Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that enable the body to grow and develop normally. The two terms go hand-in-hand, but they refer to slightly different things. Vitamins are organic compounds, meaning they are derived from plants or animals. Minerals are inorganic elements that come from the earth. Unlike fats, proteins and carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals do not produce usable energy when broken down. Rather, they assist enzymes that release energy from other compounds.
A balanced diet
Proper nutrition depends on a balanced diet, drawing from the five major food groups in reasonable portions. A 2,000-calorie daily diet consisting of fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, lean meats, milk products, legumes and other foods low in saturated fat will generally provide the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Dozens of different vitamins and minerals are necessary for the body to function properly. Here are a few examples, along with their associated bodily functions:
- Calcium – required for muscle contraction, blood vessel expansion and contraction, secretion of hormones and enzymes, and transmitting nervous system impulses
- Chromium – enhances the action of insulin
- Folate – helps produce and maintain new cells
- Iron – essential component of proteins involved in oxygen transport
- Magnesium – among many biochemical reactions, helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function and a steady heartbeat
- Selenium – helps prevent cellular damage from free radicals that lead to heart disease or cancer
- Vitamin A – plays an important role in vision, bone growth, reproduction and cell division
- Vitamin B6 – important component of protein and red blood cell metabolism
- Vitamin B12 – required for red blood cell formation, neurological function and DNA synthesis
- Vitamin D – promotes calcium absorption; needed for bone growth and bone remodeling
- Vitamin E – promotes immune system and liver functionality
- Vitamin K – promotes blood coagulation
- Zinc – involved in enzymatic function, including wound healing, DNA synthesis and cell division
The danger of deficiencies
The body is not always able to absorb all of the vitamins and minerals it needs from food, which is why multi-vitamins can be useful supplements. Without the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals, the body becomes susceptible to disease and illness. Long-term deficiencies can lead to chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and more.