Understanding Vitamins and Minerals
A Summary of Micronutrients
What are vitamins and minerals?
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, which mean that our bodies need them in small amounts because they cannot be made in our bodies. Vitamins are organic or carbon-containing micronutrients that are made by living cells. Vitamins are further characterized as either fat-soluble or water-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins can build up in body fat stores where as water-soluble vitamins are easily excreted by the body and do not build up in tissues. Minerals are inorganic elements that do not come from living sources, but from the earth’s crust, soil and water in which foods are grown.
Do vitamins and minerals provide energy?
Vitamins and minerals do not provide you with energy. However, they are still essential as they each have important functions within the body to keep all body systems functioning properly. You can think of vitamins and minerals like spark plugs for your car whereas carbohydrates, protein and fat are like the gasoline for your car. If you are feeling low in energy chances are the first thing you need to do is look at your every day food choices instead of popping extra vitamin supplements.
How do I know if I am getting enough?
The best way to get enough vitamins and minerals is to make sure you eat a balanced diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, veggies, calcium rich choices (such as milk, yogurt, cheese or calcium fortified beverages), protein rich choices such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes or nuts/seeds and healthy fats. The key is to ensure you eat a diet full of variety. Don’t eat the same thing each day. For example, mix up the types of fruits and veggies you buy and alternate your food choices throughout your week.
What about supplements?
Supplements are just that, they are a “supplement” to a healthy diet. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements will never make up for a poor diet or restrictive diet that doesn’t include good variety. An age appropriate daily multivitamin is a good idea for most people to “top up” what your food is providing. Individual supplements may be advised for certain medical conditions or for individuals that follow diets that eliminate foods for personal reasons or when certain food allergies or intolerances are present. Be aware more is not always better. For example, if you take in too much calcium it can interfere with getting enough iron in your diet or lead to constipation.
What are DRI’s?
Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI’s) are a set of nutrient reference values for healthy populations. Included in the DRI’s are the following:
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average daily intake amount that is needed to meet nutrient requirements of almost all healthy people in a life-stage and gender group. It is the goal for an individual’s daily intake and can be used to plan and assess an individual’s diet. Nutrient intakes can be above the RDA, but should not be below it.
Adequate Intake (AI) is the recommended average intake based on estimated nutrient intake by a group of healthy people assumed to be in an adequate nutritional state. AI is used when available scientific evidence is not available to establish an RDA.
Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is the highest average daily intake that is likely to cause no risk of adverse effects to almost all individuals in a life-stage and gender group. If daily intake of a nutrient is above the UL, the risk of adverse health effects increases. Daily nutrient intakes from foods and supplements combined should not be above the UL.
Downloadable vitamin and mineral chart:
Check out our vitamin and mineral chart to educate yourself on what the key functions of certain vitamins and minerals are for your body and to view the DRI’s for adults.
Thanks for reading!
“The Chocoholic Dietitian”