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Vitamins and minerals that all bodies need

Nutritional supplements should never replace a healthy, balanced diet. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the reality of our fast-paced lives that don’t always make it easy to eat healthily.

06 Jun 2007

Vitamin C
The antioxidant vitamin C is found in every cell of the body, and it is specifically used in the blood, skin, nervous system, teeth, bones and in glands such as the thyroid.

It helps boost the immune system and may bolster the body’s resistance to a number of diseases and infections, and many types of cancer. It also supports the cardiovascular system by facilitating fat metabolism. It protects tissues against damage from free radicals, which are the natural by-products of oxygen metabolism in our bodies.

Where to find it
Oanges, grapefruit, lemons,pawpaw and strawberries all have large concentrations of vitamin C. Vegetables that are rich in vitamin C include broccoli, red and green peppers, raw lettuce and leafy green vegetables. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and is regularly excreted by the body. It should be consumed every day, as it cannot be stored.

Folic Acid
Sometimes referred to as folate, this B vitamin is most commonly associated with pregnancy – a deficiency during pregnancy can lead to spinal and brain abnormalities in the foetus. However, for a number of reasons it is advisable to take folic acid on an ongoing basis. A folic-acid deficiency may result in elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood, which have been linked to cardiovascular disease. A deficiency in folic acid has also been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, cervical and colon cancer, depression, dementia and hearing loss.

Where to find it
Although folic acid is found in broccoli, asparagus,bananas, nuts, bread and most commonly in fortified breakfast cereals, we often don’t get the required amount from our diet. Folic acid needs to be taken with vitamins B6 and B12 in order to work effectively, and it is therefore advisable to take a combination of the three, or a multivitamin that contains all three.

This mineral, especially when taken in conjunction with vitamins C and E, plays a key role in cell protection and the maintenance of a healthy immune system. When taken with vitamin C,zinc is also important for healthy sperm, and in particular for prostate health. It also benefits your skin: skin cells are renewed continuously, and zinc is required for cell replication, so it has a particular relevance for healthy skin. Signs of a zinc deficiency include a reduced sense of taste or smell, or white spots on the fingernails.

Where to find it
Zinc can be found in beef, salmon, lentils, brown rice, oats and whole-wheat product.

Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential for good health, but is only required in small amounts. Selenium is incorporated into proteins to make what's known as selenoproteins – important antioxidants. They help prevent cellular damage from free radicals (discussed under vitamin C).

Where to find it
Plant foods such as nuts, bread, rice and oats are the major dietary sources of selenium. The levels of selenium will depend on the selenium content of the soil where the plant was grown.

Multivitamins should never be taken instead of a healthy, balanced diet. Some health experts even dismiss them, saying it is impossible to get all your daily requirements from one tablet. However, our busy lives often preclude us from taking an array of nutritional supplements, which is why multivitamins are convenient, and have become so popular.

Check the label to make sure that it provides at least 100% of the essential nutrients: vitamin B1 or thiamine, vitamin B2 or riboflavin, vitamin B3 or niacin, vitamins B6, B12, C, D and E, and folic acid. A good multivitamin should also include chromium, copper, magnesium, selenium and zinc.

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