The ABC's of Vitamins

Vitamins are found in foods and are required for biochemical reactions to occur within the body.  There are 13 different vitamins - four that are fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and are stored for months in the body; and nine which are water-soluble vitamins (C, and the B-complex vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12) which can be stored for a few weeks in the body.

Keeping yourself healthy requires you have a good balance between foods you eat and ensuring you get the right amount of vitamins your body requires, and exercise.  While you can obtain vitamins from supplements, the best source of nutrition comes from the foods you eat.  The longer your food is off the tree it grows on or out of the ground and sitting in the grocery store - the more the nutritional value of the food decreases.  Fresh foods contain the highest amounts of vitamins and nutrients.

Food scientists have discovered that food simply doesn't have the nutrients it contained 50 years ago because it travels further and sits on store shelves longer; and also how we prepare it.  Steaming broccoli for as little as one and a half minutes will remove all of the nutrients.

What do each of the major vitamins do for our bodies?

Vitamin A -  prevents leg muscle cramps, and is often used to treat symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and reduce the risk of heart disease.  Vitamin A helps keep skin healthy and mucus linings healthy (like inside the nose), strengthens immunity from infections, and improves eye sight in dim lighting.

Vitamin A is also thought to have negative effects when taken with blood thinners, and may cause interaction when taken with iron supplements, thyroid medications or drugs used to lower cholesterol. If you get too much Vitamin A in your diet, it is thought to cause weak bones in old age.

Good sources of Vitamin A include:

• cheese

• eggs

• oily fish (such as mackerel)

• milk

• fortified margarine

• yoghurt

• liver

It is recommended that men receive 0.7 mg a day and that women receive 0.6 mg a day of Vitamin A - although you don't really need to have Vitamin A daily because it remains in the body for long periods of time.

Vitamin B - The Vitamin B group of vitamins consists of several different vitamins.

B6, also known as pyridoxine, helps the body store and use energy obtained from protein and carbohydrates we eat.  It also helps hemoglobin carry oxygen around the body.

B6 can be found in:

• pork

• chicken

• turkey

• cod

• bread

• whole cereals (such as oatmeal, wheatgerm and rice)

• eggs

• vegetables

• soya beans

• peanuts

• milk

• potatoes

• and some fortified breakfast cereals

The recommended amount of B6 for adults is 1.4 mg daily for men and 1.2 mg daily for women.

B12 helps make red blood cells and keeps the nervous system healthy.  It releases energy from the foods we eat and processes folic acid.

Vitamin B12 is found in virtually all meat products and certain algae such as seaweed. Good sources include:

• meat

• salmon

• cod

• milk

• cheese

• eggs

• yeast extract

• some fortified breakfast cereals

Adults need approximately 0.0015 mg of Vitamin B12 per day.  Most people get enough of this vitamin through their diets, but vegans may need supplements.

Vitamin C - known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin B is found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables including:

• peppers

• broccoli

• Brussels sprouts

• sweet potatoes

• oranges

Vitamin C helps protect and keep your body's cells healthy, and helps your body absorb iron from food.

Adults should get 40 mg of Vitamin C per day, and because the Vitamin is water-soluble it is not stored in the body and is required in the diet daily.  Supplements are typically not necessary as there are so many foods containing Vitamin C.

Vitamin D -  we get most of our Vitamin D requirement from sunlight on our skin.  The vitamin forms under the skin in reaction to sunlight.  Other sources of Vitamin D include:

• oily fish

• eggs

• fortified margarine

• fortified breakfast cereals

• powdered milk

• liver

Vitamin D helps the body regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate is in the body.  Both calcium and phosphate are needed to keep bones and teeth healthy.  If you regularly consume more Vitamin D than your body needs, you are likely to have weaker bones as you age. The amount of Vitamin D people require 10 micrograms daily.

Vitamin E-  is used by the body to protect cell membranes by acting as an antioxidant.  It's found in a variety of foods including:

• plant oils such as soya, corn and olive oil

• nuts and seeds

• wheatgerm (found in cereals and cereal products)

Most everyone gets enough Vitamin E directly from their diet.  The recommended amounts for adults are 4 mg per day for men and 3 mg per day for women - although Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and therefore is stored in the body for long periods of time.

Vitamin K - is needed for blood clotting to help wounds heal properly, and increasing evidence is showing that vitamin K is also needed to build stronger bones.

In addition to getting Vitamin K from a number of food sources, our bodies produce the vitamin in our intestines by bacteria.  Food sources include:

• green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach

•  vegetable oils and cereals

• pork

• dairy foods

Adults need approximately 0.001 mg per kg of body weight a day.