Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are important components of food that are essential for maintaining good health. They boost the immune system, prevent anemia, support normal growth, and help organs function normally.

The amount of each vitamin and mineral your body needs depends on several factors, including your age, gender, activity level and presence of other medical conditions.

Vitamins

Vitamins are categorized as fat-soluble or water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in fat so the body can build up reserves. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K.

The body cannot store supplies of water-soluble vitamins (they are excreted easily in the urine) so your body needs a sufficient intake of water-soluble vitamins each day. Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and B vitamins, such as vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, riboflavin, and folate.

Different foods provide varying amounts of vitamins. For example, carrots are full of substances called carotenoids that your body converts into vitamin A, which is critical for maintaining eye health.

Vitamin K, found in high concentrations in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and soybeans, helps blood to clot.

Minerals

Minerals are inorganic elements that come from the soil and water and are stored in plants or animals that we eat. Your body needs larger amounts of some minerals, such as calcium, to grow and stay healthy.

The body needs only small amounts of some minerals, such as chromium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc. These are called trace minerals. An adequate intake of iron is essential to prevent anemia.

Should you take a vitamin or mineral supplement?

You probably consume all the vitamins and minerals your body needs IF your diet includes a wide range of foods, including whole-grain products, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, nuts, seeds, eggs, and meats.

It is better to consume a variety of foods rather than taking a multivitamin to make sure that your body is able to absorb the micronutrients properly. For instance, iron is better absorbed when consumed in red meat, than when taken as an iron supplement.

However, many Americans do not consume enough of the following vitamins and minerals. Additional consideration should be given to getting enough of the following nutrients:

  • Calcium: Calcium is essential to build strong bones and teeth in childhood and adolescence. Adults need calcium to maintain bone mass and prevent osteoporosis. Calcium-rich foods include milk, cheese, yogurt, green vegetables (spinach, kale), brocolli and calcium-fortified foods, such as tofu or orange juice.
  • Vitamins A, C and E: Vitamin A is associated with vision development and cellular growth and maintenance. Vitamin C helps the body form collagen (which is the main protein used as connective tissue in the body) in blood vessels, bones, cartilage and muscle. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which is a nutrient that helps fight damage to the cells in the body.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels and promotes normal blood pressure. Green vegetables such as spinach are good sources of magnesium, as well as legumes (beans and peas), nuts and seeds, and whole, unrefined grains.
  • Fiber: Foods that are high in fiber can help in the treatment of constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Dietary fiber may also help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Eating fiber-rich foods also aids in digestion and the absorption of nutrients, and helps you to feel fuller longer after a meal.

Talk to your doctor about whether you should consider taking a vitamin or mineral supplement.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking any supplements because they may interact with other medications.

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Last updated: 5/13/2022