Our bodies require small amounts of vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients to function properly. For example, iron plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and vitamin C has a vital part to play in keeping cells healthy. Through a healthy, balanced diet that contains plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, most of us can get all of the essential nutrition our body requires. However, some people rely on dietary supplements to make up the shortfall.
Vitamins can be broken down into two categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are essential for a healthy diet, but they do not need to be consumed every day because they can be harmful if they build up too much. They can be found in foods like butter, vegetable oils, dairy and oily fish, and are stored in your liver for future use. Fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K.
Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body so you need to consume them every day. If you have too many water-soluble vitamins, your body will get rid of them when you urinate. Mainly found in fruits, vegetables and grains, water-soluble vitamins can be destroyed through cooking preparation (e.g., in the water in which we boil our vegetables). As such, to keep hold of as many vitamins as possible, grilling or steaming foods is often more beneficial than boiling. Some of the most important water-soluble vitamins include vitamins C, B and folic acid.
Your body needs minerals to build strong bones and teeth, control bodily fluids inside and outside cells and to turn the food you eat into energy. Cereals, meat, fish, milk, dairy products, fruits, vegetables and nuts are all rich sources of minerals. Calcium and iron are two of the most important minerals to include in our diets.
Research indicates that calcium helps lower high blood pressure and protect against colon and breast cancer, however, more than 1500mg per day may result in stomach cramps or diarrhoea. The NHS recommends a healthy serving of 700mg of calcium per day from foods including dairy products, leafy greens like broccoli, tofu and nuts.
Essential Nutrients for Children
In many cases, growing children don’t get enough of vitamins A and C—particularly those who don’t eat a varied and balanced diet. As such, the government recommends that all children from six-months to five years old should take dietary supplements in the form of vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D. Having too much of some vitamins can be harmful for your child, so talk to your GP and pharmacist about what supplements would be most suitable.
Dr Chris Advises…
Boiling your vegetables can destroy essential water-soluble vitamins. Try grilling or steaming your food instead.