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It is important to ensure a healthy, balanced diet and an active lifestyle. Nutrients should be provided by a food first approach and supplements should not replace a healthy diet.
Vitamins are nutrients required by the body in small amounts, for a variety of vital processes. Most vitamins cannot be made by the body, so need to be provided in the diet. Vitamin D can be made by the body in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight.
Vitamins are grouped into fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins. Requirements for vitamins change across life stages for example during growth of children and pregnancy.
Water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored in our bodies and are readily excreted, which means we need some in our diet every day. These include vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin C. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed through the gut with the help of fat and can be stored in the body unlike water soluble vits. Fat soluble vitamins include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.
Vitamin A is important for the maintenance of healthy skin, vision, immune function and cell specialisation (important during growth of children). Vitamin A plays a role in the normal iron metabolism and Zinc contributes to normal metabolism of vitamin A.
The vitamin A content of the diet (from both animal –retinol and plant sources-beta carotene) is normally expressed as retinol equivalents (RE). As a precautionary measure, women who are pregnant, or who might become pregnant, are advised not to consume vitamin A supplements. Liver and liver products may contain a large amount of vitamin A, so these should also be avoided in pregnancy as well. The Food Standards Agency advises that, as a precaution, regular consumers of liver (once a week or more) should not increase their intake of liver or take supplements containing retinol (for example, cod liver oil).
B Vitamins: B vitamins are a class of water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in energy metabolism by help turn food into energy. Dietary supplements containing all eight are referred to as a vitamin B complex.As well as playing an important factor in energy metabolism, reducing tiredness & fatigue each vitamin also have other benefits:
Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Folic Acid is classed a B vitamin. Supplemental folic acid intake:
Vitamin C plays an important role in our immune function but it has many other benefits:
There are two sources of vitamin D: sunlight (resulting in skin synthesis of vitamin D) and the diet. Vitamin D exists as either vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) or vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 is widely distributed in plants and fungi. Vitamin D3 is formed from the action of UV irradiation in the skin of animals & humans. There are not many rich food sources of vitamin D. However, dietary sources are essential when exposure to sunlight is limited. Benefits of Vit D include:
Vitamin E contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress. Alpha-tocopherol accounts for 90% of the vitamin E in human tissues.
Vitamin K is required for the synthesis of several of proteins required for normal blood clotting and bone structure. It is synthesised by bacteria in the large bowel and is also present in both plant and animal foods. There are 2 forms of the vitamin, known as K1 and K2.
Minerals are inorganic substances required by the body in small amounts for a variety of different functions. Our requirements for minerals vary with age, during growth and pregnancy, sometimes health conditions (e.g. anaemia, osteoporosis). Some minerals are needed in larger amounts than others, e.g. calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and chloride. Others are required in smaller quantities (trace minerals) e.g. iron, zinc, iodine, fluoride, selenium and copper.
Zinc is a trace element which has many benefits and functions in our bodies including:
Excess zinc in the body from very high doses can interfere with copper metabolism.
Iron is an important mineral as lack of dietary iron depletes iron stores in the body and this can eventually lead to iron deficiency anaemia. Women of child bearing age and teenage girls need to ensure they consume sufficient dietary iron as their requirements are higher. Iron contributes to:
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is essential for a number of vital functions including:
Iodine is an essential component of the thyroid hormones which are vital for metabolic, physical and mental development. Iodine contributes to:
Fluoride helps with the maintenance of tooth mineralisation.
Magnesium is an essential mineral present in all human tissues, especially in bone. It has important interrelationships with calcium, potassium and sodium. Magnesium contributes to:
Selenium is a mineral and a component of some of the important antioxidant enzymes and therefore to protect the body against oxidative damage. It also helps with:
Copper is the third most abundant dietary trace metal after iron and zinc.
Chromium is a mineral with its main functions appear to be linked with protein, carbohydrate and fat metabolism. It is thought to promote the action of insulin, which controls glucose levels in the blood. One significant characteristic of chromium deficiency is impaired glucose tolerance, which can be improved by chromium supplementation in those individuals who were deficient to start with.
Omega 3 fish oils containing fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are known mainly for their cardio protective benefits. At higher doses they can help maintain blood pressure and blood fatty acid levels (triglyceride). DHA also helps with maintaining brain and vision health. We should be aiming to eat 2 portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, anchovies, herring, fresh tuna, mackerel and kippers. Each portion should be typically 140g. If you do not consume fish biweekly, supplements may be able to help. It is best to take fish oil supplements with a meal to help absorption of the fatty acids. Intake of fish oils containing high levels of DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding is recommended for the normal brain and eye development of the baby and breastfed infants.
α-Linolenic acid (ALA) is a vegetarian source of omega 3 fatty acid from plant sources such as walnuts, linseed (flax seed), chia seeds and hemp. Studies show our bodies are better at utilising fish sources of omega 3, so we would need higher levels of omega 3 from plant sources.