Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly. You can get most of the nutrients you need by eating a balanced diet; although you can also get many of these nutrients in a daily supplement. Vitamins and minerals are considered as highly essential nutrients- because they perform a lot of key functions in the body. They help in building up the bones, healing of wounds, boosting the immune system, converting food to energy, repairing cell damage, and many other important functions.
Vitamins are classified as fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins:
Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, D, E and K; and are mainly found in animal fats, vegetable oils, dairy foods, liver, oily fish. While your body needs these vitamins to work properly, you don’t need to eat foods containing them every day.
Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C, the B vitamins and folic acid. They are mainly found in fruit and vegetables, grains, milk and dairy foods. These vitamins are not stored in the body, so they should be consumed more often.
Minerals include calcium and iron amongst many others and are found in: meat, cereals, fish, milk and dairy foods, fruit and vegetables, nuts.
Rich sources of major vitamins and minerals
The following is a highlight of highly important vitamins and minerals, and their major food sources:
The vitamin A family plays a key role in immunity, reproductive behaviors, and especially vision. The A vitamins, which include beta-carotene, help the retina, cornea, and membranes of the eye to function properly. Vitamin A is found in sufficient amounts in sweet potatoes, beef liver, spinach, fish, milk, eggs and carrots.
Vitamin B6 contains six different compounds that have similar effects on the body; including food metabolism, formation of red blood cells, stabilization of blood sugar and building up of antibodies. Good sources of Vitamin B6 include fish, beef liver, and poultry.
Vitamin B12 is vital for a healthy nervous-system function and for the formation of DNA and red blood cells. It helps guard against anemia, a blood condition that causes fatigue and weakness. Most animal products are rich in B12. Vitamin B12 also occurs naturally in clams, beef liver, trout, salmon, and tuna, and is added to many breakfast cereals.
Vitamin C is an important antioxidant, and it’s also a necessary ingredient in several key bodily processes, such as protein metabolism and the synthesis of neurotransmitters. We often think that oranges are the best source of Vitamin 6; however, sweet red peppers actually contain more of the vitamin than any other food. Other good sources include kiwi fruit, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe.
Vitamin D helps in calcium absorption, bone growth, cell growth, immunity, and helps to reduce inflammation. The main food sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish—such as swordfish, salmon, and mackerel. Cod liver oil is also rich in Vitamin D.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from the harmful molecules known as free radicals. It’s important for immunity, and for healthy blood vessel function and blood clotting. Foods rich in Vitamin E include germ oil packs, sunflower seeds and almonds.
Vitamin K is very important in blood clotting. Without it, your body would not be able to stop bleeding when you bruise or cut yourself. Green, leafy vegetables like collard greens, turnip and spinach are the best sources of this vitamin.
This is another B vitamin which acts as an antioxidant that helps the body fight disease. It is also important for the production of energy and red blood cells. Beef liver is the richest source of naturally occurring riboflavin. Some fortified cereals also contain Riboflavin.
This chemical pigment, found in red fruits and vegetables, appears to have antioxidant properties. Some studies suggest that lycopene may help guard against a range of ailments, including heart disease and several different types of cancer. Tomatoes are the best-known source of lycopene.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. More than 99% is stored in and helps fortify the teeth and bones. The rest is used in the blood vessels and is useful for muscle function, cell communication, and hormone secretion. Dairy products are generally rich in calcium. Dark, leafy greens such as kale and Chinese cabbage are also sources of calcium.
Folate is a type of type of B vitamin that helps in the formation of new tissues and proteins. It can also help to prevent birth defects for pregnant women. Folate is found in a wide variety of foods, including dark leafy green vegetables, fruit, nuts, and dairy products. Beef liver and spinach have very high concentrations of folate.
Proteins in our body make use of iron to transport oxygen and grow cells. Most of the body’s iron is found in hemoglobin. Foods rich in iron include animal foods (such as red meat, fish, and poultry) and plant sources (like lentils and beans). Chicken liver is a very rich source of iron.
The body uses magnesium in more than 300 biochemical reactions; including maintaining muscle and nerve function, keeping heart rhythm steady, and keeping bones strong. Wheat bran, almonds, cashews, and green vegetables such as spinach are very good sources of the mineral.
Niacin, like its fellow B vitamins, is important for converting food into energy. It also helps the digestive system, skin, and nerves to function properly. Dried yeast is a top source of niacin. Other rich sources of niacin include peanuts, beef and chicken liver.
Potassium is an essential electrolyte, needed to control the electrical activity of the heart. It is also used to build proteins and muscle, and to break down carbohydrates into energy. Good sources of potassium include potatoes, tomato paste, beet greens, red meat, chicken, and fish.
Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties. Although the body only requires small amounts of it, the mineral is very essential for the prevention of certain chronic diseases, regulation of the thyroid function and the immune system. A good source of Selenium is Brazil nuts.
Zinc has been shown to play a role in immune function and it is also important for your senses of taste and smell. Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food.