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.

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onlinerewardz
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I agree

Well. I have really learnt a few new things about vitamins from your blog, and I agree with most of what you wrote here. From my knowledge, vitamins play a very important role in our body's metabolic activities, and this is why we must make sure that we are meeting up with the recommended daily intake of vitamins. I personally like to eat an apple or orange after every meal, I eat in the dinning room . But there is one question I would like to ask. Does salad also contain vitamins? If they do, what kind of vitamins do they give to the body?

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wedge1020
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Vitamins in Salad

Absolutely!

In this day and age, it can be difficult sometimes to conceptualize vitamins as naturally occurring compounds in existing food. After all, vitamins can so easily be associated with a pill, that we pop every morning (be it a multivitamin or other supplement), but vitamins should not be considered as a "supplement", they are a required nutrient, and we can just as easily get our daily intake of nutrients from natural food sources.

Now, the exact set of vitamins available in "salad" can vary, as there is no such thing as a stock "salad". Salads are a composition of various greens, vegetables, spices, herbs, and even the occasional fruit or berry.

So, to give a few examples, here are some (hopefully) common salad items and their vitamin content:

Spinach: Vitamins A (Beta carotene), B9 (folate), C, E, and K (apparently a great source).

Romaine Lettuce: Vitamins A, B9 (folate), C, and K.

Iceberg Lettuce: similar to Romaine, but about 1/3 the nutritional value (Romaine is darker in color, and darker greens denote higher nutrition).

Carrots: A (beta carotene), decent spread of B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, and K.

Bell Peppers: A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, E, and K.

Cucumber: B5, C, and K.

Avocado: B5, B6, B9 (folate), C, and K.

Mushrooms in general seem to be a great source of various B vitamins.

I didn't list any quantities or the levels of availability... you can find them on pages like http://www.whfoods.com/ (or just do a google search for: thing vitamins (like: avocado vitamins) and you'll see pages containing that information.

It should also be noted that, although some foods do not contain a wide spectrum of vitamins, that does NOT mean they should be avoided. Each food helps to contribute, and, in fact, most of these foods are excellent sources of many other minerals as well (one of my next blog posts will be on minerals). Another benefit of salads and salad greens are the presence of fiber, which helps with our overall digestion, and salads are generally quite alkaline (vs. acidic like meats and processed foods).

So there are several benefits to a salad, beyond just their vitamin content (which, in and of itself, makes for a great source).

Some other key points to keep in mind-- HOW the salad is prepared and WHERE the foods are source can also make a difference- for example, cooking can destroy some nutrients, or how they are cooked (for example, boiled in water vs. steamed) can leech out some vitamins/minerals. Some non-organic foods may have higher levels of pesticides. And the longer the plant sits on the store shelves from the time it was picked, it is slowly losing nutritional content.

So, if possible, raw organic sources eaten closer to the time of harvesting will likely give you the BEST source of nutrients, but eating any is of course better than eating none. In general, I think more people could stand to eat more salad. It is just that when you get into it, there are so many more exciting paths that open up to explore.