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Vitamins

Vitamins are complex dietary substances made by plants and animals. They are essential for processes such as growth and cell repair. Your body cannot manufacture most vitamins and so you need to obtain them from food or supplements. They are required in very small quantities and a good way to meet your vitamin needs is to eat a well balanced diet containing a variety of foods.

Types of Vitamins

There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins require the presence of fat to be absorbed. These are vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K. They are stored in fat tissues and liver for days or months until your body needs them. Because of this, short-term deficiencies are less likely. However, if you consume too many of these vitamins they can accumulate in your body and may reach toxic levels. Take care when regularly taking high dose supplements of these vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. This group of vitamins includes vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins. The water-soluble vitamins are absorbed in the digestive system, and then pass directly to the blood. Any water-soluble vitamins not used by your body are rapidly excreted in urine. To prevent deficiency they need to be replenished regularly and small quantities of these vitamins need to be consumed every day.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

The published vitamin RDA figures are average requirements. Your own RDA for each vitamin is very individual and depends on your age, sex, general physical condition, lifestyle, the area you live in and hundreds of other things. Before changing the consumption of any vitamin, please consult your doctor.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A comes in two forms:

  • Retinol (pure vitamin A), which comes from animal products and can be toxic if it accumulates in your body in excessive amounts.
  • Provitamin A (for example, beta-carotene), which comes from plant sources. Beta-carotene has to be converted to vitamin A in the body before it can be used.

Functions

Vitamin A (also called retinol) is essential for:

  • good eyesight, seeing in color and at night;
  • healthy skin, hair and nails;
  • formation of bones and teeth;
  • hormone synthesis;
  • a healthy immune system.

Sources

  • dairy products;
  • eggs;
  • liver;
  • dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach or broccoli;
  • deep orange colored fruits and vegetables. Examples are apricots and carrots.

Notes

  • Vitamin A is best taken together with other nutrients such as the B-group vitamins, vitamins C, D and E, essential fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus and zinc.
  • You need more vitamin A if you consume alcohol, follow a low-fat diet, smoke or live in a polluted area.
  • Vitamin A is destroyed by light and high temperatures. Using copper or iron cooking utensils also destroys retinol in food. Beta-carotene rich vegetables and fruit must not be soaked in water for too long, as the nutrients can be lost.
  • You might have a slightly orange colored skin when ingesting large amounts of beta-carotene, because the excess orange colored carotene gets stored in your skin.

B-group vitamins

B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), B12 (cyanocobalamin), and biotin and are all B-group vitamins. They work together and are generally found together in foods.

Functions

B-group vitamins are essential for:

  • breaking down foods to provide us with energy;
  • proper functioning of the brain, nerves and muscles;
  • the production of red blood cells.

Sources

  • whole grains, such as wheat and oats;
  • fish and seafood;
  • poultry and meats;
  • eggs;
  • dairy products;
  • leafy green vegetables;
  • beans and peas;
  • citrus fruits;
  • vitamin B12 is only found in animal tissue and yeast. Liver is the primary source of vitamin B12; other sources are meat and fish.

Vitamin C

Functions

Vitamin C is essential for:

  • wound healing;
  • resistance to infection;
  • forming collagen, a glue-like substance that gives structure to bones, muscle, and blood vessels;
  • the absorption of iron.

Sources

  • citrus fruits;
  • cantaloupe;
  • strawberries;
  • tomatoes;
  • dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage.

Notes

Vitamin C can easily be lost from foods during cooking or storage. To retain vitamin C:

  • eat fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible;
  • steam, boil, or simmer foods in a minimal amount of water, or microwave them for the shortest time possible;
  • store juices for no more than 2 to 3 days;
  • store cut raw fruits and vegetables in an airtight container;
  • do not soak or store vegetables and fruits in water because some of the vitamin C will dissolve out.

Vitamin D

Functions

Vitamin D is essential for:

  • strong teeth and bones;
  • calcium and phosphorus absorption.

Sources

  • fortified milk;
  • butter;
  • egg yolks;
  • liver;
  • fatty fish such as kippers, sardines, salmon, tuna and mackerel;
  • sunlight allows the body to synthesize vitamin D from a cholesterol-like pro-vitamin.

Notes

  • Vitamin D is best utilized when vitamin A, calcium and phosphorus are also present.
  • If you are rarely exposed to sunlight or follow a strict vegan diet, you might need extra vitamin D in the form of supplements.

Vitamin E

Functions

Vitamin E is essential for:

  • maintaining your body's tissues, especially in your eyes, skin and liver;
  • protecting your lungs from air pollution damage;
  • the formation of red blood cells;
  • fertility.

Sources

  • whole grains, such as wheat and oats;
  • vegetable oils;
  • leafy green vegetables such as spinach or asparagus;
  • sardines;
  • egg yolks;
  • nuts and seeds;
  • carrots;
  • apples.

Notes

  • Take vitamin E together with other dietary antioxidants (vitamin C, beta-carotene and selenium).
  • If your diet is high in refined carbohydrates, fried foods and fat or if you are taking a birth control pill, then you may need a supplement of vitamin E. Vitamin E is lost when exposed to air and in any food processing which involves milling, cooking, or freezing.
  • Vitamin E should not be taken together with inorganic iron supplements as they can destroy the vitamin. Organic iron does not have this affect.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is found in nature in two forms:

  • K1, also called phylloquinone;
  • K2, also called menaquinone.

Vitamin K3, or menadione, is a synthetic form of this vitamin.

Functions

Vitamin K controls blood clotting.

Sources

  • leafy vegetables;
  • cheese;
  • liver;
  • bacon;
  • coffee;
  • green tea.

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