by Deborah Lynn Blumberg September 15, 2021 4 min read

To properly function every day, our body needs fuel in the form of nutrients. While our bodies can produce certain nutrients on their own, most other essential vitamins and minerals have to be obtained through dietary intake or nutritional supplementation to ensure adequate levels are obtained.

Nutrients are crucial for development and are what enable our body to function normally day to day. Understanding which vitamins and minerals are essential and why, is an important first step towards including them in your diet and enhancing your health and well-being.

Essential Vitamins

Essential vitamins can be divided into two groups based on how they dissolve: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are like oil in that they don't dissolve in water, whereas water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are more common.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

These vitamins are stored in the liver and fat tissues, with the body taking them from fat tissue as needed. They're better absorbed when you eat them with fat, and they are less compromised through cooking. Fat-soluble vitamins include:

  • Vitamin A - required for normal vision and best-known for eye health. It plays a key role in immunity, cell signalling and reproductive functions
  • Vitamin D - controls the circulating levels of phosphorus and calcium, both of which are key for keeping bones strong and healthy. Vitamin D also supports a healthy immune system
  • Vitamin E - widely known as a powerful antioxidant. It helps to protect cells against damage from free radicals and prevents early signs of aging
  • Vitamin K - best known for its role in blot clotting. It also supports bone health and can help prevent the build-up of calcium in blood vessels

Water-Soluble Vitamins

These vitamins are needed more regularly because our body doesn't store them. When we consume foods with water-soluble vitamins, the vitamins move through our bloodstream and those that aren't needed get eliminated through the urine. Some nutrients can be reduced through cooking at higher temperatures, or water-based methods like boiling. Steaming is a better way to preserve nutrients and consuming the liquid from boiling or poaching will help retain nutrients that seep into cooking liquids.

  • Vitamin C - plays an important role in wound healing, immunity and helps make hormones used in the nerves and the brain. It's a potent antioxidant, helping protect our cells from oxidative damage and is needed to make collagen, the most abundant protein found throughout the body
  • B vitamins - are a large family of 8 vitamins that perform a number of critical functions throughout the body and include:
    • B1 (thiamine) helps break down nutrients for energy
    • B2 (riboflavin) key in cellular growth, energy production and breaking down certain medications
    • B3 (niacin) helps repair DNA and change nutrients into energy
    • B5 (pantothenic acid) aids enzymes in breaking down fatty acids
    • B6 (pyridoxine) assists in breaking down proteins, carbs and fat
    • B7 (biotin) assists in breaking down proteins, carbs and fat
    • B9 (folate) helps make healthy red blood cells, DNA and RNA
    • B12 (cobalamin) is involved in forming red blood cells and helps the brain and nerve cells function

Essential Minerals

Essential minerals are divided into two groups: major minerals and trace minerals. Both are important, however, the body needs fewer trace minerals.

Major minerals are used and stored in large quantities in the body. They include:

  • Magnesium - builds bones and teeth, regulates blood pressure and blood sugar, and helps muscles contract
  • Calcium- activates enzymes throughout the body, builds bones and teeth, regulates blood pressure and helps blood clot
  • Chloride - helps to balance fluids throughout the body
  • Potassium - helps to balance fluids, helps muscles contract and keeps our heart beating steadily
  • Sodium - helps muscles contract and balances fluids
  • Sulfur - helps metabolize food, build and repair DNA and protect cells

Trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts, these include:

  • Chromium - plays a role in how insulin helps the body control blood sugar
  • Copper - helps metabolize iron
  • Fluoride - helps to form bones and teeth
  • Iodine - supports growth, development and metabolism
  • Iron - is critical for energy metabolism
  • Manganese - helps the body form connective tissue and bones
  • Molybdenum - helps enzymes do their job and breaks down sulfites
  • Selenium - is an important antioxidant and supports a healthy thyroid
  • Zinc - is needed for making protein and assists with wound healing and immune function

What to Eat for Essential Vitamins and Minerals

The best way to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need is to eat a wide variety of whole foods, prioritizing fruits and vegetables.

Dark leafy green vegetables are known as a nutritional superstar as they contain multiple vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, K, B6, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese. Avocados are also a rich source of nutrients like folate, magnesium, potassium, B2, B3, B5, B6 and vitamin C as well as fiber and those essential omega 3 fats.

Options like smoothies, salads and veggie bowls are great ways to incorporate more nutrient dense produce into your meals. Remember, though, even if you eat the healthiest diet, conventional farming methods use harmful pesticides and herbicides that increase the toxic load on the body and deplete the soil, making foods less nutrient dense as a result. That's why opting for organic and incorporating a daily activated multi-vitamin and mineral is a great way to compliment a healthy whole food diet and ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need daily, in their required amount to thrive.

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