Guide to Vitamins

Our current out of the box diet leaves a very small compartment for colourful foods, which apart from adding aesthetics also add vitamins and minerals to our diet. When it comes to this food group we find it really convenient to add them from supplement bottles rather than our plates. Here’s a little knick-knack on vitamins that might propel you towards eating foods…. rather than popping vitamin supplements.

A vitamin is a vital, organic (contain three elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) dietary substance, which is neither a carbohydrate, fat, protein or mineral and is required in very small amounts to perform its function. It cannot be synthesized by the body and thus must be supplied by the diet.

Vitamins are Fat-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, K) and Water-soluble (the B complex vitamins, vitamin C). They have many roles to play in our body. Nearly all foods contain a mixture of vitamins. However, specific foods are known to be very good sources of some vitamins. For example, citrus fruits contain large amounts of vitamin C, but they also supply small amounts of other vitamins and minerals as well. The best source of a balanced supply of all vitamins is a diet that consists of a variety of different foods.

How much vitamins do I need?

Daily requirements for vitamins has been established by ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) based on various researches and parameters. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) covers the daily need along with providing additional overages for a period of stress (diseases, fasts, other reasons for food deprivation).

Should I take a vitamin supplement?

Most individuals eating a reasonably balanced diet do not need vitamin supplements. A person who may not absorb vitamins due to chronic disease or may not be able to consume food in sufficient quantity or type to supply the vitamins needs to be supplemented. The need for vitamins increases during pregnancy and lactation so a supplement is advised. (For more on supplementation needs)

What if I take excess vitamins?

Fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K) can be stored in the body. Accumulation of high levels in the body causes toxic effects and is dangerous. The water-soluble vitamins have been thought to be harmless since there is little storage in the body; however, recent studies have shown mega doses of vitamin B complex might cause liver disease and epilepsy.

 Are vitamins destroyed in food preparation?

Some vitamin loss occurs the minute food is harvested. Modern methods of harvesting, storage, transportation, processing and preparation minimize these losses. Vitamin losses occur by oxidation, by light, by heat, by exposure to acids and alkali, and by leaching into the water. Considerable amounts of various nutrients remain even in the food that has gone through processing.

Some measures can be followed while pre-preparation and cooking to prevent vitamin loss. Care should be taken to cut out a thin peel or cook with the skin wherever possible. Cut vegetables in large pieces to avoid more surface area to be exposed to heat. Use that much amount of water which will get absorbed while cooking and do not discard the water used for cooking or soaking as water-soluble vitamins might leach out in water leading to their loss. Cook with lid on and cook until just tender, not mushy.

Food Vs Vitamin Pills

Apart from being a source of mixed bag of nutrients, vitamin-rich foods satisfy our hunger, provide energy and are a source of fibre and water. Whereas we do not get any such thing from vitamin supplements. Vitamins are integral to life and their deficiencies can lead to diseases some of which are debilitating or even life-threatening. Taking a balanced diet that includes 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables can provide ample amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

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