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Royal Academy of Nutrition and Health Eating

17.Vitamins and Minerals Are Essential for Metabolism

You need vitamins and minerals to use carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and to sustain numerous chemical reactions.

A deficiency of vitamins and minerals can cause ill effects ranging from fatigue to stunted growth, weak bones, and organ damage.

Many vitamins and minerals aid enzymes, which are substances that speed up reactions in your body. For example, many of the B vitamins function as coenzymes in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats.

Many minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, work with protein-containing hormones and enzymes to maintain and strengthen your teeth and bones. The fate of carbohydrates, protein, and fats in your body is very much dependent upon your consuming enough vitamins and minerals in your daily diet.

Vitamins are organic compounds that usually have to be obtained from your foods.

Your body is able to make some vitamins, such as vitamin D, but sometimes cannot make enough of it to maintain good health. In these situations, your diet has to supplement your body's efforts.

Minerals are inorganic substances that play a role in body processes and are key to the structure of some tissues, such as bone.

A deficiency of any of the minerals can cause disease symptoms.

Anyone who has ever suffered from iron-deficiency anemia can tell you that falling short of your daily iron needs, for example, can cause fatigue and interfere with your ability to function.

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18. What Does the Health of Your Family Tree Look Like?

Is there a history of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity in your family? What about other chronic diseases or conditions? Before you read this course and learn about the role that good nutrition plays in preventing chronic diseases and maintaining overall good health, ask your parents and grandparents about your family's health history. If there are certain diseases or conditions that run in your family, you'll want to pay particular attention to these as you read about them in this course.

Terms:

Organic - Containing carbon.

Enzymes - Substances that speed up reactions in your body.

Inorganic - Not containing carbon.

Inorganic compounds - include minerals, water, and salts

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19. Water Is Vital for Many Processes in Your Body

Although plain water does not provide energy or calories, it is vital to many key body functions, and staying hydrated is therefore an important part of staying healthy.

As part of the fluid medium inside your cells, water helps chemical reactions, such as those involved in the production of energy, take place.

Water also bathes the outside of your cells, playing a key role in transporting vital nutrients and oxygen to, and removing waste products from, your cells.

Water helps maintain your body temperature and acts as a lubricant for your joints, eyes, mouth, and intestinal tract. It surrounds your organs and cushions them from injury.

The Take-Home Message:

Your body needs carbohydrates, fats (lipids), protein, vitamins, minerals, and water to survive. These six classes of nutrients have specific roles in your body, and you need them in specific amounts for good health. While carbohydrates, fats, and protein provide energy, vitamins, minerals, and water are needed to use the energy-producing nutrients and to maintain good health. Water is part of the medium inside and outside your cells that carries nutrients to, and waste products from, your cells. Water also helps maintain your body temperature and acts as a lubricant and protective cushion.

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20. How Should You Get These Important Nutrients?

There is no question that you need all six classes of nutrients to function properly. But is there an advantage to consuming them through food rather than taking them as supplements? Is there more to a healthy diet than just meeting your basic nutrient needs?

 The Best Way to Meet Your Nutrient Needs Is with a Well-Balanced Diet

Many foods provide a variety of nutrients. For example, low-fat milk is high in carbohydrates and protein and provides a small amount of fat. Milk is also a good source of the vitamins A, D, and riboflavin, as well as the minerals potassium and calcium, and is approximately 90 percent water by weight. Whereas milk contains a substantial variety of all six classes of nutrients, a single food item doesn't have to provide all nutrients in order to be good for you. Rather, a well-balanced diet composed of a variety of foods can provide you with all of these important nutrients.

A well-balanced diet will also provide other dietary compounds, such as phytochemicals and fiber, that have been shown to help fight many diseases. At least 900 different phytochemicals have been identified in foods and more are likely to be discovered. Don't assume that these compounds can be extracted from foods, put in a pill, and still produce the same positive effect on your health. The disease-fighting properties of phytochemicals likely go beyond the compounds themselves, and work with fiber, nutrients, or unknown substances in foods to provide a synergistic, positive effect on your health.

Fiber is the portion of plant foods that isn't digested in the stomach and small intestine. Some foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables that are high in fiber, are also phytochemical powerhouses. Studies have shown that diets rich in these foods fight many diseases.

Also, let's not forget some of the obvious benefits of getting your nutrients from food. The delicious texture and aroma of foods, coupled with the social interaction of meals, are lost when you pop a pill to meet your nutrient needs. That said, some individuals should take a supplement if food alone can't meet their needs.

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21. You Can Meet Some Nutrient Needs with a Supplement

Although many people can get all their nutrients through their diet, others have diet restrictions or higher nutrient needs such that they would benefit from taking a supplement in addition to consuming a healthy diet. For example, someone who is lactose intolerant (meaning they have difficulty digesting milk products) may have to meet his or her calcium needs from other sources.

A calcium supplement could be an option for these individuals. Pregnant women should take an iron supplement because their increased need for this mineral is unlikely to be met through the diet alone.

A well-balanced diet and dietary supplements aren't mutually exclusive. In some situations, they should be partnered as the best nutritional strategy for good health. Even with an abundance of foods and the availability of supplements for those who may need them, the diets of Americans and Europeans in generally aren’t as healthy as they could be. Let's find out why this is the case.

The Take-Home Message:

A well-balanced diet will likely meet all of your nutrient needs and also provide a variety of compounds that may help prevent chronic diseases. People who cannot meet their nutrient needs through food alone may benefit from taking a supplement.

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