Vitamins and minerals are crucial for health, but have you ever fully understood what they mean by definition and the role they play? Commonly referred to as non-energy-yielding nutrients, vitamins and minerals are a powerful group of substances necessary for health and well-being.
Although vitamins and minerals do not contribute calories, they are essential components of a nutritious diet because they assist in keeping the body healthy. For example, vitamins and minerals help facilitate chemical reactions necessary for digestion, metabolism, growth, repair, and maintenance.
An organic nutrient that is required in small amounts to help regulate body processes.
An inorganic nutrient that is required in small amounts to help regulate body processes. Minerals occur naturally in soil and the water that is absorbed by plants. Therefore, consuming plant-based foods is an effective way to supply the body with minerals.
Vitamins and minerals are classified as micronutrients because they are needed by the body in small amounts. Vitamins and minerals are commonly measured using small units such as micrograms (mcg) and milligrams (mg).
Despite the small amount required by the body, vitamins and minerals have a significant impact on how the body functions. To ensure the proper intake of vitamins and minerals, it is recommended to nourish the body with a variety of foods.
In addition to eating a variety of foods, the dietary reference intakes (DRIs), established by the Institute of Medicine, helps quantify the specific amount of vitamin or mineral that should be consumed daily. DRIs are based of the bioavailability of a nutrient.
The extent to which a substance is absorbed by the body. The bioavailability of vitamins and minerals depends on multiple factors including age, gender, and overall health. The most common DRIs used to measure vitamin and mineral intake include the recommended dietary allowance (RDA), adequate intake (AI), and tolerable upper intake level (UL).
Vitamin and Mineral Toxicities
A vitamin or mineral toxicity can occur when a given nutrient is ingested at levels that exceed recommendations. Vitamin and mineral toxicities rarely occur from food sources. Most micronutrient toxicities come from taking supplements that contain vitamins and minerals in amounts that exceed the DRI.
Depending on the type of nutrient involved, vitamin and mineral toxicities can happen very quickly or they can build over time. In addition, consuming excessive amounts of one nutrient can cause a deficiency of another. An example would be high levels of iron and zinc in the blood interfering with the absorption of copper.
Vitamins and Minerals Deficiencies
Adverse symptoms that range in severity may occur when the body is deficient in a vitamin or mineral. For example, a mild deficiency of a vitamin or mineral may result in dry skin, whereas a more serious deficiency of a vitamin or mineral is less likely to occur when ample amounts of diverse foods are consumed on a daily basis.
Some vitamins and minerals are referred to as antioxidants and are valued for their potential in fighting cellular damage. Antioxidants are a substance that may protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Free Radical: An unstable compound produced as a byproduct of metabolism. Free radicals are also found in some foods and can be formed when the body is exposed to pollutants. Free radicals are unstable because they contain an odd number of electrons in their outer shell.
Antioxidants act as electron donors in order to stabilize free radicals and prevent them from “oxidizing” or taking electrons from healthy cells.
Antioxidants are made by the body and found in a variety of substances. Vitamin antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E, and mineral antioxidants include zinc, selenium, copper, and manganese. Research indicates that antioxidants may help prevent certain cancers, reduce cholesterol levels, and increase immune functions. Studies have also show that green tea contains antioxidants that can improve artery function and reduce the risk of hypertension.
A vitamin that dissolves in water. Water-soluble vitamins can be easily broken down and absorbed by the intestines, sent to the bloodstream, and transported to cells and tissues where they are used. Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and a group of vitamins known as the B vitamins.
Being water-soluble also means that these vitamins are excreted daily and not stored for future use. Because water-soluble vitamins are excreted daily, toxicities are rare. In contrast, deficiencies may be more likely because water-soluble vitamins need to be replenished daily in order to ensure the body has an adequate supply to function properly. This is a why it is important for a vegan diet to supplement vitamin B12 DRI. Water-soluble vitamins help regulate body processes by acting as coenzymes.
Coenzyme: A compound that attaches to an enzyme to activate or enhance the functions of the enzyme. As coenzymes, water-soluble vitamins are mainly involved in energy-producing metabolic reactions.