The coming of the New Year is a time when many of us put the brakes on the holiday eating, and, try to remedy it with healthy eating. But what exactly is healthy eating? A healthy diet contains many different types of foods to provide essential nutrients to the body. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals, and even antioxidants to name a few, as well as countless other components we may have yet to discover.
So what do these nutrients do? We are always told we need vitamins, but why? Let’s demystify the confusion by exploring what vitamins do in the body.
The following vitamins are known as “water-soluble” vitamins. They dissolve readily in water, and follow the flow of water into, as well as out of, our bodies. We drink and go to the washroom multiple times a day, so these vitamins don’t tend to linger. It is not easy to “store” them in our bodies for future use, so we must be regularly eating more vitamins to make up for our losses. This is why binging briefly on healthy foods doesn’t work.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Found in: pork, fortified cereals, soy-based imitation meats
Vitamin B1 is required for metabolism – the process by which our bodies generate energy. Hence, it is commonly called an energy vitamin.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Found in: milk and dairy products, fortified cereals
Like vitamin B1, riboflavin is also an energy vitamin. It is also connected with the body’s use of vitamin B6.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Found in: meats, fish
Another energy vitamin, niacin is also used under medical supervision (due to side effects at high treatment doses) to reduce harmful fats called triglycerides.
Found in: meats, potatoes, bananas
Vitamin B6 is important for the production of DNA and proteins, which are the building blocks of the body. It is also essential for the production of blood.
Found in: meat products only (unless fortified into soy)
The functions of vitamin B12 also overlaps with the other B vitamins: DNA production, blood formation, and nerve maintenance. Because the body’s ability to absorb B12 from food decreases with age, supplementation is sometimes required in older individuals.
Found in: dark green vegetables, beans and lentils
Folate is related to the other B vitamins. It is crucial for blood formation in the body. This nutrient is especially important in pregnant women as the developing baby requires adequate folate to properly form their spinal cord. Because it is so crucial for our future generations, white flour is nearly always supplemented with extra folic acid.
Found in: fruits (oranges, kiwi, strawberries), dark green or red vegetables (broccoli, peppers)
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, meaning it helps mop up some of the harmful “oxidants” that are naturally formed by our bodies. Its antioxidant effects help boost immunity.
Now, let’s talk about another group of vitamins, known as the “fat-soluble” vitamins, which travel differently throughout your body. As the name suggest, they ride along with fat, which easily accumulates and lingers in the body.
Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene
Found in: dark green vegetables, yellow/orange/red vegetables (carrots, sweet potato), milk & cheeses
Vitamin A exists in many different forms and names. Some of its forms are important for eyes, for the skin, for bones, and also as antioxidants. Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are the plant form of vitamin A.
Found in: fortified milk, boney fishes
Mostly made by our own bodies, this “sunshine vitamin” is produced by the skin when exposed to the sun. Vitamin D is required to encourage the body to absorb calcium from the foods we eat. In Canada, the rays of the sun are not strong enough for our bodies to generate vitamin D for most of the year, so supplementation is important.
Found in: nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds), vegetable oils
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant that helps in immunity and general health (such as skin, eyes, blood).
Found in: green leafy vegetables
Vitamin K is used for blood clotting. It is naturally made by bacteria in our digestive tracts. It is usually not a concern unless a person is taking blood thinners or anticoagulant medications.
These vitamins are merely a small handful of the thousands of nutrients found in eating a balanced meal. It is important to eat healthy; simply taking a multivitamin does not adequately replace healthy foods. Your local London Drugs Pharmacist can tell you more about the recommended amounts of nutrients you need. Sign up for a Nutrition and Healthy Weight Clinic and find out how your eating habits are affecting your health.