What are vitamins and what vitamins should I take?

What are vitamins and what vitamins should I take?

In addition to the proteins, fats and carbohydrates our body needs vitamins so our cells can function properly.
Unlike macronutrients, these substances (called micronutrients because our body needs them in small or very small quantities) have no energy value.

They are nonetheless essential because they exert essential functions in all the biochemical processes of the body: among other things, they regulate the metabolism, facilitate the release of energy, and provide important functions in bone synthesis and tissues.

With the exception of vitamin D (which can be synthesized after sun exposure) and vitamin K, the body is unable to synthesize vitamins, they must always be provided by the diet.

How many vitamins are there?

There are 13 different vitamins, which are classified into two groups.

Water-soluble vitamins

These are vitamin C and vitamins of group B (B1, B2, B3 or PP, B5, B6, B8, B9 and B12).

They are so called because they are soluble in water, and therefore disperse in the liquids of the body, without being stored: this factor makes them very little toxic, since even in case of overconsumption, they are evacuated in the water i.e. urine. It also means that if the diet does not consistently provide more than 50% of the recommended intakes, small deficiencies can develop within a month. Their maximum effect in the body occurs 8 to 14 hours after ingestion.

In general, water-soluble vitamins are mostly brought by fruits and vegetables.

Fat-soluble vitamins

These are vitamins A , D , E and K.

They are called fat-soluble vitamins because they are dissolved and stored in adipose tissue, which can make them toxic at high doses . This property also makes it possible to provide them less regularly than water-soluble vitamins.

In general, fat-soluble vitamins are provided by dietary lipids (oils, fatty fish, egg yolks, offal, liver, etc.), with the exception of vitamin D , the only really interesting source of which is the sun .

In addition, vitamins A , C , E and β-carotene (pro-vitamin A) play the role of antioxidants in many functions of the body.

They limit the effects of oxidative stress, protecting us against cell damage caused by free radicals (i.e. molecules that come from the very oxygen that we breathe for life, but which are particularly harmful since they attack our cells and their constituents, and represent one of the essential causes of our aging).

What are minerals?

Just like vitamins, minerals are essential substances for the proper functioning of the body. Most are found in unlimited quantities in the wild, in the water of rivers, lakes and oceans, as well as in the soil.

There are 22 in total, which make up about 4% of our body weight, and are classified into two categories.

The major minerals

Called this way because they require intakes higher than 100 mg per day, there are 7 different ones which are: calcium , magnesium , potassium , phosphorus , sulfur , sodium and chlorine .

The trace elements

Called this way because they are found in traces, and together they represent less than 15 g of the total body mass, there are 15 in total, among which are mainly: iron , zinc , copper , fluorine , iodine , chromium and selenium .

Minerals perform essential functions:

  • At the level of metabolism: they enter into the composition of enzymes and hormones.
  • At the level of the structure of the body: they play a key role in the constitution of bones and teeth.
  • At the level of the functions of the organism: they contribute to the maintenance of the cardiac rhythm, the muscular contraction, the neuronal conductivity and the acid-base balance.

Why is eating alone not  enough?

Answer: Because the quality of what we eat has changed a lot.

Industrial treatments: the vast majority of foods consumed in our modern societies go through  this type of treatment (pre-cutting, prewash, pre-cooking, ionization, pasteurization, etc.), which inevitably contribute to lowering the micronutrient content.

Intensive agriculture: it is responsible for a depletion of soils in nutrients, which can no longer be found in plants.

Additives and pollutants: they also reduce the levels of antioxidants.

Because other factors increase our needs

Many other factors that we face most of the time, lead to an increase in our vitamin and mineral needs:

Stress: The urinary elimination of magnesium is accelerated when we are subjected to stress (whatever it is), thus increasing our needs in this nutrient.

Smoking (including passive smoking): Tobacco destroys an important part of our vitamin C, and contributes to the deterioration of our vitamin E, our vitamins B9 and B12, and our carotene.

Pollution: It reduces our ability to synthesize vitamin D properly when exposed to the sun, and depletes our antioxidant vitamins.

Sport: our needs for magnesium, zinc, vitamins B1, B6, C and E, and sometimes iron, are increased.

The sun: the β-carotene content of our skin decreases when exposure is too long.

Age: our body absorptive capacities of vitamins and minerals are decreasing over the years, and our defense systems require larger quantities of antioxidant vitamins, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc and selenium, to protect us effectively against aggression exterior.

Medications: Hormonal treatments, anticoagulants or antiepileptics, to name a few, can reduce the absorption of certain micronutrients.

How to obtain sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals?

Answer: Food, the main source of vitamins and minerals.

A healthy, balanced diet is the best way to give your body the necessary vitamins and minerals. Indeed, the modern life tends to deprive us more and more of good nutrients: stress, lack of sleep, aging but also industrial food, pollutants, cause a lack of these essential elements.  

Here’s where to find the main vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, green vegetables (broccoli sprouts, broccoli), red fruits, tomatoes and peppers
  •  Vitamin E: whole grains, soy, vegetable oils
  • Calcium: dairy products (to be consumed in moderation), spinach, broccoli, salmon, soy
  • Iron: oysters, asparagus, red meats, whole grains
  • Zinc: green beans, red meats, egg yolk, brewer’s yeast

The question of supplementation

All this being said, as we have just seen above, it sometimes seems difficult to depend on food alone to meet all micronutrient requirements, and a perfectly balanced diet, if it remains an ideal, is often complicated to reach …

In reality, our modern diet usually provides a minimum of vitamins so that our body does not show acute symptoms , but most often long-term deficits  of vitamins and minerals can have negative impacts on our health. This is particularly shown by intervention studies using vitamins and minerals that improve health status or performance.

Depending on your personal situation, it may be advisable to resort to micronutrient supplementation, daily or circumstantial, to compensate for the limits of the modern diet, and thus preserve your health.

A complete customization of your needs may require a blood test and a follow-up by a professional specialized in nutrition.

Warning : keep in mind that the consumption of food supplements, which we think is necessary to fill any deficits, should not be used as an excuse for an unbalanced diet !

To be fit and stay healthy, it is important to get enough vitamins and minerals every day: these micronutrients perform essential functions in our body, both in terms of energy metabolism and the structure of the body itself. .

In addition, the antioxidant properties of some of them help to protect us from damage related to free radicals and oxidative stress, and thereby prevent many cardiovascular or degenerative diseases, as well as some cancers.

To achieve a diet rich in vitamins and minerals:

  • Increase your frequency of eating high-nutrient foods that are richer in micronutrients (fruits and vegetables, oilseeds, seafood, etc.);
  • Limit fatty , sweet and refined foods, which are mostly devoid of micronutrients essential for health.

In addition, to supplement your diet and regularly provide beneficial and protective elements, or if your needs are above average (sport, stress, old age, pregnancy, pollution, tobacco, growth, dieting, infection, chronic disease, treatment etc.), the use of quality food supplements may be appropriate and effective.

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