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Nutrition 132: Vitamin perspectives
After talking about some aspects of nutrition, let's take a little closer look at the realm of Vitamins.
We know there are many vitamins, and we need to ensure we have enough of them in their various forms to maintain our health, but do we know anything else about these compounds? Let's take a brief tour of some of these things to get a better understanding of what is going on.
Vitamin A, which includes such things as Retinol and Beta Carotene, are used by the retinas of our eyes, which play an important role in vision. We've often heard to "eat your carrots to see better in the dark", and there appears to be some truth to this statement. As it turns out, it isn't just carrots, but many orange vegetables such as pumpkin, squash, and palm oil that are sources of vitamin A.
Vitamin B isn't just one vitamin, but several, and some often seem to get more of the limelight than others when it comes to common knowledge. From reading a cereal box, we might regularly see B1 and B2 by their chemical names (Thiamine and Riboflavin, respectively), but there's also B3 (Niacin) which in deficiency is known to contribute to Pellagra. We know of B5 as Pantothenic acid, and B6 in too low of a regular dose can contribute to Anemia (just as low iron levels can). Next up are B7 (Biotin) and B9 (Folic acid)... both names that may be more frequently encountered.
Then there's B12, or the "cobalamin" class of vitamins. There's actually three variants, cyanocobalamin, hydroxycobalamin, and methylcobalamin. B12 deficiency can lead to neural disorders and low energy. It has been discovered that there are both plant and animal sources of B12, but studies have tended to show that human physiology has a better time absorbing the animal-based B12. We only tend to need very little each day (in the microgram range), and our body can store some excess B12 in the liver, which is both a good and bad thing; good because we have a store we can rely upon, but bad in that we may be unaware, a deficiency is brewing, and it can often take months or years for a B12 deficiency to manifest itself.
I find B12 to be a rather interesting member of the vitamin family, and I've had a lot more exposure to information on it. Vegans should pay specific attention to their B12 intake, as it is one of the nutrients that tends to be very lacking in their diet.
Vitamin C is probably the best known of the Vitamins. Known by the name Ascorbic acid, a deficiency in vitamin C leads to scurvy, the "sailor's disease" from centuries ago (before we knew what Vitamin C was and what role it played). Citrus fruits are excellent sources of vitamin C, so are many other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin D, as I alluded to in a previous post, is actually more related to a hormone than a vitamin. While we can take vitamin D as a supplement, our bodies can actually produce it in more compatible forms from sunlight- specifically UVB light from the sun. Getting at least 15 minutes of real, unblocked sun on as much of your body as possible each day is actually a good thing, and apparently D deficient disorders like rickets are on the increase in the US, possibly due to an overprotection of the body with sunscreen and remaining indoors.
There are many more, including Vitamin E (which also seems to get a lot of mentions), Vitamin "F," which refers to the Essential Fatty Acids (the Omega 3s, 5s, 6s, 7s, and 9s, and the appropriate balance we must have between them), Vitamin K (found in green leafy vegetables), and I've even come across mention of Vitamin U (allegedly found in purple vegetables like cabbage).
But remember, just taking vitamins isn't necessarily the answer. Taking vitamins in balance with other nutrients is key, and knowing what works well with what other compounds. Nutrition can be like a never-ending jigsaw puzzle, but it is in some respects a piece of the puzzle of life.
So when you are hitting up the dining hall for a late-night snack, lunch, or other meal, try to populate your plate with something other than just processed fried foods. Stick an apple, pear, some salad greens... try to get some fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, your body will thank you.