The A B C’s of Vitamins
Vitamins do amazing things for our health and wellness. Over the next few weeks I will go into what specifically each vitamin can do for you and the best sources of each. This week we will explore vitamins A, B, and C.
Vitamin A sometimes goes by the name retinol. It is essential for supporting your vision, skin, healthy bone growth and your immune system. As an antioxidant vitamin A helps skin to repair, stay moist, and produce the enzymes that stabilise the production of collagen. As such, it is often added to skin creams, sometimes going by the name stabilized retinol. If you’re after strong, silky locks, you’ll want to remember that vitamin A is also good for your hair.
Vitamin A as an Antioxidant
Vitamin A is an antioxidant vitamin, so it works hard destroying the cell-damaging free radicals in your body, helping to keep you looking and feeling young. So how does vitamin A contribute to such an important job? As we age our skin, eyes, joints and even our internal organs all become less efficient. Wrinkles appear and our complexion loses its youthful glow. It’s just a fact of life. But what causes our bodies to break down in this way? One major cause is the existence in our bodies of free radicals. Free radicals are naturally produced by our bodies, and we make even more of them when we’re subjected to stress, when we eat poorly, or when we’re exposed to pollution or cigarette smoke. In fact, many aspects of modern life encourage our bodies to manufacture more of these damaging free radicals. They then float around our bodies contributing to the damage and ageing of our organs, the visible ageing of our skin and sometimes even triggering disease. But help is at hand. Antioxidants destroy free radicals, helping us stay younger and fitter for longer.
Vitamin A is found in liver, full fat dairy products, spinach, broccoli, tomato juice, peppers and watercress. A good tip to remember when thinking about vitamin A is to look out for orange things! Mango, dried apricots, butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin all contain either vitamin A or the beta-carotene that becomes vitamin A inside your body. Cook your veg like carrots, broccoli and spinach very lightly – or eat them raw – for maximum vitamin intake. Vitamin A can also be taken as a supplement for more therapeutic dosages.
Essential in our daily diet the B vitamins play an essential role in cell metabolism and effect many different physical functions. For many years it was believed that there was just one B vitamin, but now we know that there are several and each of them performs a slightly different function in the body.
Vitamin B1, which is good for your heart and nervous system, is in:
- Whole grains
- Flour and bread
- Green leafy vegetables
- Brown rice
- Many meats.
Also known as thiamine, this vitamin is essential for metabolising carbohydrates. Though a deficiency of Vitamin B1 is rare, it’s most frequently seen among heavy drinkers. This is because alcohol inhibits the absorption of thiamine by the intestines.
Vitamin B2, which is good for growing bodies and essential in helping your body release energy from food, is in:
- Whole grain bread and flour
- Green vegetables.
Also known as Riboflavin, vitamin B2 is involved in the metabolising of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Vitamin B2 is also important for maintaining the skin and the cornea of the eye.
Vitamin B3 is in many protein-rich foods such as meat, liver and peanuts. It’s also in bread, fish, brewer’s yeast and potatoes. Also known as Niacin, vitamin B3 is required for your body to effectively metabolise your food. It also helps you to maintain healthy skin, nerves and gastrointestinal tract.
Vitamin B5 is a big player in the production of red bloods cells in your body. You’ll find it in:
Vitamin B6 is necessary for a healthy nervous system and blood function. You’ll be eating up plenty when you go for fish, chicken, wholegrain cereals, liver or eggs. Also known as Pyridoxine, vitamin B6 is needed by your body for the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Although most people will easily get enough vitamin B6 from their daily diet, vitamin B6 deficiency is common in heavy drinkers.
Vitamin B9 is more usually known as folic acid. It’s very important for the cells of the body, because it works with vitamin B12 to support DNA. Vitamin B6 is also necessary for the breakdown of proteins and for allowing oxygen to pass around the bloodstream.
