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The everyday vitamins your body needs

Most people know that vitamins and minerals play an essential role in good health and that it’s important to try and get these nutrients through our diet.

At any one time, there are many things happening within the body to keep us alive and functioning: we’re creating cells and tissues, converting food into energy, our muscles are contracting, our blood is pumping and our brain is constantly interacting with the organs in our body.

Here are a few of the essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to fulfil all these functions and more:

Vitamin A

Vitamin A assists with many important functions of the body. It helps with our vision, particularly in dim light, helps to keep our skin healthy, and plays an important role in immune health, helping us to fight off disease and infection.

To get plenty of vitamin A in your diet, be sure to eat cheese, eggs, oily fish and milk/dairy products. Your body can also convert a nutrient called beta-carotene to vitamin A. This is found in many yellow and red fruits and vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes, capsicum, mango, papaya, and apricots, as well as leafy greens.

B Vitamins

There are a number of vitamins that fall under this category, including thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), as well as pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, biotin, folate and folic acid, and vitamin B12. Each of these nutrients have different functions and benefits within our body. They can affect our energy levels, brain health, insulin sensitivity, heart health including blood pressure and many more. Folic acid is a particularly common supplement for pregnant women as it supports the development of a healthy baby.

Because there are so many vitamins in this category, they can be sourced from a wide range of foods. There are lots of animal sources that are rich in B vitamins, including eggs, chicken, beef, pork, and fish. They are also found in peas, fresh and dried fruit, wholegrain bread and cereals, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas and other green leafy vegetables. Vegemite is also another excellent source of B vitamins - so don’t be afraid to spread some on your toast or sandwiches!

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is often the first supplement that people reach for when they come down with a cold - and for good reason. This vitamin is especially important for a healthy immune system. While it might not be able to cure a cold, it has been shown to shorten the length of a cold when taken as a preventative measure or at the first sign of symptoms.

You can find vitamin C in oranges, capsicums, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and potatoes.

Vitamin D

We tend to get most of our vitamins and nutrients from the food that we eat, however we actually get the majority of our vitamin D through sunlight. This is why it’s a common supplement for people who live in latitudes with particularly long or dark winters. Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps with everything from our immune system to brain health, as well as sexual health, cardiovascular health and healthy bones and joints.

In addition to spending some time in the sun, you can get vitamin D from oily fish, eggs, red meat and D-fortified products like cows milk, soy milk and breakfast cereals.

Vitamin E

This vitamin is an antioxidant and is also anti-inflammatory. It supports a healthy immune system and healthy skin, and can also assist with bone health for older people.

Foods that are rich in vitamin E include nuts and seeds, wheatgerm, vegetable oils, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is another vitamin that can help with bone health, but it is also well known for assisting with heart health. Not only does it play a role in blood clotting (helping to heal injuries), but Vitamin K has also been associated with reducing the calcification and stiffening of the arteries, in turn helping to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Interestingly, Vitamin K isn’t found in large amounts in the foods included in a western diet. Nato, a Japanese food that’s made from fermented soybeans is particularly high in Vitamin K, but it’s not something that many Australians tend to eat. While it can be found in other foods, including dark green vegetables, it’s difficult to eat enough to reach optimum levels of Vitamin K, which is why it’s commonly taken as a supplement.

A steady vitamin K intake is important for patients on a blood thinning medication called warfarin.

Calcium

Calcium is well known for helping to build strong bones and teeth, but it also has other roles within the body. For example, calcium can help regulate muscle contractions, including your heart beat, as well as helping the blood to clot. Because calcium helps to build and maintain healthy bones, eating enough calcium can help to prevent conditions like osteoporosis.

Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt are rich in calcium. It’s also found in green leafy vegetables, tofu, nuts, bread, and fish that has bones (like sardines).

Magnesium

Magnesium is an electrolyte which helps with the health of the heart and brain, as well as muscle and nerve function. It can also assist with muscle relaxation and even sleep, which is why you’ll often find magnesium added to topical creams or soaks that aim to soothe sore muscles. Magnesium is lost through sweat, so people who are extremely active may wish to take care in ensuring they’re getting enough magnesium in their diet.

People with coeliac disease or those that choose to follow a gluten-free diet may consider supplementing magnesium, as grains are a rich source of this essential mineral. Magnesium is also found in green leafy vegetables, brown rice, bread, meat, fish, nuts and some dairy products.

Zinc

Zinc plays a role in immune health, as well as maintaining healthy brain function. Some studies have indicated a connection between a zinc deficiency and conditions like depression and anxiety, and zinc has also been shown to have a positive effect when taken alongside antidepressants. Zinc can also help with hormonal health, particularly the production of testosterone in both men and women. It can also help keep the skin healthy, particularly in relation to skin conditions like acne.

You can find zinc in shellfish like oysters, some dairy products, meat, bread, and some cereal products.

The best way to meet the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals is to eat a diverse diet that’s rich in whole foods. If you’re not sure or you suspect you might have a deficiency, speak to your GP or the friendly pharmacist at your local Capital Chemist.

You may also be interested in the following:

Multivitamins for the whole family
Vitamins for healthy adults
Vitamins for children

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