Other than eating a healthy, colourful, nutrient-rich diet, supplementing with vitamins and minerals is an excellent way to ensure that your body is getting what it needs to work properly. Of course, there are the popular vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and iron, but there are a lot of lesser known vitamins and minerals that are essential to our well-being. What are they, what do they do within our body, and where is the best place to find them in our diets?
The B vitamins are extremely important in maintaining our health. There are eight essential nutrients within the B vitamin group: vitamin B1 (Thiamin) helps release energy from carbohydrates that we consume, and is important to maintain the functions of the brain and nervous system. Soybeans, pine nuts, and dried yeast are the best food sources containing B1. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) is an antioxidant and helps the body fight disease, and produce energy and red blood cells. Unfortunately, liver is the best source for vitamin B2, but milk, yogurt, mushrooms, spinach, and almonds are also foods that contain vitamin B2.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) also helps convert carbohydrates to energy within the body, it is also important for hormone production, circulation, and helps to reduce cholesterol, along with aiding in the maintenance of nervous system function. Again, liver is a great source (sorry), but you can also find it in beets, yeast, fish, sunflower seeds, peanuts, strawberries, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) is everywhere and is extremely important to your health. It also helps to release the energy from the food you eat, it aids in metabolizing fats, production of red blood cells, and synthesizing stress hormones. Again, liver is a great source (why?), but thankfully broccoli, egg yolks, and yeast are also great sources.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) helps make neurotransmitters, hemoglobin, and hormones, it is also important in maintaining and developing brain function. Chickpeas/garbanzo beans are extremely high in vitamin B6, as is fish, poultry, and yes you guessed it, liver.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin/Vitamin H) is important in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats, and also aids in protein synthesis and energy production. Biotin is found in a wide variety of foods including, egg yolk, legumes, nuts, beans, cauliflower, liver, chocolate (this will get rid of the liver taste in your mouth), dairy, and whole grains.
Vitamin B9 (Folate/Folic acid) aids in cell renewal, and helps to prevent birth defects during pregnancy. It is found in dark leafy greens, and legumes.
Last, but not least, is vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) helps prevent anemia, is important for healthy nervous system function and for the formation of DNA and red blood cells. Great food sources are clams, fish, and liver.
Vitamin K is vital for proper blood clotting. It also prevents the calcification of soft tissue and cartilage, helps cell growth, as well as aiding in normal bone growth and development. Our bodies store very little vitamin K, so it is important that we have a regular intake through diet. Green leafy vegetables and some vegetable oils (olive, soybean, cottonseed, and canola) are great sources of vitamin K.
Vitamin A is another often forgotten about vitamin. It is an extremely important factor for general growth and development. It also helps keep our eyes, teeth and skin healthy. Orange fruits and vegetables tend to get their orange colouring from carotene pigment, so naturally orange foods are often high in vitamin A, such as, carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupes.
Vitamin E helps to protect your body from free radicals, and aids in blood circulation. Nuts and seeds are high in vitamin E, especially almonds, and tomatoes are also a good source.
Zinc is a mineral that helps your immune system stay healthy and strong. It aids in cell division and cell growth. It helps breakdown carbohydrates within the body, and it is essential for the senses of taste and smell. You can find it in oysters, Alaska King crab, red meat, and poultry.
Phosphorous is present in every cell in your body, and does a lot to keep your body working. It aids in the formation of your bones and teeth, but it is also significant in helping your body use the carbohydrates and fats within your body, synthesizes protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues, crucial in the production of ATP, assists in muscle contraction, kidney function, heartbeat regulation, and nerve conduction. Great food sources for phosphorous are, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, eggs, fish, and wild rice.
The mineral iodine enables the thyroid gland to produce hormones. A deficiency may result in hypothyroidism. Seaweed, sea food, and iodized salt are excellent sources.
Magnesium is incredibly important. It is needed for over 300 biochemical reactions in your body. It helps to maintain nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, regulates the heartbeat, maintains bone strength, aids in the regulation of blood glucose levels, and in the production of energy and proteins. Magnesium can also help you out if you have a lot of muscle tension as it helps your muscles to relax. Food sources to find magnesium are legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and avocado.
Manganese helps to activate enzymes and works as a catalyst to synthesize fatty acids and cholesterol. It also helps to facilitate hormone production and the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates. Manganese can also act as an antioxidant and promote bone strength, healthy blood sugar levels, thyroid function, and nerve conduction. It is present naturally in a wide variety of foods, so it is easy to supplement with diet. Green leafy vegetables, berries, pineapple, lettuce, tempeh, oats, soybeans, spelt, brown rice, and garbanzo beans are foods with the best sources of manganese.
It is important to ensure that you are getting enough vitamins and minerals within your diet, and if you don’t think you are it is okay to supplement, but be aware that you can have too much of these vitamins and minerals within your body, and that can lead to toxicity. Eating a wide variety of healthy, unprocessed foods is the best way to give your body what it needs.
Stephenie Sutherland is a Fort St. John student studying nutrition and food sciences. She can found at the gym, hiking local trails, and serving up a hot cuppa joe at Whole Wheat and Honey. Have a question? Email her at email@example.com.