THE ABCs ON VITAMINS AND MINERALS (AND THE D’S E’S AND K’S TOO!)
Get Your Vitamins and Minerals!
Most of us have been told since we were kids how important it is to get vitamins and minerals into our bodies. ’They’ say that vitamins and minerals keep us healthy and strong and even make our vision better! And while we all know, mainly because of what we’ve been told, just how necessary vitamins and minerals are, many of us don’t really know what vitamins and minerals are, what they actually do for us and if we really need to supplement.
What They Are
Vitamins are natural, organic compounds that are synthesized by plants. Vitamin B12 is the only exception as it is synthesized by bacteria. Minerals are also found in plants but are obtained from the soil in which plants live. This soil gets its minerals from the water it utilizes and the water gets minerals from washing over rocks. Vitamins and minerals work in a synergistic fashion to perform hundreds of roles in the body.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, meaning our body is able to store them in our liver and fatty tissues for later use. Vitamin C and the eight B vitamins are water soluble, making them more easily dissolved into our body but, rather than storing any for later use, any excess is excreted by the kidneys into our urine.
Plants are majestic
While humans have a lot of superpowers in biochemical formation, sadly we are unable to synthesize vitamins and minerals. Good news for us, though, (especially for us vegans!) is that since vitamins are naturally made by plants, and minerals are found inside those plants, consuming plants is the best way to get our daily needs! And while us vegans do have to supplement our B12, when we consume plants in the form of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes
Should we supplement?
So the big question here is do you and your kids need to supplement? Generally speaking, no. If you and your children eat a diet consisting of fruits, veggies, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, you should be getting enough. However, issues can arise with food allergies, ultra picky eaters and pregnancy, both with and without morning sickness. Science has been pretty amazing in its ability to create high quality supplements for those of us who are unable to obtain what we need through diet alone.
Not everyone is deficient
Before you move to supplementing any vitamin or mineral, you should consult a medical care team, as there are simple blood tests available for determining if a deficiency actually exists. Then, be sure to do some research on high quality vitamins. Because supplements are not highly regulated, there are many synthetic ones that your body will not absorb well, if at all.
Not all supplements are created equal
In order to do some quick looking on your own, check supplement bottles for carbonates, oxides and sulfates. These forms of vitamins are very cheap to make and are generally poorly absorbed. If the packaging simply states the name of the mineral or vitamin without stating its form, it is highly likely to be of the cheap variety. Bottles should state they are 100% natural and should list actual food sources on the label. Often, the gimmicky sale pitch vitamins with amazing health benefit claims are simply a mixture of vitamins and minerals you already get from food. For more information, there are companies that report the results of supplement testing such as NSF Certified for Sport and ConsumerLab.
Disclaimer here: the knowledge that we excrete or store extra vitamins should not encourage anyone to take excessive amounts of supplements. Having too much in storage or too much to excrete can cause toxic effects to the body. Consult with a medical care team to be sure you actually need the vitamin and mineral supplements you are taking.
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The importance of vitamins
Without a doubt, vitamins and minerals are essential to maintaining a healthy body, both physically and mentally. And, while there are numerous detrimental effects of vitamin deficiencies, most people are able to consume what they need through diet alone. Supplements can and should be used but only when a deficiency has been identified, as overconsumption of supplements has been shown to lead to toxicity. Ultimately, plants should be the number one source of your daily needs because natural sources of vitamins and minerals are the best thing you can do for your body!
An almost exhaustive list
Without further delay, here is a list of the vitamins we should consume and how they use their powers for good:
Helps to prevent premature skin aging, enhances immune function to fight off infections and helps to repair mucous membranes. Deficiencies are uncommon. You can consume Vitamin A through green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, squash, cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin):
Helps to convert carbs to energy, contract muscles and conduct nerve signals. Deficiencies are uncommon. Consume Thiamin through beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, asparagus, brussel sprouts, spinach, eggplant, oranges, and rice.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin):
Helps to keep skin, eyes and the nervous system healthy, as well as helps release energy from food consumption. Consume Riboflavin through mushrooms, spinach, almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, and soy nuts.
