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Health and Fitness - Vitamins & Minerals

What Are Vitamins and Minerals?

Vitamins and minerals make people's bodies work properly. Although you get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat every day, some foods have more vitamins and minerals than others.

Vitamins fall into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K dissolve in fat and can be stored in your body. The water-soluble vitamins C and the B-complex vitamins (such as vitamins B6, B12, niacin, riboflavin, and folate) need to dissolve in water before your body can absorb them. Because of this, your body can't store these vitamins. Any vitamin C or B that your body doesn't use as it passes through your system is lost (mostly when you pee). So you need a fresh supply of these vitamins every day.

Whereas vitamins are organic substances (made by plants or animals), minerals are inorganic elements that come from the soil and water and are absorbed by plants or eaten by animals. Your body needs larger amounts of some minerals, such as calcium, to grow and stay healthy. Other minerals like chromium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc are called trace minerals because you only need very small amounts of them each day.

What Do Vitamins and Minerals Do?

Vitamins and minerals boost the immune system, support normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs. For example, you've probably heard that carrots are good for your eyes. It's true! Carrots are full of substances called carotenoids that your body converts into vitamin A, which helps prevent eye problems.

Another vitamin, vitamin K, helps blood to clot (so cuts and scrapes stop bleeding quickly). You'll find vitamin K in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and soybeans. And to have strong bones, you need to eat foods such as milk, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables, which are rich in the mineral calcium.

Vitamins Explained

Which vitamins are found in which food? How much of each vitamin should you take?
Click here to find out.

Minerals Explained

Which minerals are found in which food? How much of each mineral should you take?
Click here to find out.

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Vitamins Chart

Fat Soluble Vitamins can be stored in the body and need not be consumed daily. While it is difficult to "overdose" on them from ordinary sources, consuming mega doses of fat soluble vitamins, especially A and D, can lead to a dangerous buildup in the body.

Abbreviations: IU=International Units; mg=milligrams; mcg=micrograms.

Vitamin Sources Indication Efficacy Claims

Vitamin A
Men: 3 000 IU
Women: 2 700 IU

Liver, fortified Milk (Retinol form - see below for Carotene sources.) Essential for eyes, skin and the proper function of the immune system. Helps maintain hair, bones and teeth. Deficiency: Night blindness; reduced hair growth in children; loss of appetite; dry, rough skin; lowered resistance to infection; dry eyes.

Overdose: Headaches; blurred vision; fatigue; diarrhea; irregular periods; joint and bone pain; dry, cracked skin; rashes; loss of hair; vomiting, liver damage.
Beta Carotene
(Pro-Vitamin A)
(See Vitamin A)
Carrots, Squash, Broccoli, Green Leafy Vegetables Antioxidant. Converted to Vitamin A in the body. (See Vitamin A)   The antioxidant properties of this nutrient may be a factor in reducing the risk of certain forms of cancer.
Vitamin D
Men: 100 IU
Women: 100 IU
Egg Yolk, Milk, Exposure to sun enables body to make its own Vitamin D. Helps build and maintain teeth and bones. Enhances calcium absorption. Deficiency: Rickets in children; bone softening in adults; osteoporosis.

Overdose: Calcium deposits in organs; fragile bones; renal and cardiovascular damage.
Vitamin E
Men: 9-10 mg
Women: 6-7 mg
Corn or Cottonseed Oil, Butter, Brown Rice, Soybean Oil, Vegetable oils such as Corn, Cottonseed or Soybean, Nuts, Wheat Germ. Antioxidant. Helps form red blood cells, muscles and other tissues. Preserves fatty acids. Deficiency: Rare, seen primarily in premature or low birth weight babies or children who do not absorb fat properly. Causes nerve abnormalities.

Overdose: Unknown.
The antioxidant properties of this nutrient may be a factor in reducing the risk of certain forms of cancer.
Vitamin K
None established.
Estimated at 0.03 mcg/kg
Green Vegetables, Liver, also made by intestinal bacteria. Needed for normal blood clotting. Deficiency: Defective blood coagulation.

