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What Are Vitamins & Minerals? Why Are They Important ?

Multiple images of fruits, bananas, apple

Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients required by the body to carry out a range of normal functions. However, these micronutrients are not produced in our bodies and must be derived from the food we eat. Vitamins help your body grow and work the way it should. Like vitamins, minerals also help your body function. Minerals are elements that our bodies need to function that can be found on the earth and in foods. 

It is usually better to get the nutrients you need from food, rather than a pill. That’s because nutrient-dense foods contain other things that are good for you, like fiber. A diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, good protein packages, and healthful fats should provide most of the nutrients needed for good health. But not everyone manages to eat a healthy diet. Multivitamins can play an important role when nutritional requirements are not met through diet alone.

Know your Vitamins and Minerals From A to Z

Vitamin A

One type comes from animal sources of food. It helps you see at night, make red blood cells, and fight off infections. The other type is in plant foods. It helps prevent damage to cells and an eye problem called age-related macular degeneration. 

Vitamin B1

It helps your body turn food into energy. It’s also key for the structure of brain cells. Legumes, like black beans and lentils, and seeds are go-to sources. Pork and whole grains are also good.

Vitamin B2

You could get enough for the day from a good breakfast! It’s added to many fortified breads and grain products and also found naturally in eggs, asparagus and other green veggies, and milk. Your cells need it to work right, and it might help prevent migraines. 

Vitamin B3

This is a family of compounds that your body needs to turn food into energy and store it. It helps protect your skin and tissues, too, and may improve your cholesterol levels. Three ounces of canned tuna has nearly all you’ll need in a day. 

Vitamin B6

This vitamin plays a role in more than 100 different reactions in your body. Some research has shown that B6 may help protect against memory loss, colorectal cancer, and PMS. It’s found in many kinds of foods including leafy and root vegetables; and non-citrus fruits.

Vitamin B12

Rev up before hitting the gym with a snack like a hard-boiled egg or cereal with vitamins added. B12 helps your body break down food for energy.

Vitamin C

Your body also needs vitamin C to help your bones, skin, and muscles grow. You’ll get enough by including bell peppers, papaya, strawberries, broccoli, cantaloupe, leafy greens, and other fruits and veggies in your diet.

Calcium

This mineral helps concrete harden. Its strength makes it the building block for your bones and teeth. It’s also key to make muscles move, including your heart. Get calcium from milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy foods, and from green vegetables like kale and broccoli. 

Chromium

You only need a trace amount of this mineral, which is believed to help keep your blood sugar levels steady. Most adults easily get enough by eating foods like broccoli, English muffins, and garlic. 

Vitamin D

Like calcium, it keeps your bones strong and helps your nerves carry messages. It also plays a role in fighting germs. Careful time in the sun — 10 to 15 minutes on a clear day, without sunscreen — is the best source.

Vitamin E

It’s something called an antioxidant, which protects your cells from damage caused by cigarette smoke, pollution, sunlight, and more. Vitamin E also helps your cells talk to each other and keeps blood moving. 

Folic Acid

For moms-to-be, it’s a must. It helps make DNA and prevent spina bifida and other brain birth defects. Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens, oranges and orange juice, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are rich in folic acid. 

Vitamin K

You need it for blood clotting and healthy bones. People who take warfarin, a blood-thinner, have to be careful about what they eat, because vitamin K stops the drug from working.

Iodine

Your thyroid uses iodine to make hormones that control metabolism. The first symptom of a deficiency is usually a goiter, a lump in your neck caused by an enlarged thyroid gland. Top sources include fish and seaweed. Too much iodine can be harmful though, and supplements interact with some medications.

Iron

When your levels are low, your body doesn’t make enough healthy red blood cells. And without them, you can’t get oxygen to your  tissues. Women who are pregnant or have heavy menstrual cycles are most likely to have anemia, the medical name for when you don’t have enough iron in your blood. Keep up your levels with beans and lentils, liver, oysters, and spinach.

Magnesium

This mineral plays a role in making your muscles squeeze and keeping your heart beating. It helps control blood sugar and blood pressure, make proteins and DNA, and turn food into energy. You’ll get magnesium from almonds, cashews, spinach, soybeans, avocado, and whole grains.

Potassium

You may think of bananas, but green leafy veggies are a better source of this mineral. It helps keep your blood pressure in a normal range, and it helps your kidneys work. 

Selenium

It does a lot of things, like fighting off infections and helping your thyroid gland work. Too much can cause brittle nails, nausea, and irritability. Just four Brazil nuts could put you at your daily limit for selenium!

Zinc

Without it, you couldn’t taste and smell. Your immune system needs it, and it helps cuts, scrapes, and sores heal. It may help you keep your sight as you get older.

Author
DECKLINE LEITAO (CSCS, NASM-PES, CES, CPT)

Deckline Leitao, who holds a sports science degree from South Africa and a PG diploma from the UK, is one of India’s most qualified trainers.

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