Breakfast cereals advertise that they're packed with vitamins and minerals. Sports
drinks claim they can rev up your flagging energy with a jolt of vitamins or minerals
(sorry, but even powerful vitamins and minerals can't act that fast!). You know vitamins
and minerals are good for you. But which ones does your body really need? And is it
possible to get too much of a good thing?
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
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
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.
Fuel for Growth
People go through a lot of physical changes — including growth and puberty
— during their teenage years. Eating right during this time is especially important
because the body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow, develop, and stay
Eating a variety of foods is the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals
you need each day, as well as the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats,
and calories. Whole or unprocessed foods — like fresh fruits and vegetables,
whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and poultry — are the
best choices for providing the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and grow
It's OK to eat foods like potato chips and cookies once in a while, but you don't
want to overdo high-calorie foods like these that offer little nutritionally.
To choose healthy foods, check food labels and pick items that are high in vitamins
and minerals. For example, if you're choosing beverages, you'll find that a glass
of milk is a good source of vitamin D and the minerals calcium, phosphorous, and potassium.
A glass of soda, on the other hand, doesn't have any vitamins or minerals.
You can also satisfy your taste buds without sacrificing nutrition while eating
out: Vegetable pizzas or fajitas, sandwiches with lean cuts of meat, fresh salads,
and baked potatoes are just a few delicious, nutritious choices.
If you're a vegetarian,
you'll need to plan carefully for a diet that offers the vitamins and minerals found
primarily in meats. The best sources for the minerals zinc and iron are meats, fish,
and poultry. However, you can get zinc and iron in dried beans, seeds, nuts, and leafy
green vegetables like kale.
Vitamin B12, which is important for manufacturing red blood cells, is not found
in plant foods. If you don't eat meat, you can find vitamin B12 in eggs, milk and
other dairy foods, and fortified breakfast cereals. Vegans
(vegetarians who eat no animal products at all, including dairy products) may need
to take vitamin supplements.
If you're thinking about becoming a vegetarian, talk to your doctor or a dietitian
about how to plan a healthy, balanced diet.
Lots of teens wonder if they should take vitamin or mineral supplements. If your
diet includes a wide variety of foods, including whole-grain products, fresh fruits
and vegetables, dairy products, nuts, seeds, eggs, and meats, then you are probably
getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
But if you're skipping meals, dieting, or if you're concerned that you're not eating
enough items from a particular category, such as vegetables or dairy products, then
talk to your doctor or to a dietitian. These professionals can help you create an
eating plan that includes the nutrients your body needs.
Check with your doctor before taking vitamin or mineral supplements. Some people
think that if something is good for you, then the more you take in, the healthier
you'll be. But that's not necessarily true when it comes to vitamins and minerals.
For example, fat-soluble vitamins or minerals, which the body stores and excretes
more slowly, can build up in your system to levels where they could cause problems.
There are hundreds of supplements on the market and of course their manufacturers
want you to purchase them. Beware of unproven claims about the benefits of taking
more than recommended amounts of any vitamin or mineral. A healthy teen usually doesn't
need supplements if he or she is eating a well-rounded diet.
Your best bet for getting the vitamins and minerals you need is to eat a wide variety
of healthy foods and skip the vitamin pills, drinks, and other supplements. You'll
feel better overall and won't run the risk of overdoing your vitamin and mineral intake.