By Asha Kreiling
Every morning after breakfast, I take my vitamins. For a long time, I was taking a generic Kirkland (Costco) brand multivitamin, and it wasn’t until I was almost finished with the giant 500-pill bottle that I actually looked at the ingredients. Among the vitamins and minerals, gelatin and fish ingredients were listed. As a strict vegetarian, I wasn’t too pleased to find out I unknowingly had been swallowing animal ingredients as a part of my daily routine.
When it was time to buy a new bottle of multivitamins, I browsed through a health food store for more natural, vegetarian, gelatin-free options. At that point, I realized how expensive vitamins are and I wondered, “Do I really even need to take vitamins?” I eat a pretty healthy, balanced diet. Is it really necessary to take 5000% of my daily value of Vitamin C in capsule form?
After doing some reading, the general idea I got was that consuming a perfectly balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables provides all the vitamins necessary for daily health. But, of course, many people do not eat enough healthy foods or certain vitamin sources to obtain the adequate amount of nutrients, so multivitamins serve as a way to “fill in the gaps” in our nutrition. Also, vegans and vegetarians can miss out on important micronutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and zinc if meals aren’t planned carefully or supplemented with multivitamins. While calcium and iron can come from plant foods such as leafy greens, the best dietary sources of vitamins D and B12 come from animal products, so fortified foods or vitamin supplements are important for vegans and vegetarians.
What exactly are vitamins and what are they good for? Vitamins are micronutrients that are essential for normal cellular function, growth. and development, and they must be consumed in the diet because the body cannot produce them itself. There are 13 essential vitamins: vitamin A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folate, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12.
- Vitamin A is necessary for immune function, vision, bone growth and skin health.
- Vitamin C is important for body tissue formation and healing of skin, muscle and gums.
- Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, and helps with strong bones and teeth.
- Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect against free radicals (which cause cellular damage).
- Vitamin K is necessary for proper blood clotting, and aids in healthy bones and tissues.
- B Vitamins are important for energy production, immune function, and nervous system health.Pregnant women need higher levels of folate for healthy fetal brain and spinal development.
Minerals include calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, sulfur, iron, iodine, zinc, chromium, selenium, fluoride, molybdenum, copper, and manganese. They all help carry out important physiological processes; for example, calcium helps prevent osteoporosis, and iron helps prevent anemia.
So, taking a multivitamin is a good idea if you don’t think you are consuming enough fruits and vegetables or fortified foods. Even though I eat a balanced diet, I still take a multi-vitamin and a B-12, just as a backup. Nevertheless, the best way for your body to absorb the necessary micronutrients is through eating food rather than swallowing capsules.
Check out this site for food sources for vitamins and minerals: http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/vitamins-and-minerals-good-food-sources