Vitamin supplements

A well-balanced diet gives us most of the vitamins and minerals we need, but there may be benefits from added vitamin supplements if your diet is less than perfect.

We all need vitamins, of course, but do we get enough of what we need? Vitamin deficiency should not concern those who eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and get good helpings of fresh air and sunshine on a regular basis—sunshine providing most of the vitamin D we need for healthy bones. We also need vitamin D to help our bodies absorb the calcium and phosphorus in our diets.

There are some of us, however, who may benefit from a vitamin supplement boost. The good news is that if your daily diet has been less than ideal, just one supplement—a daily multi vitamin/mineral—should help to bridge any nutritional gap.

Read more about a healthy diet

What you need to know

Gaining a better understanding of vitamins, what they are and what they do, will give you much of the information you need if you are considering taking a daily vitamin supplement. Here are some basic facts…

There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are found mainly in fatty foods such as animal fats, including butter and lard, vegetable oils, dairy foods, liver and oily fish.

While your body needs these vitamins to work properly, you do not need to eat foods containing them every day. This is because your body stores these vitamins in your liver and fatty tissues for future use. These stores can build up so they are there when you need them. However, if you have much more than you need, fat-soluble vitamins can be harmful.
Fat-soluble vitamins are:
vitamin A
vitamin D
vitamin E
vitamin K

Water-soluble vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body, so you need to have them more frequently. If you have more than you need, your body gets rid of the extra vitamins when you urinate.  These vitamins are generally not harmful. However, this does not mean that all large amounts are necessarily harmless.

Water-soluble vitamins are found in fruit, vegetables and grains. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they can be destroyed by heat or exposure to the air. They can also be lost in water used for cooking.

This means that by cooking foods, especially boiling them, we lose many of these vitamins. The best way to keep as many of the water-soluble vitamins as possible is to steam or grill foods, rather than boil them.

Water-soluble vitamins are  vitamin C, the B vitamins and folic acid.

There are also many other types of vitamins that are an important part of a healthy diet.

Vitamin C = five-a-day

As we start to move into autumn and winter here in the UK, chemists usually see a rise in the sale of vitamin C supplements as people seek to ward off seasonal colds. Whether vitamin C supplements increase our resistance to the common cold remains an open question because, once again, if you have a balanced diet that includes your five-a-day fruit and veg, your body should have a natural sufficiency of vitamin C, without the necessity of supplements.

A final word

If you are considering a vitamin/mineral supplement, you should approach this cautiously. Dr Hilary advises that you should discuss your situation with your doctor before taking any supplements.

Source: NHS ‘Choices’

SEE ALSO: Anti-ageing supplements

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