When thinking about a healthy lifestyle, there are certain things that we are all aware of, whether we do them or not is quite a different matter! However, we know that 20 - 30 minutes of daily exercise is good for us. We know that we should drink plenty of water. We know that we should drink or smoke moderately and we know that we should eat five fruits and vegetables per day. But why? The good advice that circulates amongst friends and family and is present in the media is there for a reason, but seldom do we stop to question why and what that reason is. So five fruits and vegetables per day. More if we fancy it, but five as a minimum.
‘Why do I need five fruits and vegetables each day?’
‘Because they are packed with vitamins and minerals.’
‘Why do I need so many vitamins and minerals?’
‘Err...because...ah...they’re good for you!’
Sound familiar? We accept the advice and follow it without really understanding the need for it. It’s not to say that we need to question medical experts on what they are saying, but we rarely take the time to find out why they are saying it and to understand it for ourselves. So let’s look at the vitamins and minerals that are vital for optimal body function, what they do and what foods we can find them in.
Firstly, vitamins are the largest group of elements required by our bodies and are vital for warding off disease and staying healthy. They are essential for ensuring healthy vision, skin and bones. There are thirteen essential vitamins that the body needs; A, C, D, E, K, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6),Biotin (B7), Folate (B9) and Cobalamin (B12).
Vitamin A is important for growth and cell development in skin, hair, nails, gums, glands, bones, teeth and also prevents night blindness. It can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, mangoes, chillies, liver and cod liver oil. Deficiency in Vitamin A can lead to night blindness, infertility, delayed growth, respiratory infections and night blindness.
Vitamin C is fundamental for strengthening blood vessels, promoting wound healing, aiding with the absorption of iron and helping to prevent atherosclerosis. It can be found in citrus fruits, juices, melons, berries, capsicum, tomatoes, chillies, broccoli and potatoes. The richest sources of Vitamin C include Indian gooseberry, limes, oranges and lemons. Vitamin C deficiency will present itself as fatigue, depression, gingivitis, rashes, internal bleeding, impaired wound healing and in extreme cases, scurvy.
Vitamin D is responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate. Unlike the other vitamins, most of Vitamin D absorption comes from being exposed to the sun and there are only a few foods that naturally contain it such as the flesh of fatty fishes like salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel as well as red meat, liver and egg yolks. Supplements are also available from health food shops and some products state that they are fortified with Vitamin D as in the case of many cereals. A deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to a loss of bone density which can then lead on to osteoporosis. In children, a deficiency in Vitamin D can cause rickets which is a rare disease that causes bones to become soft and bend.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant which protects cell membranes, promotes the healing of wounds, helps absorb iron and prevents atherosclerosis. It can be found in citrus fruits, juices, melons, mangos, tomatoes, kiwifruit, avocados, wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, almonds, peanuts, pumpkin, spinach and red bell peppers. A deficiency in Vitamin E can cause muscle and nerve damage which will result in a loss of feeling in the arms and legs, loss of body movement control, vision problems, a weakened immune system and muscle weakness.
Vitamin K is essential to aid the body in blood clotting. It does this by helping to make various proteins that are needed for the building of bones and blood clotting. This directly helps your body to heal wounds. Vitamin K can be found in spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, parsley, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, liver, fish, meat and eggs. A deficiency of Vitamin K will present itself in excessive bleeding as a result of the body being unable to form blood clots.
The Vitamin B group is found predominantly in seafood and meat, however, there are some exceptions which enable those who have chosen a plant-based diet to still get the required quantity of vitamins. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) is fundamental for maintaining a healthy metabolism, normal digestion, proper nerve function and appetite. It can be found in pork, legumes, nuts, seeds, fortified cereals and grains. A deficiency in Vitamin B1 most commonly leads to problems with the peripheral nerves and wasting. Weight loss and anorexia can also develop and there may be mental problems including confusion and short-term memory loss.
