Why are Vitamins & Minerals so vital?

By Hannah Ng’uni

Photo by Vanessa Loring on Pexels.com

We conclude this series on the key food groups that make up a healthy balanced diet with the basics on micronutrients – vitamins and minerals. Unlike carbohydrates, protein and fats which the body needs in large amounts (measured in grams), vitamins and minerals, though vital for the body to function well, are only needed in small amounts (measured in milligrams or micrograms).

Vitamins

Divided into two groups – fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E and K) and water soluble (B vitamins and C). This is based on the way our body absorbs, transports, and stores these vitamins. See attached pdf below developed by British Nutrition Foundation (2021) for the various roles of vitamins, food sources and the reference intake (RI) for your information.

There are limited foods that naturally contain Vitamin D therefore it can be difficult for people to get enough from the diet, sources include: oily fish, red meat, eggs and fortified breakfast cereal and fat spreads. See Vitamin D pdf below.

The UK Government advice is that during autumn and winter, everyone should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement. Sunlight remains the best source therefore make the most of the sunny days!

The Eatwell Guide (2016)

Minerals

Unlike vitamins, minerals are inorganic compounds or elemental atoms but also essential to health. Remember the periodic table from school? Then you will remember elements such as calcium, potassium, sodium, chloride, phosphorus, and magnesium, in nutrition these are grouped as major minerals. Iron, zinc, copper, selenium, iodine and fluoride are known as trace minerals. This classification is based on the amount required from the diet and the amount already present in the body however both are vital and play several functions in the body. See attachment.

As seen on the pdf, vitamins and minerals are found in a variety of plant and animal food sources. Usually eating a well-balanced varied diet provides enough of these key nutrients that our body requires however in cases were individuals have deficiencies or for example in women planning pregnancy, supplementation for specific vitamins and minerals may be required as advised by the medical professional.

Top tips from the Eatwell Guide (2016):

  • Aim to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day. Remember fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced all count towards 5 a day.
  • Fruit juice and smoothies should be limited to no more than a combined total of 150ml a day.
  • Dairy and dairy alternatives are an important source of calcium and some vitamins.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and mince, and eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages
  • Consider taking daily 10ug (micrograms) Vitamin D supplement particularly in the winter months. I would add that you consult your GP if you have a medical condition or regular medications.

Additional information:

British Dietetic Association (2020) Fruit and Vegetables – how to get five-a-day: Food fact Sheet. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fruit-and-vegetables-how-to-get-five-a-day.html

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