Overdose: Jaundice in infants.
Water Soluble Vitamins are not stored in the body and should therefore be consumed daily.
Vitamin B1
Men: 0.8 - 1.3 mg
Women: 0.8 mg
Sunflower Seeds, Pork, whole and enriched Grains, dried Beans. Necessary for carbohydrate metabolism and muscle coordination. Promotes proper nerve function. Deficiency: Anxiety; hysteria; depression; muscle cramps; loss of apetite; in extreme cases beriberi (mostly in alcoholics).

Overdose: Unknown, although excess of one B vitamin may cause deficiency of others.
Vitamin B2
Men: 1.3 - 1.6 mg
Women: 1.1 mg
Liver, Milk, Spinach, enriched Noodles, Mushrooms. Needed for metabolism of all foods and the release of energy to cells. Essential to the functioning of Vitamin B6 and Niacin. Deficiency: Cracks and sores around the mouth and nose; visual problems.

Overdose: See Vitamin B1.
Vitamin B3
Men: 16-23 mg
Women: 14-16 mg
Niacin is converted to niacinamide in the body.
Mushrooms, Bran, Tuna, Chicken, Beef, Peanuts, enriched Grains. Needed in many enzymes that convert food to energy. Helps maintain a healthy digestive tract and nervous system. In very large doses, lower cholesterol (large doses should only be taken under the advice of a physician). Deficiency: In extreme cases, pellagra, a disease characterized by dermatitis, diarrhea and mouth sores.

Overdose: Hot flashes; ulcers; liver disorders; high blood sugar and uric acid; cardiac arrythmias.
Pantothenic Acid
Vitamin B5
Men: 2.5 mg
Women: 2.5 mg
Abundant in animal tissues, whole grain cereals and legumes. Converts food to molecular forms. Needed to manufacture adrenal hormones and chemicals that regulate nerve function. Deficiency: Unclear in humans.

Overdose: See Vitamin B1.
Vitamin B6
Men: 1.8 mg
Women: 1.5 mg
Animal protein foods, Spinach, Broccoli, Bananas. Needed for protein metabolism and absorption, carbohydrate metabolism. Helps form red blood cells. Promotes nerve and brain function. Deficiency: Anemia, irritability, patches of itchy, scaling skin; convulsions.

Overdose: Nerve damage.
Vitamin B12
Men: 2 mcg
Women: 2 mcg
Found almost exclusively in animal products. Builds genetic material. Helps form red blood cells. Deficiency: Pernicious anemia; nerve damage. (Note: Deficiency rare except in strict vegetarians, the elderly or people with malabsorption disorders.)

Overdose: See Vitamin B1.
60 mcg
Cheese, Egg, Yolk, Cauliflower, Peanut Butter Needed for metabolism of glucose and formation of certain fatty acids. Essential for proper body chemistry. Deficiency: Seborrhic dermatitis in infants. Rare in adults, but can be induced by consuming large amounts of egg whites - anorexia, nausea, vomiting, dry scaly skin.

Overdose: See Vitamin B1
Folic Acid (Folacin)
Men: 180-220 mg
Women: 160-190 mg
Green, leafy vegetables, Orange Juice, organ Meats, Sprouts. Essential for the manufacture of genetic material as well as protein metabolism and red blood cell formation. Deficiency: Impaired cell division; anemia; diarrhea; gastrointestinal upsets.

Overdose: Convulsions in epileptics. May mask pernicious anemia (see Vitamin B12 deficiency).
Adequate amounts of this nutrient in the first stage of pregnancy may reduce the risks of neural tube birth defects.
Vitamin C
Ascorbic Acid
Men: 40 mg
Women: 30 mg
Citrus Fruits, Strawberries, Broccoli, Green Peppers Antioxidant. Helps bind cells together and strengthens blood vessel walls. Helps maintain healthy gums. Aids in the absorption of iron. Deficiency: Muscle Weakness, bleeding gums; easy bruising. In extreme cases, scurvy.

Overdose: Unknown.
The antioxidant properties of this nutrient may be a factor in reducing the risk of certain forms of cancer. May reduce the effects of the common cold.
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Minerals Chart
Minerals in organic products essential for body functions.

