Vitamins and Minerals
You know vitamins and minerals are good for you. But what does your body really need? And is it possible to get too much of a good thing?
What Are Vitamins and Minerals?
Your body needs vitamins and minerals to work properly. You get them from the foods you eat every day.
Vitamins fall into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble (pronounced: SAHL-yuh-bul):
- The fat-soluble vitamins — A, D, E, and K — dissolve in fat and are stored in your body.
- The water-soluble vitamins — C and the B-complex vitamins (such as vitamins B6, B12, niacin, riboflavin, and folate) — dissolve in water. Your body can't store these vitamins. Any B or C vitamins that your body doesn't use travels through the bloodstream and is lost (mostly when you pee). So you need a fresh supply of these vitamins every day.
Vitamins are organic substances, which means they’re made by plants or animals. Minerals are inorganic elements that come from 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 need only very small amounts of them.
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 (pronounced: kuh-RAH-teh-noydz) that your body converts into vitamin A, which helps prevent eye problems.
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.
How Do I Get the Vitamins and Minerals I Need?
Eating well now is especially important because the body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow and stay healthy.
Eating a mix of foods is the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals you need each day. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and poultry are the best choices for getting the nutrients your body needs.
When deciding what to eat, check food labels and pick items that are high in vitamins and minerals. For example, when choosing drinks, you'll find that a glass of milk is a good source of vitamin D, 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 dining 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 includes the vitamins and minerals you need. The best sources for the minerals zinc and iron are meats, fish, and poultry. But you can get these from dried beans, seeds, nuts, and leafy green vegetables like kale.
Vitamin B12 is important for making red blood cells and keeping nerves working well. It is found only in animal products. If you don't eat meat, you can get vitamin B12 from 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 B12 supplements.
Should I Take a Supplement?
Lots of people 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 — you probably get the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
There are many supplements on the market, and of course their makers want you to buy them. Beware of unproven claims about the benefits of taking more than recommended amounts of any vitamin or mineral. Healthy teens usually don't need supplements if they eat a well-rounded diet.
Check with your doctor before taking vitamin or mineral supplements. Just because something is good for you doesn’t mean that more is better. Some vitamins and minerals can cause health problems if you get too much of them.
Talk to your doctor or a dietitian if you're skipping meals, dieting, are a picky eater, or have any concerns about your diet. They can answer your questions and help you create a healthy eating plan that includes the nutrients your body needs.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995- KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.