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Vitamins and Minerals 101

One of the most common inquires I get is about vitamin and mineral supplements; people are very interested in specific vitamins and their functions.  Honestly, I have trouble giving concise answers because the real answer is that vitamins and minerals have many functions.  But, ‘they have many functions’ is not a satisfying answer, you still want to know what those functions are.  I know, I get it.  So, for the next couple weeks, I’ll be answering all of your vitamin and mineral questions.

I’ve compiled a list of email questions that I’ve received, but please send me more so I can answer your questions in my posts.

What are vitamins and minerals?  They’re micronutrients, which means compounds that do not provide energy (aka do not have calories) but are necessary in small amounts to help our cells to function normally and healthfully.  Micronutrients (which includes vitamins and minerals, among other things – see below for more info) are required by our bodies to maintain health.

Vitamins are either water soluble (B’s and C) or fat soluble (A, D, E, K.  The water soluble vitamins are excreted in your urine if you consume more than you need while the fat soluble vitamins are stored in your fat cells.

Where do we get them?  This is going to be a bold statement and there’s probably an exception to the rule but all unprocessed foods have some vitamins or minerals.  That includes all fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts, soy, meat, fish, and dairy.  Processed foods lose some of their micronutrients during processing. 

Mostly, we get micronutrients from food but our skin can produce vitamin D and good bacteria in our intestines can produce vitamin K and biotin.  We are unable to produce any minerals.

How many are there? 

Vitamins: 13 – A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate).

Minerals: many – the popular ones include calcium, phosphorous, sodium, potassium, iron, chloride, sulfur, iodine, cobalt, magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, zinc, and fluoride.

Other micronutrients:  we don’t even know!  With the advent of new technologies, we’re able to better study the small nutrients that contribute to good health.

What are examples of other micronutrients that I’ve heard of? 

  • Antioxidants (i.e. lycopene or Coenzyme Q)
  • Flavonoids (red, blue and purple pigments in fruits and vegetables)
  • Carotenes (yellow and orange pigments in fruits and vegetables)

Just to name a few.  Click here for a more comprehensive, ever-expanding list.

Why should we get vitamins and minerals from foods?  Some vitamins and minerals work synergistically to get absorbed and when they’re used within cells.  For instance, if you consume vitamin C with iron (from plant sources), the vitamin C helps the iron absorb into your intestines.  Vitamin C also helps calcium absorption.

If you made it this far, you’re a trooper because the list can go on and on.  Over the next week or two, I’ll be highlighting some of the more important and well known vitamins and minerals.   If you want to start reading now, check out this post highlighting vitamin D.

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