Decoding Your Nutrient Needs: Choosing Essential Vitamins
Vitamins play an important role in the functioning of your body. They support your growth, health, and reproduction. Vitamins break down macronutrients like protein, carbohydrate and fat and help the body function. Most of the essential vitamins are derived from food as they are produced either in low amounts or not at all by your body. You should take vitamin rich foods for the healthy functioning of your body.
But there are also certain conditions, circumstances, and medications when nutrient supplements need to be taken to meet dietary requirements. But since everyone’s vitamin needs are entirely different, you should talk to your registered dietitian or healthcare provider before taking nutrient supplements. There is also a myth that all children need to be given nutrient supplements. But in reality, healthy children do not need additional supplements.
Different kinds of vitamins
There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble. They function and act differently when needed by your body. Water-soluble vitamins get dissolved in water and are absorbed by the tissues for immediate use. They must be replenished frequently as they are not stored in your body and are needed for nutrient absorption. The water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B complex. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed by fat. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, the body stores the excess amount of fat-soluble vitamins in the fatty (adipose) tissues and liver for future use. Sometimes they remain in the body for days and even months but do not aid in nutrient absorption. They are found in vitamin rich foods and should be eaten with fat. If you’re not able to meet your nutrient requirement through food, you can take nutrient supplements.
Important water-soluble vitamins and their function
Some of the important water-soluble vitamins include:
Vitamin B1- Vitamin B1 or thiamin plays an essential role in nerve, heart and muscle function and glucose metabolism. The deficiency of vitamin B1 leads to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and Beriberi. You may need B1 nutrient supplements if your diet does not provide enough B vitamins.
Vitamin B2- Vitamin B-2, also known as riboflavin, helps your body build red blood cells. It also metabolizes food, helps in nutrient absorption, and gives an energy boost to your body. The deficiency of vitamin B2 can lead to fissures in the mouth and lip inflammation. A deficiency of B12 can be fatal in pregnant women and even endanger their baby’s growth. Vitamin B2 rich list of healthy food include dairy products, eggs, almonds, dark meat, salmon, soybean, broccoli, and wheat.
Vitamin B9- Vitamin B9 helps in the formation of DNA and red blood cells. It is especially important during pregnancy. The deficiency of B9 during pregnancy can adversely affect the nervous system of the fetus. The main sources of vitamin B9 include mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, chickpeas, kidney beans and strawberries.
Vitamin B12- Vitamin B12 aids in the function, myelination, and development of the central nervous system. The rich sources of vitamin B12 are eggs, dairy products, animal meat and fish. Your body can’t make vitamin B12 alone, so you need to get it from your supplements or diet. Vitamin B12 nutrient deficiency can adversely affect your body and lead to different types of anaemia and neurological issues.
Vitamin C- Vitamin C is an antioxidant that strengthens your immune system, reduces inflammation and supports brain health. It also increases iron absorption and improves your cardiovascular health. The deficiency of vitamin C can lead to poor wound healing and tissue growth, and bleeding gums. Citrus fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C, but cooking destroys this vitamin.
Important fat-soluble vitamins and their function
Some of the important fat-soluble vitamins include:
Vitamin A: Vitamin A helps in the formation and maintenance of healthy teeth, skin, bones, soft tissue, and mucus membranes. It also maintains brain function and helps in the formation of red blood cells. The deficiency of vitamin A can lead to keratomalacia and night blindness. The richest sources of vitamin A are eggs, cod liver oil, liver, orange, and broccoli.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E supports your immune system and protects you from oxidative stress. The nutrient deficiency of vitamin E is rare, but it may cause hemolytic anaemia in newborns. Vitamin E exists in certain foods, like seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and kiwis. You can also take vitamin E as a dietary supplement.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for your bone health. It also supports your immune system and regulates inflammation. The nutrient deficiency of vitamin D can cause softening of the bones and rickets. Sun is one of the best sources of vitamin D. Fortified juices, cereals, beef liver, egg yolks, mushrooms and salmon are also D vitamin rich foods.
Vitamin K: Vitamin K helps your blood clot so that injuries can heal faster. It also helps in building healthy bones. A low level of vitamin K can contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, significant bleeding, osteoporosis, and poor bone development. K vitamin rich foods are spinach, kale, lettuce, pumpkin, figs, broccoli, and cabbage.
When do you need nutrient supplements?
You may not need nutrient supplements if you’re eating vitamin rich foods. However, dietary restrictions, lifestyle circumstances or certain health conditions may limit your ability to get certain vitamins. You should consult your healthcare provider or dietician about nutrient supplements if you’re worried about your dietary requirements or nutrient absorption.