We are in the midst of a nutritional explosion. Information about vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients is being thrust at us everyday. We are told that this vitamin cures this ailment and that food is bad for us. It's so confusing and frustrating you don't know what to believe.
You're not alone. While our nutritional knowledge is expanding all the time, we still have much to learn. It is even difficult for doctors and nutritionists to keep up and sort out what's what. However, there are a few basic facts about vitamins and minerals you should know in order to help you decide when, how, and why to use them.
What are Vitamins and Minerals
Scientists have known that vitamins are vital to life since the days of ancient Egypt. We only need small amounts of these "accessory food factors" for survival, but without them we become very sick or die. Vitamins play a number of roles in the body ranging from
metabolism to converting food into energy.
Although vitamins are each different substances chemically speaking, most of them must come from our food. Some can be formed from other compounds. For example vitamin A can be made from beta-carotene. Others are partly manufactured by the body. Friendly
microorganisms that live in the gut help make vitamins K, B12, thiamin, and folic acid. Our skin uses sunshine to create vitamin D.
Unlike vitamins, minerals make up a much larger portion of the body--up to five percent. There are two classifications of minerals required for health: the macronutrient elements and the trace elements. The trace minerals such as arsenic, chromium, copper, and tin are needed in minute quantities, but are still essential for survival.
Recommended Daily Allowances
The best way to get your vitamins and minerals is through food. Taking nutrients in pill form, while often necessary, is not ideal. There is undoubtedly a balance between nutrients in whole, fresh, organically grown foods that is difficult to replicate. Not only are we still dissecting how and what nutrients comprise our diet, but when man tries to imitate nature the results usually fall short. For instance, breast milk with its mysterious nutritional mixture is
still infinitely better for a baby than infant formula.
The Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) were created as a guideline to vitamin and mineral requirements. First presented 50 years ago, the RDAs have provided ongoing information based on current scientific data. Understanding and research have, of course,
changed over the years. Even today incomplete information and varying expert opinions create disagreements as to exact nutrient levels. RDA experts acknowledge that incomplete data makes it impossible for them to set RDAs for all vitamins and minerals.
In order to simplify their charts, the RDA subcommittee say their information is intended for healthy people. Each RDA is meant to be an average figure that is safe and adequate. These numbers obviously don't fit everyone. Although RDA values are given for different age groups and sex, only one body size is used per category. For instance, women 25 to 50 years old are assumed to be five foot four inches and 138 pounds--the average weight and height for women in this age group.
In reality each of us is not only a different size, but we have different nutrient needs. Sex, age, where we live, as well as our diet, health, physical activity, biochemical individuality, and ability to absorb food elements all determine how much vitamins and minerals we require. It is these factors that make RDA charts so difficult to compose. Your individuality is also what dictates whether you need vitamin and mineral supplements (1).