Folic acid is present in most natural foods but it can be made less efficient by the process of cooking, which is one of the reasons it’s a good idea to eat some raw fruit and vegetables when you can. It’s well known that women trying to get pregnant, and expectant mums, should up their intake of folic acid to help avoid birth defects. You’ll find plenty of folic acid in yeast, liver, green vegetables, wholegrain cereals and many other foods.
Vitamin B12 helps you release energy from food and is important for the production of red bloods cells. It’s in fish, dairy produce, meat and yeast extract. Also known as Cyanocobalamin, vitamin B12 is essential for processing carbohydrates and fats. It is also active in helping to repair DNA.
As vitamin B12 is not found in foods deriving from plants, very strict vegetarians sometimes suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. Unlike many other vitamins, vitamin B12 can be stored by the body. It is stored in the liver in quantities sufficient to keep you going for several years. But if a deficiency does occur, it can lead to a complaint called pernicious anaemia. Pernicious anaemia creates symptoms of weakness, fatigue, numbness of the hands and feet and fever. The potentially serious effects of vitamin B12 deficiency can usually be reversed once the vitamin is re-introduced to the body.
The Busy B Vitamins
Eating a wide variety of foods should ensure that you get enough of the crucial B vitamins every day. So take plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods and some lean meat and low fat dairy produce. Vitamin B supplements are a good idea even if you are not a vegan or vegetarian.
Vitamin C is essential for the smooth running of a variety of functions in the body. It helps with metabolic functions, promotes healthy cells and blood vessels, extends the life of cells, helps with the healing of wounds, and may help boost our immune system and protect us from viral infections and bacteria. It even acts as a natural laxative.
Getting Your Vitamin C Every Day
Vitamin C is important to many animals, but unlike most other creatures, we human beings can’t make vitamin C for ourselves, we have to get it from our food and drink. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and, as such, we can’t store it in our bodies either. So it’s no good eating well in fits and starts and thinking you have a ‘bank’ of vitamin C – you don’t. You have to replenish your vitamin C supplies every day to get the health benefits it provides. Signs of vitamin C deficiency include tiredness, bleeding gums and wounds that are slow to heal. Lack of vitamin C can also ultimately lead to the debilitating disease known as scurvy.
Vitamin C as an Antioxidant
One reason that vitamin C is so well known and is so often taken as a supplement, is that it’s an antioxidant. As we age, cells in our bodies break down, causing everything from wrinkles to cancer. But what causes our bodies to break down in this way?One of the key factors is the presence in our bodies of free radicals. The human body naturally produces free radicals, and we tend to make more of them when we’re subjected to stress, when we eat poorly, or when we’re exposed to pollution or cigarette smoke. These free radicals damage our cells and contribute to the ageing of our organs, the visible ageing of our skin and can even trigger disease.
So where does vitamin C come in? Antioxidants destroy free radicals, and vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. So getting enough vitamin C in your diet may help you to stay looking and feeling younger for longer.
Vitamin C and the Immune System
No doubt you’ve heard people talking about upping their intake of vitamin C as winter draws in, with the intention of helping to keep coughs and colds at bay. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C are believed, by many, to help boost the immune system. But the scientific jury is still out on this.Nonetheless, as long as you’re planning to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and drink more lovely fresh juices, you’re not going to do yourself any harm anyway, so eat up!
Getting Vitamin C From Food
There are loads of delicious ways to make sure you get enough vitamin C in your diet. Great sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, kiwi fruit, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes and peppers. But remember that boiling and heat destroy vitamin C. So for maximum health benefits try to eat your fruits and vegetables raw, or lightly steamed whenever possible.
C the Difference!
Making sure you get plenty of vitamin C from your daily diet should have you reaping the health and fitness benefits. So throw a few strawberries over your cereal, take a glass of orange juice instead of a fizzy soft drink, eat a piece of fruit at lunch time, and stack your dinner plate with delicious fresh vegetables, and see if you can tell the difference in the way you look and feel. As with the other vitamins you can take a supplement if you feel you need more than you get from your diet on a daily basis.
Submitted by Tricia @ Nutrition by Tricia
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