coordination may develop under severe conditions.
Why All the Fuss About Antioxidants?
Over the past few years, there has been a lot of hype over antioxidantsbeta carotene (the building block for vitamin A), and vitamins C and E. Yet most people still don’t know what antioxidants are or what they do, much less how they do it.
In order to understand the importance of antioxidants, it is first necessary to understand oxidation. The oxidation process is familiar: it causes metal to rust, fruit to turn brown and oils to go rancid. Inside the body, however, oxidation can severely damage cells and allow diseases to get a foothold. Destructive oxygen byproducts, called free radicals, are produced both in our bodies and in the environment by factors like cigarette smoke and polluted air. Antioxidants seem to deactivate free radicals, and therefore protect your cells from damage.
Some research shows that these vitamins may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Vitamin C, for example, may reduce blood pressure in patients with borderline hypertension and raise blood levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), the good cholesterol. Antioxidant vitamins may also help prevent some of the adverse effects of smoking, and they may help prevent the buildup of low density lipoprotein (LDL), known as bad cholesterol, in artery walls.
In addition, antioxidant vitamins, especially vitamins C and E, appear to play an important role in protecting the body against cancer. They seem to block the formation of chemical carcinogens in the stomach, protect DNA and fats in the blood from damage, and enhance the function of the immune system.
Based of these findings, experts recommend eating a balanced diet that includes at least five to six servings of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants each and every day. Antioxidant nutrients can be obtained by taking supplements too, but doctors agree that vitamin pills are no substitute for a healthy diet. They also agree that it is too early to recommend vitamins or food fortification as a cancer prevention strategy.
The American Institute for Cancer Research offers a free pamphlet entitled Taking a Closer Look At Antioxidants. To get one, call 800-843-8114, extension 60.
· Healthy Terms