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Whether it’s calcium for healthy bones, garlic and horseradish to ward off an incoming cold or slippery elm to soothe your stomach, the market for vitamins and minerals in Australia is booming.
About 60 per cent of Aussies take supplements, spending upwards of $1 billion every year. Every second of every day, there are thousands of chemical reactions going on in our bodies, and vitamins and minerals play an integral role in that process. They help heal wounds, boost our immune system and convert food into energy, among hundreds of other roles.
The human body is capable of doing amazing things, but producing significant amounts of these nutrients isn’t one of them – we have to consume them. The best way to get essential vitamins and minerals is by fuelling your body with foods that naturally contain them, before turning to supplements.
But what is the difference between vitamins and minerals, what are they for, what foods are they found in and is it possible to have too much of a good thing? For those of us who aren’t doctors, dietitians or nutritionists, it can be overwhelming. So, here’s the lowdown from A-Z (or Vitamin A to Zinc).
Vitamins are organic substances made by plants and animals and there are 13 known types split into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins include Vitamins A, D, E and K. They're dissolved in fat and can be stored in your body. Together, this powerhouse combination of nutrients helps keep your skin, gastrointestinal tract, eyes, lungs and nervous system in tip-top shape. They also build bones and protect your vision and body.
Water-soluble vitamins include Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B12, Folate and Vitamin C. These vitamins need to be dissolved in water before they’re absorbed by your body and can’t be stored. Any water-soluble vitamins your body doesn’t use are passed through your system when you pee. These nutrients are absorbed directly into your bloodstream, releasing and producing energy and building proteins and cells.
Similar to vitamins, minerals help our bodies to grow, develop and keep healthy. They keep our bones, muscles, heart and brain working properly, and play an important role in making enzymes and hormones. There are two types of minerals that our bodies need to function: macrominerals and trace minerals.
The macromineral group includes calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulphur. Macro is Greek for “large” which is why we need a larger amount of this type of minerals.
Trace minerals include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium, and our bodies only require these in small amounts.
There’s a common misconception that the more vitamins and minerals you consume, the healthier you’ll be, but that’s not the case. Because we can store fat-soluble vitamins in our bodies, they could build up in our systems to potentially-dangerous levels.
If you eat a healthy diet full of whole grains, nuts, dairy, meats, eggs, fresh fruit and veggies, then chances are you’re consuming a sufficient amount of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function.
If you’re concerned you’re not getting your daily dose, or if you’ve made any major changes to your diet (including eliminating meat or dairy), it’s best to turn to a doctor or accredited practicing dietitian for advice before taking any supplements.
Understanding what’s in our food is the first step to making sure we’re getting enough of the good stuff. If you’re not quite sure how to read a nutrition label, we’ve got you covered.
For a variety of lunch, dinner and snack ideas that are jam-packed with healthy ingredients, check out The Check Up’s dedicated recipes section.