We all know that our bodies need a number of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. These nutrients are necessary for many essential chemical reactions or metabolic processes in our body such as cell growth and repair, metabolism and muscle function can occur. But how much is enough and how can we get enough vitamins and minerals?
Vitamins are organic compounds that we need for the body to work properly. Different vitamins have different functions. For example we need vitamin C to produce certain hormones and to help absorb iron from food, and we need Vitamin B1 to release energy from food and for a healthy heart and digestive system.
Your body can’t make most vitamins so we have to get them from the food we eat. There are two types of vitamins – water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins. Water soluble vitamins can’t be stored in your body and need to be replaced regularly from your diet. You can find water-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins B6, B12, C and folic acid) in fresh fruit and green vegetables. It’s best to eat green vegetables raw, steamed or stir-fried — cooking in water increases the loss of vitamin C.
Fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, can be stored in your body but should still be part of a healthy diet. Fat soluble vitamins are less easily lost in the cooking process. Fat soluble vitamins are found in meat, eggs, dairy and fish to name a few. Because these vitamins can be stored in the body, it’s possible for high intakes of them to result in harmful levels. This is unlikely to happen when vitamins are consumed from food, but it’s possible to overdose on high levels of fat soluble vitamins taken in supplement form.
Minerals and trace elements are inorganic elements we need in small amounts for the body to function. They are just as essential as vitamins and you need to get them from the food you eat. For example you need calcium for strong bones, sodium for fluid balance and nerve function, iron for oxygen transport in the blood and energy metabolism and iodine for thyroid hormone function. You can mainly find minerals and trace elements in meat, cereals, fish, milk and dairy food s, vegetables, dried fruit and nuts.
You should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals you need by eating a healthy balanced diet. Your body only needs a small amount of vitamins and minerals every day and a varied diet generally provides enough of each vitamin and mineral. Aim to eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day. And also make sure your meals contain moderate amounts of starchy foods and moderate amounts of protein-rich foods.
However, some people may need supplements to correct deficiencies of particular vitamins or minerals. Our vitamin and mineral requirements can also vary and change at different times of our lives. For example women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, elderly people, and people with malabsorption problems such as diarrhoea. In these instances supplements may again be needed.
Supplements that can be taken include Centrum for Men or Women, Elevit, Blackmores Multivitamin and Mineral Sustained Release and VitaScience Men and Women's Multi. Supplements aren’t a replacement for a healthy and varied diet. For a healthy adult, if supplements are used they should generally be taken at levels close to the recommended dietary intake (RDI). High dose supplements should not be taken unless recommended under medical advice. You should always check with your doctor, pharmacist or accredited practising dietician before taking any supplements, to make sure this is best for you.