The subject of vitamins and minerals is a very popular one and it can be difficult to weed out the truths from the myths. Here are answers to the 6 most frequently asked questions to help you get some perspective.
1. What are the different types of vitamins?
Vitamins are divided into two categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble.
The water-soluble group includes: B vitamins (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 12) and vitamin C. They present the following characteristics:
- They dissolve in water.
- They are not stored in the organism.
- Excess amounts are excreted through urine.
- They are destroyed when foods are cooked or boiled.
Fat-soluble vitamins include A, D, E and K, and present the following characteristics:
- They dissolve in fat;
- They can be stored in the body;
- When they accumulate, they can cause problems.
2. What role do vitamins play?
Vitamins have multiple functions and are essential to your well-being and to maintain normal body functions (good eyesight, energy levels, cell growth, bone health, a healthy immune system, blood coagulation, etc.). Your body needs sufficient vitamins to function properly.
3. Where are vitamins found?
Vitamins are found mostly in fruits and vegetables, but also in grains, dairy and meat and substitutes. Vitamin-enriched drinks and foods are also available. It is highly recommended to adopt a healthy, balanced diet to get all the vitamins you need. The best advice is to follow Canada’s Food Guide.
4. What role do minerals play?
Minerals are also found in several foods and are essential to a healthy body. Like vitamins, minerals play a crucial role in supporting many body functions. The main minerals your body needs are: calcium, iron, copper, iodine, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and zinc. These are active in:
- The functioning of the thyroid gland.
- The functioning of the immune system.
- Muscle function.
- The production of red blood cells.
- Maintaining bone health.
5. Are my symptoms caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies?
In North America, it is rather rare to suffer from vitamin deficiencies, but people with poor diets can experience symptoms caused by certain deficiencies such as:
- Lack of energy or vigour
- Leg cramps
However, it is important to remember that these symptoms can also be caused by other health-related issues. See your doctor for a full checkup to assess your condition.
It is true that certain vitamin or mineral deficiencies can cause illnesses. For example, osteoporosis, a disease characterized by increased bone fragility and risk of fracture, is linked to inadequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D. In Canada, people of all ages could benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplements, especially those who don’t eat enough foods with high concentrations of these, like dairy products.
6. Should I take supplements?
If you eat a healthy and varied diet and follow the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide, you are very likely meeting your vitamin and mineral requirements.
However, in some cases, it may be necessary to add supplements to complete your diet. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of vitamin and mineral formulas available. Some contain only one, while others contain a combination. There are several things to consider when choosing which ones are right for you: specific needs, age, sex, lifestyle, etc.
If you are thinking of adding vitamins and/or minerals to your diet, the following will help you make the choices that are best suited for you:
- Ask your pharmacist to help you figure out your specific needs.
- Tell your pharmacist about any medications you’re already taking, as some may interact with certain vitamins and minerals.
- Take the recommended dose of supplement every day according to the advice of your pharmacist or the manufacturer.
- Take the supplement with food unless otherwise indicated.
- Remember that supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet.
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