Vitamins are organic compounds needed in the body. They are essential to life. We only need them in relatively small amounts, but they are incredibly important due to their roles in growth, digestion, energy transfer, nervous system function and more. These micro-nutrients also act as co-factors for enzymes, allowing all activities that occur in the body to be carried out properly.
Minerals serve as building blocks for body structures and can act as electrolytes. They are needed for the formation of blood and bone, to maintain healthy nerve function, to regulate muscle tone and more. Like vitamins, they act as co-enzymes and are essential for the proper use of vitamins and other nutrients.
Many factors can influence our vitamin and mineral requirements including gender, malabsorption problems, exercise and age-related changes. For this reason, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to meeting vitamin and mineral needs.
Estimated Average Requirement (EARs) is used to calculate the Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamins and minerals. It is important to know that EARs only accounts for the bare minimum required to ward off vitamin and mineral deficiency diseases, such as scurvy and rickets, in half the healthy individuals in a life-stage and gender group. They do not account for the amounts needed for maximum health. Optimum Daily Intakes (ODIs), on the other hand, are the amounts of nutrients needed to enhance our health.
Ideally, we would get the nutrients and micro-nutrients we need from our food, but that is not the case. A 2006 study of 70 athlete diets showed that every single diet analyzed was deficient in at least three nutrients while other diets were deficient in up to 15 nutrients! Another study looked at four popular diet plans, like the Atkins Diet, and found that all four diets failed to meet minimum RDIs for all 27 micro-nutrients analyzed.
In our modern world, we are surrounded by more chemical pollution and stress, which both increase our nutritional requirements. Meanwhile, conventional farming practices have depleted the soil of many key nutrients. Along with harvesting and shipping practices, extensive processing and improper storage, the food that is finally reaching our tables is far from the nutrient density it used to be.
For these reasons, supplementation is necessary for optimum health. Use only quality, natural (not synthetic) supplements from trusted sources. Cheap supplements can mean lower quality and more fillers.
In Canada, many adults have inadequate intakes of vitamin D, vitamin A, magnesium and calcium. Many male adults have inadequate intake of zinc, while female adults have inadequate intake of folate and vitamin B6. Do you suffer from these common vitamin deficiencies?
Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, so the best source is sun exposure in moderation. Of course, in our neck of the woods that can be difficult for a good portion of the year. In the absence of sun exposure (winter months) a supplement is strongly recommended. A vitamin D deficiency can precipitate and worsen osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures in adults. In children a vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets, deformed bones, stunted growth and soft teeth. Vitamin D is also necessary for the absorption and transportation of calcium for bone formation.
Major food sources of vitamin D are eggs, liver, oily fish and mushrooms.
Vitamin A is important in the formation of bones and teeth, protects against colds, flu and infections and prevents eye problems as well as some skin disorders.
A deficiency of vitamin A can cause dry hair, dry skin, poor growth, night blindness, insomnia, fatigue, reproductive difficulties, frequent colds and respiratory infections and skin disorders like acne.
Major food sources of vitamin A are carotenoids (red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables), green leafy vegetables, animal livers and eggs.
Nearly 300 essential metabolic reactions rely on magnesium including carbohydrate metabolism, wound healing and DNA and protein synthesis.
Individuals with gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disorders and alcoholism are at risk of deficiency. Additionally, high intakes of zinc, fiber and protein can decrease absorption.
Supplementation of magnesium can help prevent cardiovascular disease, PMS, depression and muscle twitching. Deficiency signs can include insomnia, irritability, rapid heartbeat and poor digestion.
Food sources of magnesium include whole grains, almonds, green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas, apricots, pumpkin seeds, salmon and beans.
Needed for the formation of strong bones and teeth, for the maintenance of healthy gums and the maintenance of a regular heartbeat, calcium is an important mineral also essential in blood clotting and helps prevent cancer.
Deficiency can lead to aching joints, brittle nails, eczema, heart palpitations and tooth decay.
Major food sources of calcium are salmon (with bones), dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, blackstrap molasses, brewer’s yeast and sesame seeds. Many herbs also contain calcium, including alfalfa, cayenne, chamomile, dandelion and fennel seed.
Contrary to popular belief dairy does NOT contribute to bone strength, and consumption of dairy can actually contribute to the depletion of bone strengthening minerals!
Berardi, John and Ryan Andrews. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. 2015. Precision Nutrition.
Balch, Phyllis A., Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2006. New York, NY. Avery.