Many Australians take a vitamin
pill of some sort, but often they don’t need
to. Most of the essential vitamins and minerals that
you need to stay healthy can be obtained through the
food you consume, which is why it's so important to
eat a well-balanced diet.
Read on to learn more about vitamins and how to get
the right amounts.
What are vitamins?
Vitamins are chemical compounds that are essential for
normal growth and metabolism; we need them to keep healthy.
The main role of vitamins is to help convert the food
we eat into energy and living tissues, such as bones,
muscles, blood, nerves, and skin. Vitamins also help
the body resist infection and protect body cells. Although
vitamins are essential to life, they are only required
in tiny amounts.
Because vitamins cannot be made
by the body (except vitamin D), we must obtain vitamins
from food. Most vitamins are not stored in the body
to any great extent and must be replenished regularly,
which is why it’s so
important to eat a well-balanced diet.
New research also suggests a greater role for vitamins
(and minerals) in the prevention or slowing down of many
diseases such as heart disease, cancer, cataracts, osteoporosis,
and birth defects. The total effects of vitamins on the
body are still not fully known or understood.
There are two broad groups of vitamins:
- Fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E,
K, and beta-carotene
- Water-soluble vitamins, including the B vitamins,
(B1, B2, B3, B6, B12) vitamin C, and folate.
Understanding the recommended dietary intake (RDI)
RDI's are the amounts of essential nutrients that are
considered adequate by the National Health and Medical
Research Council to meet the nutritional requirements
of healthy people. They are designed to prevent nutritional
deficiency diseases such as scurvy, beriberi, pellagra,
rickets, and anemia. Following RDI recommendations for
vitamins and other nutrients helps keep your body in
However, it’s important
to remember that the RDI's do not address the extra
nutrient needs of persons who have certain chronic
ailments, who smoke, or who are on prescribed medications.
Are you at risk for vitamin deficiency?
Many people are vulnerable to nutritional
deficiencies and need to take extra care to improve the
quality of their diet. Supplements can also be taken
to boost nutrients in the body, if needed. People at
risk for vitamin deficiency include:
- Elderly people who are light eaters; find preparation
and cooking of food an effort; are unable to chew or
swallow properly; are on prescribed medications which
may reduce appetite or increase vitamin/mineral needs.
- Teenagers & young adults
who lead erratic lifestyles and tend to eat haphazardly.
- Women who are on oral contraceptives; have heavy
menstrual blood losses; suffer from osteoporosis; are
pregnant or breast-feeding; have premenstrual syndrome;
have anemia. Note: Pregnant women should never take
supplements containing vitamin A.
- Cigarette smokers may require extra vitamins; e.g.
vitamin C and E, beta-carotene.
- Many heavy drinkers lack B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium,
and zinc. Heavy alcohol intake also encourages poor
- Dieters, dancers and models who overly restrict quantity
and variety of foods.
- People on long-term prescribed medication. Many commonly-prescribed
drugs can interfere with nutrient absorption and metabolism.
Alcohol and coffee can also interfere with the absorption
- Vegans may lack vitamin B12 and iron.
- People with intestinal malabsorption may suffer deficiencies.
- People with chronic ailments. Medically-directed
supplementation may benefit many medical conditions.
(Do not stop your current medication unless directed
by your doctor.)
Are you at risk for vitamin overdose?
Although vitamins are important
for your body, more is not always better. In fact,
it’s very easy to
overdose on vitamins, even to toxic levels, by taking
supplements. Before taking a supplement, do the research
and talk to your doctor about whether you really need
it. Always be aware of toxicity levels for the supplements
you are taking. Usually, a multi-vitamin taken in the
recommended dosage is a safe bet – even so, it
pays to check.
Note: Pregnant women should never take supplements containing
Tips to prevent vitamin loss in food
Getting the vitamins you need from your food, rather
than supplements, is the best approach. However, as the
vitamin content of food can be decreased depending on
the way the food is handled, stored, and cooked, follow
these tips for keeping foods as vitamin-packed as possible!
- The longer the storage period, the greater the vitamin
loss. Shop more frequently for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Frozen vegetables and fruits often retain their nutrients
longer than poorly-stored fresh produce. Avoid dehydrated
- Oxygen can destroy some vitamins, so avoid buying
pre-cut produce and cut up fruits and vegetables yourself
when you're ready to eat or cook with them. Don't thaw
frozen vegetables before using.
- Scrub vegetables clean rather than peeling them.
- Use minimum amounts of water
in cooking to avoid loss of water-soluble vitamins,
such as B & C, and the
leeching out of minerals. Cook vegetables whole or
in large chunks to lessen the surface area exposed.
- Cooking methods which are quick and limit exposure
of foods to high temperatures are preferable; e.g.
steaming, stir-frying and microwaving.
- Don't overcook vegetables. Cook vegetables until
they are softened, but still crispy and colourful.
- For the freshest produce, ideally grow your own vegetables
and fruits. Many varieties are easy to grow and are
ideal for small spaces or containers.
Vitamin supplements can be useful for people who cannot
obtain sufficient amounts of vitamins from food – perhaps
as a result of illness or special dietary requirements.
However, there are many other nutritional factors with
vitamin-like qualities that can only be obtained by eating
a wide variety of foods. Vitamin supplements are not
a substitute for a healthy diet.
Large doses of vitamins or minerals can also have side
effects and should only be taken under medical supervision.
Reproduced with permission from CalorieKing.com.au. All material copyright CalorieKing.com.au