Vitamins: The Vital Nutrients!

Vitamins are essential nutrients required in very small amounts for normal metabolism, growth and physical well being. Learn all about vitamins, why you need them, why some need more than others and how they can help you fight diseases!

What Are Vitamins?

Vitamins are essential nutrients required in very small amounts for normal metabolism, growth and physical well being. Most vitamins are not made in the body so they must be obtained from the diet. The 13 major vitamins are found in a wide range of foods and each has a different function in the body. Many are essential for the biochemical processes within our cells and tissues.

Vitamins are either fat soluble or water soluble. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble which means they dissolve in fat and unutilized supplies can be stored in the body. The B group vitamins and vitamin C, however, dissolve in water and cannot be stored in the body. Therefore we need a daily supply from the diet.

How Much Do You Need?

Labels on food or supplement packs often compare the amount of each vitamin in the product with the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA)*. The RDA is the quantity of a nutrient which is needed regularly to keep most people fit and healthy. A small number of individuals may have higher individual needs than this and a few may need less than the RDA. This value does not cover those who are unwell or those with low body stores of a nutrient.

The vitamin RDA's set in place by the FDA is as follows:

    Vitamin A 5,000 IU
    Vitamin C 60 mg
    Vitamin D 400 IU
    Vitamin E 30 IU
    Vitamin K 80 mcg
    Thiamin (B1) 1.5 mg
    Riboflavin (B2) 1.7 mg
    Niacin (B3) 20 mg
    Pyridoxine (B6) 2 mg
    Folate 400 mcg
    Cobalamin (B12) 6 mcg
    Biotin 300 mcg
    Pantothenic Acid (B5) 10 mg

A varied diet based on wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, which are low in saturated fat, should provide all the nutrients essential for health.

The Varying Vitamin Needs

School Children - Learn More

In proportion to their size, children have a higher demand for some nutrients than adults. Especially important are nutrients needed for growth, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc and calcium. In addition, the B group vitamins are important to help release energy from carbohydrate rich foods.

Pregnancy - Learn More

The body's requirement for energy, protein, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin D increase during pregnancy. Additionally, when breast feeding, there are increased requirements for niacin, vitamin B12, calcium, zinc, magnesium and selenium.

Folic acid is important for the development of the unborn baby's spinal cord, so mums-to-be are advised to take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid from before conception until the twelfth week of pregnancy and eat plenty of folic acid-rich foods.

Older People - Learn More

Older ones can be more vulnerable to possible vitamin and mineral shortages because of difficulty cooking and preparing food or reduced appetite. Fruit and vegetables which are rich in vitamin C may be avoided because of poor teeth. Those who are not able to get outdoors regularly should make sure they eat vitamin D-rich food or take a supplement.

Dieters - Learn More

Surveys indicate that many women are on a slimming diet at any given time. Eating less energy can make it more difficult to get all the vitamins and minerals needed for good health, especially iron, calcium, vitamins A, E and B2. For those who are constantly battling with their weight and are unsure about the balance of nutrients, a multivitamin and multi-mineral supplement may be a good choice.


A varied vegetarian diet which includes dairy products and eggs should contain all the nutrients needed for good health. Vegans may find it more difficult. Attention should be paid to vitamin B12 and iron intake, as vitamin B12 is found naturally only in foods of animal origin. Include a source of vitamin C at mealtimes as this will increase the amount of iron absorbed from cereals and vegetables. Calcium, vitamin B2 and vitamin D intakes may also be low in vegan diets.

Other Lifestyles - Learn More

Coffee, tea, alcohol and cigarettes can also inhibit the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. A cup of tea with a bowl of cereal will reduce iron absorption, whereas a vitamin C rich drink would improve it. Heavy drinking affects the body's requirement for vitamin A, B group vitamins and vitamin C. Vitamin C requirement is increased by smoking. Smokers need around twice as much as non-smokers.

Fortified Foods

Fortified foods can be an important source of vitamins in some people's diets. A variety of foods such as some breakfast cereals and porridges, flour, breads and other grains, sugar, juice drinks and dairy products are fortified with extra vitamins. During the milling process wheat (with the exception of wholemeal) and maize loses certain vitamins which should be added to the flour and meal. Butter naturally contains vitamins A and D. As margarine does not, they should be added. Some margarines are now also enriched with vitamin E.

Vitamins Helping Fight Disease

Vitamins, used therapeutically, can be of immense help in fighting disease and speeding recovery. They can be used in two ways, namely, correcting deficiencies and treating disease in place of drugs. Latest researches indicate that many vitamins taken in large doses far above the actual nutritional needs, can have a miraculous healing effect in a wide range of common complaints and illnesses. Vitamin therapy has a distinct advantage over drug therapy. While drugs are always toxic and have many undesirable side effects, vitamins, as a rule are non-toxic and safe.


It is now widely accepted that many people are not even meeting the recommended daily intakes of key nutrients on a daily basis. In the case of women, unless you are consuming 3,000 calories a day, you are not getting enough iron and calcium in your diet. Folic acid deficiencies are so wide-spread that the United States Food and Drug Administration is reviewing proposals to begin adding this important B Vitamin to certain commonly consumed foods. Other common marginal deficiencies for men and women include the trace minerals selenium and chromium.

The role of a vitamin and mineral supplement is not to replace food. Vitamins and minerals do not provide energy on their own but help to release the full potential energy of the food we eat. That is why it is important to take any vitamin/mineral supplement with a well-balanced meal. There are many aspects to achieving the optimum nutritional program including eating the most nutritious, whole food possible. However, a broad spectrum multi-vitamin supplement should be a part of your daily program to guarantee good health.

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Wannabebig "The Power Of Vitamins", 2003.
Whatifsolutions "Understanding The Importance Of Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation", 2003.
Health Library "Vitamins and Their Importance In Health and Disease", 2003.