We always hear of certain foods containing certain vitamins and how these are supposed to be not just good but actually vital to our health. Indeed, a quick walk through your grocery or drug store will show you row upon row of dietary supplements focusing specifically on certain vitamins and, generally, minerals as well. But which ones do you actually need and why? In reality, if you eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, you should be able to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals. However, much of the food we eat have insufficient quantities of these components, not in the least because they have been genetically modified. Hence, it is generally a better idea to take supplements as well.
Vitamin A can be found naturally in foods with beta-carotene, such as cantaloupes and carrots. You should consume around 2,300 international units per day, which means supplementing is usually necessary unless you want to spend every day eating carrots. Vitamin A is one of the most important ones around.
This antioxidant boosts immune systems, improves vision, cuts risk of heart disease, and may slow skin aging.
However, it is also one of the vitamins that has the potential to be toxic if you take too much of it. Hence, make sure you understand the international units. If you do take supplements, consider taking less on days where you eat foods containing beta-carotene.
Next, there are the B vitamins, of which there are eight kinds. Each of these has a different role and acts in a different manner. They are often provided together in a supplement, when they are referred to as a B Vitamin Complex. B vitamins are water-soluble and they affect our overall metabolism. They are essential vitamins for our overall health and well-being.
These vitamins are essential for the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose (this provides energy for the body), the breakdown of fats and proteins (which aids the normal functioning of the nervous system), muscle tone in the stomach and intestinal tract, skin, hair, eyes, mouth and liver.
Generally speaking, you will not need to take a B vitamin supplement. The exception is when you are pregnant. If you eat plenty of grains (although you can replace this with beans and asparagus), you should be getting enough vitamin B through your diet.
When you hear of vitamin C, you will probably immediately think of the vitamin that fights colds and flu. However, it is actually much more than that. It is another water-soluble vitamin, which means you always need to replenish it, as any unused vitamin C will be removed from your body through urine. It is a very important antioxidant.
Antioxidants are nutrients that block some of the damage caused by free radicals.
Specifically, it helps to form ligaments, skin, tendons and blood vessels. It also helps our wounds to heal. Finally, it helps to repair bones, cartilage and teeth.
Finally, there is vitamin D. This is a hugely important vitamin that some have described as a wonder drug. It is vital in the protection of our bones and helps to prevent osteoporosis. However, vitamin D is rarely found naturally in foods so it must almost always be supplemented. Nevertheless, there are now numerous calcium products that have added vitamin D for stronger bones. Furthermore, some believe that vitamin D has a role to play in the prevention of cancer.
Vitamin D has other roles in the body, including modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Many genes encoding proteins that regulate cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis are modulated in part by vitamin D.
A great natural source of vitamin D is sun light, with only 15 minutes of sun light a day our body will receive the daily recommended vitamin D. The best times to do this is early morning and early evening.
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