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Articles - A Healthy Diet:

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Vitamins are one of the keys to health

A lot of food advertising focuses on the vitamin content of specific products. The strategy seems to be working, because a lot of consumers will tell you – without having any clear idea of what vitamins are – that high vitamin content equates with healthy food. The very name “vitamin” means essential to life. Vitamins are substances that your body needs but cannot synthesise for itself. In other words, we have to get vitamins from our food. Which substances are vitamins depends on the which organism we’re talking about. Human beings cannot produce ascorbic acid, (vitamin C) but most other mammals can, so that  ascorbic acid is a vitamin for you, but not for your dog, which can make its own – thank you very much!

A spot of history

The word “vitamin” is a combination of the Latin word for life “vita” and the word “amin” which indicates that it contains nitrogen. Originally, researchers assumed that all “vitamins” were nitrogen compounds and the name has stuck even though we now know that not all vitamins are nitrogen compounds. Vitamins are essential because they enable your body to metabolise and utilise proteins and minerals. Vitamins are thus indirectly involved in energy and they’re important for cell-building and the immune system.

Vitamins and provitamins

Today nutritionists believe that there are 13 vitamins essential to health. The first vitamin to be identified was retinol (hence the name vitamin A) in 1909. As they were subsequently identified, vitamins were successively named, so that today we have vitamins A,B,C,D,E and K. The gap between E and K was previously full of vitamins, but they have been removed, either because they proved not to be vitamins, but, for example, fatty acids – like vitamin F – or they’ve been reassigned to another type of vitamin – like vitamin H (biotin) which is now classified as one of the B vitamins (Vitamin B7). Provitamins are precursors, that is substances which the body can transform into vitamins. For example, beta-carotene from plants is converted into retinol (vitamin A).

Fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins

Vitamins are not a set of uniform substances; they’re complex organic compounds which can vary widely in their structure. Some are fat-soluble and some are water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body, but water-soluble vitamins need to be consumed continuously. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. The B vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble and have to be consumed regularly.

You probably don’t need vitamin supplements

In most western European countries , people who eat a balanced diet, for example following the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society (DGE), are getting all the vitamins they need. A serious lack of vitamins necessitating your taking vitamin supplements only occurs rarely for example  due to certain illnesses or while women are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Source: FreeCooks