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Vitamin B3 (Niacin):
Helps to release energy from food consumption, promotes nervous system function and health skin. Deficiencies are uncommon. Consume Niacin through mushrooms, potatoes, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, tempeh, peanuts, almonds, tofu, lentils, beans, and peas.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid):
Helps to release energy from food consumption. Consume Pantothenic Acid through mushrooms, cauliflower, avocados, broccoli, sweet potato, whole grains, sunflower seeds, berries, and legumes.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine):
Helps to use and store energy from food consumption, form hemoglobin, and utilize iodine for thyroid hormones. Consume Pyridoxine through potatoes, carrots, bananas, prunes, avocados, plantains, whole grains, soy, legumes, chickpeas, beans, tempeh, lentils, pistachios, and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin):
Essential to fat metabolism and blood sugar regulation, supports the nervous system, embryonic growth, and promotes healthy skin and hair. Consume Biotin through nuts, seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms, and spinach.
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Vitamin B9 (Folate):
Plays a critical role in the prevention of central nervous system defects in embryos. It is important to note that neural tube defects occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy so supplementing once pregnancy is known will not be preventative. Consume Folate (not synthetic folic acid) through spinach, collard, turnip, and mustard greens, romaine lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, beets, celery, carrots, squash, avocados, okra,
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin):
Helps to form red blood cells, keeps the nervous system healthy, and helps release energy from food consumption. Consume Cobalamin through supplementation with methylcobalamin. While cyanocobalamin is less expensive, people with MTHFR mutations are unable to utilize it. You can also get foods fortified with B12 including some plant milks and nutritional yeast.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid):
Essential for the creation of collagen and highly supportive of the immune system. Consume Ascorbic Acid through a multitude of veggies including peppers, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, snow peas, cauliflower, kale, potatoes, asparagus, turnip greens, collards, and fruit in the form of citrus fruits, strawberries, guava, kiwi, and berries.
Helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate inside cells. This is a common deficiency as more and more people avoid spending time in the sun. Obtain Vitamin D through spending time in the sun, or consuming shiitake mushrooms, fortified plant milks, tofu, orange juice, and breakfast cereals.
An antioxidant that helps with healthy skin and eyes and promotes a healthy immune system. Deficiencies are very rare as vitamin E is in a variety of foods. Common vegan sources include sunflower seeds, nuts, avocados, red bell peppers, turnip greens, and kiwi.
Required for blood clotting and healthy bones and heart. Just like Vitamin E, deficiencies are very rare with vegan sources including kale, leafy greens, spinach, broccoli,
Required for muscle contraction and healthy bones and teeth. Consume calcium through kale, broccoli, watercress, bok choy, okra, almonds, and fortified plant milks.
Helps to regulate insulin, affecting the amount of energy we get from food consumption. Consume chromium through broccoli, potatoes, green beans, apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, garlic, and basil.
Helps to produce red and white blood cells and promotes the release of iron for hemoglobin formation. Consume copper through sunflower seeds, almonds, lentils, dried apricots, asparagus, mushrooms, and turnip greens.
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA):
An omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for the growth and functional development of the brain in infants and required for ongoing maintenance of normal brain function in adults. DHA can also help lower cholesterol, lower overall risk of heart disease and decrease inflammation. While flax, hemp and chia seeds, beans, winter squash, leafy greens, berries, mangoes, and wild rice are great sources of omega-3, our body is not great at turning omega-3 in to DHA so direct consumption of DHA foods is highly recommended for vegans. Consume DHA through seaweed, nori, kelp, chlorella, and spirulina.
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Essential for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Consume iodine through sea vegetables, navy beans, dried prunes, strawberries, cranberries, pineapple, rhubarb, green beans, watercress, and potatoes.
Helps to make red blood cells. Consume iron through legumes, tofu, tempeh, soybeans, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, tomato paste, potatoes, mushrooms, palm hearts, prunes, olives, berries, amaranth, spelt, oats and quinoa. Taking iron with citrus foods is best as the ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) helps cells to absorb the iron better.
Helps to activate enzymes, participates in nutrient absorption and immune system defenses. Consume manganese through whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, soybeans, quinoa, almonds, garlic, and cloves.
An electrolyte that helps control the balance of fluids, promotes heart muscle function and helps nerve signals communicate with muscles. Consume potassium through white beans, white and sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, spinach, swiss chard, tomato sauce, oranges, bananas, and avocados.
An antioxidant that promotes immune system function and aids in reproduction. Consume selenium with brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, oats, brown rice, spaghetti pasta, and soya beans.
Sodium and Chloride:
Electrolytes that help control the balance of fluids and digest food in the stomach and intestines. Consume sodium and chloride through salt intake, but keep it low as not much is needed.
Helps to make cells and enzymes, process carbs and fats and promotes the healing of wounds. Consume zinc through pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms, spinach, chickpeas, and cocoa powder.
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