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Nutrition 101: Understanding Vitamins and Minerals

VitaminsYou hear all of the time that you should get your vitamins and minerals. Have you ever wondered what is the difference between these? I’m here to break it down for you in the simplest way possible. Both vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, or the “small” things our bodies need to survive. You don’t require a lot of them in the grand scheme of things but you can get very sick without them. Macronutrients are things such as meat, vegetables, etc. These things include micronutrients. The average American diet is lacking in these essentials.

Ready for the big explanation? Get out your pencils and put on your thinking caps.

Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by air, heat, or acid. These include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, etc. These are broken down into sub-categories.

Minerals are inorganic and maintain their chemical structure despite outside influences such as air, heat or acid. These include calcium, sodium, magnesium, chloride, sulfur, copper, iron, zinc, etc. Also can be broken down into categories.

That’s it. Now let’s move on to why each is important and the role they play in your body.

Vitamins are either water soluble (B and C) or fat soluble (A, D, E, K).

  • Water soluble are found in the water portion of the food you eat and is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. These vitamins can stay present in your system for several days or months. When you have these vitamins in excess your kidneys will do away with them in your urine.
    • You may know some of the B vitamins under different names such as biotin (B7) which is good for hair, skin, and nails; folic acid (folate, B9) good for pregnancy; niacin (B3); riboflavin (B2); and others.
    • The main purpose of these vitamins are to release energy as you need it, produce energy, build proteins and cells, and make collagen.
    • Though your body will rid itself of excess, too much of a good thing is a bad thing – you can overdose on vitamins
  • Fat soluble enter the body through the lymph system or the intestinal wall. These are typically “escorted” through the body by proteins that act as carriers.
    • These vitamins build bones, protect vision, interact favorably with other nutrients, and protect the body.
    • These vitamins get stored in your body for a long period of time and you can accumulate too much if you’re taking supplements, but rarely from food ingestion only.

Minerals are either major (calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, sodium) or trace (chromium, copper, iron, zinc, iodine).

  • Major minerals behave similarly to water soluble vitamins being absorbed into the blood stream quickly, with the exception of calcium which needs a carrier.
    • They help regulate functions such as water balance, stabilize protein structures, and ensure healthy bones
    • You can definitely have too much of these, the most common the average American has in excess is sodium
  • Trace minerals, though found in lesser quantities in the body, are not less important
    • These minerals carry out tasks such as oxygenating the body, deter tooth decay, boost the immune system, help the blod to clot and form enzymes.
    • Having too much or too little of these trace minerals can be seen in weight gain or the inability to lose weight because the hormones can get thrown out of whack

You can get these valuable nutrients through eating whole foods and/or taking supplements. Eating whole foods is the best way and use supplements as a way to help fill in the gaps. If you live in an area where it’s hard to get your hands on fresh raw fruits and vegetables, be sure you are staying within the recommended dosages of vitamin supplements. If you’re trying to lose weight and not having much luck despite doing the right things, take a look at your micronutrients. Especially vitamin B which tells the body to RELEASE energy. wink wink!

 

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