Abbreviations: IU=International Units; mg=milligrams; mcg=micrograms.
Minerals Sources Indication Efficacy Claims
Men: 800 - 1000 mg
Women: 700-800 mg
Milk, Yogurt, Cheese, Sardines, Broccoli, Turnip Greens. Helps build strong bones and teeth. Promotes muscle and nerve function. Helps blood to clot. Helps activate enzymes needed to convert food to energy. Deficiency: Rickets in children; osteomalacia (soft bones) and osteoporosis in adults.

Overdose: Constipation, Kidney Stones, calcium deposits in body tissues. Hinders absorption of iron and other minerals.
Men: 1000 mg
Women: 850 mg (3-6 g)
Chicken Breast, Milk, Lentils, Egg Yolks, Nuts, Cheese With calcium builds bones and teeth. Needed for metabolism, body chemistry, nerve and muscle function. Deficiency: (Rare) Weakness; bone pain; Anorexia.

Overdose: Hinders body's absorption of calcium.
Men: 230 - 250 mg
Women: 200 - 210 mg
Spinach, Beef Greens, Broccoli, Tofu, Popcorn, Cashews, Wheat Bran Activates enzymes needed to release energy in body. Needed by cells for genetic material and bone growth. Deficiency: Nausea, irritability, muscle weakness; twitching; cramps, cardiac arrhythmias.

Overdose: Nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, nervous system disorders.

Warning: Overdose can be fatal to people with kidney disease.
Men: 40-80 mmol
Women: 40-80 mmol (3-6 g)
Peanuts, Bananas, Orange Juice, Green Beans, Mushrooms, Oranges, Broccoli, Sunflower Seeds. Helps maintain regular fluid balance. Needed for nerve and muscle function. Deficiency: Nausea, anorexia, muscle weakness, irritability. (Occurs most often in persons with prolonged diarrhea.)

Overdose: Rare.
Men: 8-10 mg
Women: 8-13 mg
Liver, lean Meats, Kidney beans, enriched Bread, Raisins.
Note: Oxalic acid in spinach hinders iron absorption.
Essential for making hemoglobin, the red substance in blood that carries oxygen to body cells. Deficiency: Skin pallor; weakness; fatigue; headaches; shortness of breath (all signs of iron-deficiency anemia)

Overdose: Toxic buildup in liver and in rare instances the heart.
Men: 12 mg
Women: 9 mg
Oysters, Shrimp, Crab, Beef, Turkey, whole Grains, Peanuts, Beans. Necessary element in more than 100 enzymes that are essential to digestion and metabolism. Deficiency: Slow healing of wounds; loss of taste; retarded growth and delayed sexual development in children.

Overdose: Nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; abdominal pain; gastric bleeding.
0.05-0.2 mg
Adequate amounts are found in Seafood, Kidney, Liver and other meats. Grains and other Seed contain varying amounts depending on the soil content. Antioxidant. Interacts with Vitamin E to prevent breakdown of fats and body chemicals. Deficiency: Unknown in humans.

Overdose: Finger nail changes, hair loss.
2-3 mg
The richest sources of copper in the diet are Liver and other organ Meats, Seafoods, Nuts and Seeds. Component of several enzymes, including on needed to make skin, hair and other pigments. Stimulates iron absorption. Needed to make red blood cells, connective tissue and nerve fibres. Deficiency: Rare in adults. Infants may develop a type of anemia marked by abnormal development of bones, nerve tissue and lungs.

Overdose: Liver disease; vomiting; diarrhea.
2-5 mg
Tea, whole Grains and Cereal products are the richest dietary sources. Adequate amounts are found in Fruits and Vegetables. Needed for normal tendon and bone structure. Component of some enzymes important in metabolism. Deficiency: Unknown in humans.

Overdose: Generally results from inhalation of manganese containing dust or fumes, not dietary ingestion.
0.15-0.3 mg
The concentration in food varies depending on the environment in which the food was grown. Milk, Beans, Breads and Cereals contribute the highest amounts. Component of enzymes needed in metabolism. Helps regulate iron storage. Deficiency: Unknown in humans.

Overdose: Gout-like joint pain.

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