Why Do We Need Vitamins and Minerals?
In this post, I would like to explain the difference between vitamins and minerals and also why our body needs them. We tend to use these terms interchangeably, but minerals and vitamins differ in some very important aspects which will ultimately affect how your body receives and absorbs them. Yes, vitamins and minerals are both considered micro nutrients, because the body does not need a large amount of them, in order for them to perform the really important bodily functions that they control. Like everything else, too little levels or too high levels of vitamins or minerals is unhealthy for the body and can lead to disease. So why do we need vitamins and minerals? In short, vitamins and minerals are considered essential nutrients because they perform hundreds of roles in the body. But we will further discuss what they do in more detail.
Vitamins – The Basics
Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid. This means that vitamins are harder to successfully get inside your body because many things can damage or inactivate their structure, for example simply cooking the food can eliminate the vitamin benefits.
There Are 2 Types of Vitamins:
1. Water-soluble vitamins are:
- found in the watery portions of the foods you eat;
- absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion;
- the body is made up of 75$ water therefore water-soluble vitamins have no problems getting around inside the body to where they need to go;
- kidneys are responsible in regulating the levels of water-soluble vitamins;
- excess is removed through our urine;
- vitamin B complex and vitamin C.
The Role of Water Soluble Vitamins
Water soluble vitamins do MANY things in the body, but they can be categorized into two main roles:
- Maintain tissues healthy: by producing collagen using vitamin C and by building proteins and cells with Vitamin B complex.
- Produce and release energy from the food we ingest.
2. Fat-soluble vitamins:
- are found in fatty foods and oils that we eat;
- there are 4 main fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E and K.
- fat tissues and liver are responsible for controlling the release of these vitamins when needed by the body;
- fat-soluble vitamins are not as easily absorbed by the body as water-soluble ones are;
- fat-soluble vitamins need to be ”broken” down in the small intestines by a substance produced by the liver called bile;
- only after this break-down, can fat-soluble vitamins be absorbed by the body through the small intestines.
In total, there are 13 essential vitamins that our body needs to stay healthy and you can get them all in your diet, without the need for supplementation. Here is a complete list of food containing vitamins.
The Role of Fat Soluble Vitamins
These 4 fat soluble vitamins work in sync to do their job. One without the other can cause health issues. The 3 main roles they play are:
- Bone formation;
- Vitamin A protects your vision;
- Protect the body because Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant (I will explain this just below).
IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING ALL VITAMINS
It is true that some water-soluble vitamins need to be replenished every few days, but some of them, like ALL fat soluble vitamins, can be stored in the body for very long periods of time. This is why it is very important to not just take supplements without being recommended by your doctor and confirming that you have a certain vitamin deficiency. Toxic levels of vitamins can cause damage.
I think it is important to take a pause here and explain what is an antioxidant. I know this term is thrown around a lot when it comes to certain foods and drinks. But when someone says ”eat this, it is a good antioxidant”, do we really know what that means, other than it is good for you in some way?
Let us have a closer look:
Antioxidants is an all-inclusive term that includes any substance that helps control and damage molecules in the body that are unstable and therefore toxic to cells and DNA.
The name given to unstable compounds in the body is free radicals. Free radicals have been linked to a variety of diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers. (1)
Although our body produces antioxidants naturally, there are many foods you can eat that can provide extra antioxidants for your body.
What is really important to know, is that evidence suggests that antioxidant supplements do not work as well as the naturally occurring antioxidants in foods such as fruits and vegetables. (1) AGAIN, more reason to avoid supplementation by just following a healthy and balanced diet.
The main source of antioxidants are in fruits and vegetables. If you consistently eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, you will definitely be getting enough antioxidants. If you want a detailed list of foods, you can go here.
Minerals – The Basics
Minerals are inorganic and hold on to their chemical structure meaning that they are more easily consumed and absorbed by the body.
Types of Minerals
- Major Minerals
- Have this name because they are found and stored in the body in larger amounts compared to trace minerals;
- They are Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium and Sulfur;
- Like water and fat soluble vitamins, each of these major minerals are absorbed in 1 of 2 ways: either directly into the bloodstream or require another substance to assist with the transport and absorption.
The Role of Major Minerals
- To regulate water level in the body
- To develop and maintain healthy bones and teeth
- Stabilize protein structures like hair, nails and teeth.
2. Trace Minerals
- Do not underestimate their importance, even though they are find in extremely tiny quantities in the body;
- They are Chromium, Copper, Fluoride, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum. Selenium and Zinc.
The Role of Trace Minerals
Trace minerals have many functions, and here are only just a few:
- Protect cells;
- Forming of key enzymes or enhancing their activity;
- Transport oxygen in the body;
- Involved in taste and smell;
- Helps the immune system;
- Prevents or minimizes blood clots.
IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING ALL MINERALS
Like with vitamins, too much or too little levels of minerals can have serious health implications. Most OVER CONSUMPTION of minerals, is due to taking supplements and not from food. Foods containing high levels of minerals can be found here.
This really goes with my strong belief for not taking supplements unless absolutely necessary. And by necessary, I mean you have clear blood tests indicating you have low levels and your doctor advises you to take a supplement. I would never just take a vitamin ”just because it is good for you”. Nothing is good for you in high amounts. It becomes toxic.
I have mentioned in many of my previous posts, like when I a supplement called cortisol manager for stress or types of iron supplements, that I would never encourage or recommend for you to take a supplement. I myself, have taken supplements only twice in my life and I am almost 38 years old, and the second time is because I am pregnant and taking folic acid. I am a very strong belief in healthy eating over supplements. There are always exceptions, especially when there are other health implications involved that makes it difficult to maintain a healthy level of nutrients. So ALWAY, and I mean ALWAYS, discuss supplementation with your doctor – no exception.
The take away is simple. And it is what I have mentioned from my very first article on this site and I will continue to mention through many other posts because the ”rule” holds true all the time, when it comes to health and even fitness. BALANCE and MODERATION. Too much of anything or too little of anything is not good. Learn to make healthy choices but to add variety in order to get everything your body needs and also so you do not get bored and as a result, slip off the healthy eating train because you will say that eating healthy is boring! Good food it really not boring. There are so many delicious foods and dishes that can be made from whole foods and fresh vegetables.
Some simple advice can be to try to choose a variety of foods from each food group each week and change every alternate week. This way, it will not be too difficult to keep up with and it can be done each week you head out to do the groceries. For example, choose seafood instead of meat twice a week, or turkey instead of chicken. One week, have broccoli, carrots and eggplants, and the next week asparagus, brussel sprouts and green beans. The choices are endless and you will definitely enjoy the change.
Did any of you learn something new from this article? Have you been or have you ever supplemented for minerals and vitamins? If so, which ones and why? Please share your comments and personal experiences below:)