If you're looking to get as many vitamins as you can in your cocktail, check out our founder and maker's video on how to make a Bloody Mary from scratch!
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) aids adrenal function, supports normal vision, helps maintain healthy skin and is essential for energy metabolism. It is found in fortified cereals, grains, lean meat, poultry, dairy products, fortified soy//rice beverages and raw mushrooms. Vitamin B2 deficiency include skin disorders, excessive blood, lesions at the corners of the mouth, swollen and cracked lips, hair loss, reproductive problems, sore throat and itchy and red eyes.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) helps the body convert food into glucose, contributes to the normal function of the nervous system, contributes to normal psychological function and promotes normal growth. Vitamin B3 can be found in lean meats, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs, legumes, cereals and fortified breads. A deficiency in Vitamin B3 includes indigestion, fatigue and canker sores. A severe deficiency causes a disease called pellagra which presents with symptoms of scaly skin, dementia and diarrhoea. If not treated, pellagra can be deadly.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) is necessary for making blood cells and converting food into energy. It can be found in kidney, liver beef, chicken breast, mushrooms, avocados, nuts, seeds and dairy milk. Vitamin B5 deficiency is rare, but may include symptoms such as irritability, depression ,vomiting, stomach pains, insomnia, fatigue, upper respiratory infections and burning feet.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) helps the body to make hormones (serotonin and norepinephrine) which regulate mood and help the body to cope with stress. It also helps create melatonin, which helps regulate the body’s internal clock and sleep patterns, helps the body to use and store energy from the proteins and carbohydrates in food and helps the body to form haemoglobin. It can be found in salmon, turkey, chickpeas, spinach, milk, chicken, carrots, beef, eggs, beans, sweet potatoes, cereals, tuna and soybeans. Deficiency in B6 includes skin rashes, cracked lip corners, tiredness, impaired immune function, mood changes and nerve pain.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin) is essential in metabolising fats, carbohydrates and protein. Deficiency can lead to hair loss and skin problems, but it is rare. It can be found in cooked egg yolks, liver, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, bananas, broccoli, avocados, soybeans, whole grains, nuts and yeast.
Vitamin B9 (Folate and Folic Acid) are especially important for pregnant women as they help prevent birth defects. They are also needed to synthesise certain amino acids, make DNA, RNA and red blood cells. They are found in liver, yeast, sunflower seeds, seafood, beans, fresh fruits and fruit juices, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, asparagus, avocados and legumes.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) helps maintain the body’s blood and nerve cells healthy. It is also needed to help make DNA and prevent megaloblastic anaemia. It exists in all animal products so for those on a plant-based diet, the only option is to choose some foods that have been fortified with B12 such as plant milks, soy products and some breakfast cereals or to take a B12 supplement.
Minerals are important for building strong bones and teeth, regulating the metabolism and staying properly hydrated. They also help with nerve signal transmission, maintaining healthy blood pressure, muscle contraction and relaxation. Some of the most common minerals are calcium, iron and zinc. Iron supports the red blood cells and hormone creation and zinc boosts the immune system and aids in wound healing. Minerals can be found in meat, cereals, fish, milk and dairy foods, fruit and vegetables and nuts.
What a list! It is obvious to see that each vitamin is essential for the body to function properly and deficiencies lead to a variety of complications. It is also obvious to observe that our bodies obtain the nutrients, vitamins and minerals required from natural foods such as fruit, vegetables, pulses, meat, fish, dairy products, nuts and seeds as opposed to processed foods, saturated fats and sugary options. That is another fact that is well known, sometimes paid attention to and sometimes ignored! However, if you take a look at the list of recommended foods for each vitamin, it is obvious to see that processed or sugary foods do not appear aside from fortified cereals. So long as our diet is made up of these natural healthy elements, our bodies should be getting the nutrients they need in order to function properly, create new blood cells, heal wounds and convert food items into energy. LIfe is for living and a healthy diet is the fuel that our bodies need in order to function optimally!