Thursday, February 18, 2010

Essential Vitamins For A Healthy You

Thursday 18th February 2010

You can get all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs by eating a varied and balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. We all know that vitamins are vital part of any healthy diet, but what is it that makes vitamins so important?

Found naturally in our foods, vitamins and minerals are the foundations which our bodies need to be able to work properly. For example iron helps to make red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body.

With vitamins being essential for life, how do we now if we are eating enough?

Government guidelines insist that every single one of us should be consuming '5 a day' That's five portions of fruit and/or vegetables per day and this is not without good reason; A Cambridge University study has revealed five behaviours that could extend our life expectancy by 14 years, and one of those is eating the '5 a day'.

A lot of fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamin C which helps keep your cells healthy. Excellent sources of vitamin C can be found in broccoli, oranges, kiwi fruits and peppers.

Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach are also great sources of vitamin K, which helps build strong bones. Carrots, broccoli leaves, spinach, kale, pumpkin and other leafy vegetables are also good sources of vitamin A.

Getting your five a day is not as difficult as you might think. Fruits and vegetables fresh, frozen, dried or tinned (in juice), all count. A glass of fruit juice can also count as one of your portions, and so can a fruit smoothie. But they only ever count as one of your five a day, no matter how much you drink in an entire day.

You probably knew that fruit and vegetables are important sources of vitamins. But that’s not the whole story. Cheese, eggs, oily fish and milk, for example, are all good sources of vitamin A. Liver is very rich in vitamin A. If you’re pregnant, too much vitamin A can harm your unborn baby, so pregnant women should avoid liver, liver products and supplements containing vitamin A.

Vitamin B6, which helps the body to store energy, can be found in chicken, pork and turkey, as well as eggs, milk and vegetables.

The best sources of vitamin E – which helps to protect cells against damage – are plant oils such as olive, soya and corn oil. Nuts and seeds are also a great source.

But there are two vitamins that are not found in fruit, vegetables or grains: vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

Vitamin B12 helps keep red blood cells healthy, and helps us access the energy in the food we eat. It's mainly found in animal products, such as meat, dairy foods and eggs. It’s also in yeast extract, which is great if you love Marmite, as well as some fortified breads and breakfast cereals.

Because vitamin B12 is not in vegetable foods, vegans, who eat no animal-based foods, need to pay particular care to make sure they get enough.

Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods: good sources include oily fish and eggs. It's also in fortified foods such as margarine, breakfast cereals and powdered milk. But sunlight is our biggest source of vitamin D.

As one of the B group of vitamins, Folic Acid can be found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas and brown rice. It's also in some fortified breakfast cereals.

Folic acid helps the body to make red blood cells. Most people can get enough Folic acid by eating a healthy and varied diet. But if you're pregnant or thinking of having a baby, you should take a daily 0.4mg (400 microgram) supplement. This should be used from the time you stop using contraception to the 12th week of pregnancy unless your doctor advises you otherwise.

Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. If you've had a pregnancy in the past that was affected by a neural tube defect, you should take a higher dose: speak to your GP for advice.

Should I Take A Supplement?

Ideally, we should get all the vitamins and minerals we need from the food that we eat. We tend to absorb nutrients more effectively if they’re in our food, rather than taken via a tablet.

With the supplements available at shops today, it’s possible for any of us to exceed the recommended daily intake of many vitamins and minerals. But beware: more doesn’t always mean better.

If you take supplements, you need to know what you’re taking, and the possible consequences.

Research suggests, for example, that having more than 1.5miligrams of vitamin A every day over a period of years could make your bones weaker and more likely to fracture. Taking large doses of vitamin C can cause stomach pain and diarrhoea. With many vitamins and minerals, little evidence exists on the long-term benefits or harms that may come with large regular doses.

There are circumstances, though, in which specific supplements are recommended. Pregnant women are advised to take:

  • 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, to reduce the chances of birth defects.
  • A daily vitamin D supplement. This is also recommended for breastfeeding women.

A daily vitamin D supplement is also recommended for older people and young children. People who cover up their skin entirely when outdoors should also take a vitamin D supplement, because our primary source of vitamin D is sunlight.

So now you know how important it is to get your five a day, maybe you should think about making some changes this week when you go to the supermarket!

See you tomorrow!



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