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Your essential Vitamin Guide

Vitamins are important for health and vitality, but what does each do? Rude Health magazine finds out

In theory, if we are eating a wide variety of fresh foods we shouldn’t need to supplement our diets with vitamins, however this is not always the case. Busy modern lives and the development of convenience foods can mean that the body becomes depleted of vitamins and minerals.

At certain times in your life you may need a little extra support. Children who are picky eaters can benefit from a multivitamin, people who suffer from anaemia may need iron, pregnant women can benefit from supplementation, people who are recovering from illness and athletes who push their bodies to the limit can all benefit from help maintaining enough magnesium, B vitamins, iron and vitamin D.

“A varied diet is probably the most recommended way of getting the full daily requirement of vitamins and minerals, which takes in the various food groups, and also some time out in the sun for vitamin D,” says John Halpin of The Health Store in Dundrum. “If in doubt, a good multivitamin can help ensure you are getting enough.”

Missing vitamins

“The most common vitamin that people lack is B12, and iron to a lesser extent, mainly for vegetarians,” says John Halpin. “B12 is available from dairy products and eggs, and iron from dark green leafy vegetables, beans, and dried fruits like apricots and prunes. Both are available in supplement form, in liquid or tablet. The algae spirulina is also a good source of both B12 and iron, can be taken in tablet form, or added as a powder to smoothies or protein drinks.”

Fatty acids

“Every living cell in the body requires omega 3 essential fatty acid to function properly,” says Dr Geoff Hayhurst of Paradox Omega Oils. “Research has shown that the two most beneficial fatty acids are the omega 3s EPA and DHA which can be sourced from oily fish, yet only a third of us eat enough oily fish on a regular basis. And even those who do eat fish are often not getting enough omega 3s because much of the fish consumed today is farm raised and lacks significant amounts of EPA and DHA.

“Research shows that the purest and most reliable source of omega 3s is a high quality stabilised fish oil,” says Dr Geoff Hayhurst. “A good fish oil or omega 3 supplement should not taste or smell of fish – this freshness is an indicator of the stability of the product and the more stable the omega 3 the more effective, providing health benefits for the brain, heart, eyes, skin, hair and nails. Look for an oil with equal EPA and DHA and if in capsule form it should be in fish gelatin.”

Your A to Z

Vitamin A – keeps eyes in good condition and boosts the immune system. Found in cheese, eggs, oily fish, milk, fortified low-fat spreads and yogurt.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) – essential for energy. Found in whole grains, seafood and beans.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – keeps skin, hair and nails healthy and also for good eyesight. Found in some cheeses, almonds, oily fish, eggs, mushrooms and sesame seeds.

Vitamin B3 (niacin) – helps lower cholesterol and aids digestion. Found in beetroot, brewer’s yeast, salmon, tuna, sunflower seeds, fortified bread and cereals.

Vitamin B9 (folic acid, folate) – important for growth. Found in green vegetables and fortified foods such as cereal and bread.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) – good for supporting blood cell and nerve growth. Found in liver, oily fish, dairy and eggs.

Biotin (vitamin H) – good for skin, hair and nails. Found in liver, eggs and nuts.

Boron – helps the body to use calcium. Found in fresh fruit, nuts, beans and leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – important antioxidant for protecting the body from free radicals. Found in fresh fruit and vegetables.

Calcium – essential for strong bones and teeth. Found in dairy products, pulses, soya, dried fruits and green leafy vegetables.

Chromium – for healthy skin, bones and hair. Found in many vegetables, cheese, chicken, eggs and whole grains.

Copper – essential for making red blood cells and supporting the immune system. Found in whole grains, seafood, liver, pulses, nuts and potatoes.

Vitamin D (calciferol) – keeps bones, muscles and teeth healthy. Created by the body when exposed to sun and found in oily fish, eggs, fortified fat spreads and breakfast cereals and powdered milk. Helps our mood, immune system and aids the absorption of calcium.

Vitamin E (tocopherol) – important for energy and sex drive. Found in soya, corn and olive oil, nuts and seeds, wheat germ and cereals.

Glucosamine – essential for healthy cartilage. Not commonly found in food, so important to supplement.

Iodine – essential for hormone and energy production. Found in seafood and seaweed.

Iron - helps make red blood cells. Found in liver, red meat, beans, nuts, dried fruit, wholegrains, fortified breakfast cereals, dark-green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin K – important for blood clotting and building bones. Found in green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach, vegetable oils, cereals.

Magnesium – important for turning food into energy. Found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, bread, fish, meat and dairy foods.

Manganese – maintains blood sugar levels. Found in tea, bread, nuts, cereals and green vegetables.

Phosphorus – aids the work of the B vitamins. Found in meat, eggs and seeds.

Potassium – helps control fluid in the body. Found in numerous foods.

Selenium – important for the immune system and reproduction. Found in brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.

Silicon – essential for healthy bones and connective tissues. Found in plant foods.

Sulphur – important for immunity. Found in protein foods.

Zinc – important for a healthy immune system. Found in meat, shellfish, milk, dairy foods, bread and cereals.

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