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Health Column: Vitamins play important role in health

UCHealth
For the Craig Press

Have you ever stopped in front of the vitamins at your local pharmacy or grocery store and thought, “Hmm, I wonder if I should be taking any of these?”

You’re not alone.

“When it comes to vitamins and minerals in the form of supplements and whether or not you should be taking any, you have to look at your pattern of eating to know if they’re needed or not,” said Pam Wooster, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “The food we eat can provide vitamins, minerals and many more nutrients, and yet if you have a limited diet, a supplement may be necessary.”



What are vitamins, and why do we need them?

Vitamins are organic compounds obtained from the plant or animal from which they come. Each one differs in its biological function and chemical composition. They are not produced in the body in huge amounts and yet, each plays an important role in the body.

“Vitamins play a significant role in the function of our immune and nervous systems, as well as the gastrointestinal tract,” said Wooster. “They repair and heal wounds, develop red blood cells, and support growth and development by releasing energy from food. Vitamins also help us maintain healthy organs, skin, eyes and hair.”



Water-soluble vs. fat-soluble vitamins

There are 13 essential vitamins, and they are classified as water-soluble or fat-soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are absorbed into the body for immediate use. They are not stored in the body for a long time, which is why they have to be replenished frequently, as any excess amount passes out of the body through urine.

They include thiamine (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin (Vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5), pyridoxine (Vitamin B6), biotin (Vitamin B7), folate (Vitamin B9), cobalamin (Vitamin B12) and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissue in the body and are distributed via the bloodstream. They include Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K.

Are any vitamins more crucial than others?

Several vitamins are required for the proper immune function, including Vitamin C and Vitamin D. A clinical deficiency in either could increase susceptibility to infection.

Additionally, Vitamin D is critical for the role it plays in supporting bone health and the absorption of calcium.

Is a vitamin in food the same as a vitamin in a supplement?

Take Vitamin C, for example.

“Ascorbate acid, or Vitamin C, is an essential, water-soluble micronutrient, and is obtained primarily from fruits and vegetables,” said Wooster. “It was first synthesized in the early 1930s and since then, researchers have been investigating the comparative bioavailability, or the proportion of the nutrient that is digested, absorbed and metabolized naturally, of synthetic versus natural food-derived Vitamin C.”

While chemically identical, foods with fruit- and vegetable-derived Vitamin C are rich in other nutrients and phytochemicals that may influence their bioavailability.

Best sources of vitamins

“Foods that are fresh, largely organic and grown or raised locally in nutrient- and mineral-rich soil are your best options when it comes to natural sources of vitamins,” said Wooster.

The next time you head to the grocery store, consider these vitamin-rich items:

  • Vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts; chard, cabbage, romaine and bok choy; spinach and kale; squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips and pumpkin; snap peas, green beans, bell peppers and asparagus
  • Fruit – apples, plums, mangoes, papaya, pineapple and bananas; blueberries, strawberries, cherries, pomegranates and grapes; grapefruits and oranges; peaches, pears and melons; tomatoes and avocados.
  • Meat, poultry, fish and beans – lean cuts of beef, pork, veal and lamb; turkey bacon; ground chicken or turkey; wild-caught salmon and tuna; haddock; shrimp, mussels, scallops and lobster; beans, lentils and chickpeas; seeds, nuts and nut butters.
  • Grains – rolled or steel cut oats; brown or wild rice; barley, quinoa, buckwheat, whole corn and cracked wheat; whole wheat versions of pasta, tortillas, crackers, breads and rolls.
  • Dairy and dairy substitutes – low fat, skim, nut or enriched milk, like soy or rice; skim ricotta cheese; low-fat cottage cheese; string cheese; plain nonfat yogurt.
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