It is well known that vitamins are essential for the health of our body. But how many know exactly what they are, what function they have and how they should be used?
In this article together with Vocea Europei we will discover that there is a precise classification of vitamins and we will try to explain how they work. We will then analyze what the vitamin groups are, what functions are associated with each of them and the relative benefits that can be obtained for the body, starting from correct intake. We will delve deeper into the issue of group D vitamins which, as we will see, are important for the correct development of the musculoskeletal system and beyond. Last but not least, we will give you some information on the most correct way to get the recommended amount of vitamins through your diet. Do you know which food can help you most in achieving this goal? Let’s find out together!
The word vitamin derives from “amine of life”: the term was coined by its discoverer, the scientist Casimir Funk, in 1912. Amines are a particular type of organic compound, and therefore vitamins constitute those organic compounds necessary for life of the human being (and many other living beings).
Vitamins fall in particular into the class of so-called micronutrients : this means that, although these substances are necessary for our well-being, tiny quantities are enough to satisfy the relative needs. The term “micronutrients”, in fact, is opposed to the term “macronutrients”, which classify substances such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats, which our body needs in large quantities to survive and carry out its normal activities. For most vitamins, however, a few milligrams, if not micrograms, are sufficient every day (taking into account that the quantities also vary based on body weight).
In a similar way to what happens with mineral salts (iron, zinc, magnesium, etc.), the vast majority of vitamins must be taken in through food , as our body is not able to produce them independently (with a few exceptions).
In some cases they are taken directly from food, while in others a further transformation is necessary in our body starting from a partially different substance taken through food. In addition to being present in nature, however, they can also be produced artificially and administered through special supplements: these, provided they are of good quality, can help keep a vitamin deficiency diagnosed by a doctor under control. The use of supplements, in any case, should be subject to supervision by a doctor or nutritionist: we always recommend avoiding “do-it-yourself” solutions, even if you need to balance your diet with simple supplements.
But what exactly are vitamins for ? What are their functions in our body? We often don’t imagine how numerous the activities vitamins perform and how essential they are for our health. Their deficiency (like their excess) can give rise to various disorders.
Vitamins activate multiple processes and reactions that guarantee the proper functioning of the body’s metabolism. Furthermore, they allow the development (in the age of growth) and the maintenance of health of all organs and tissues. More specifically:
– although vitamins, in themselves, do not provide calories and energy on their own, many of them are involved in the body’s energetic chemical reactions , such as the Krebs cycle or glycolysis, thus preventing fatigue, stress and tiredness mental, and promoting concentration;
– in many cases vitamins act as coenzymes , that is, they contribute to the action of enzymes responsible for regulating various biological reactions in cells;
– the correct functioning of the nervous system and vision, as well as eye health, require satisfaction of one’s vitamin needs;
– the growth of hair , hair and nails, as well as the maintenance of skin elasticity, are regulated in part by some vitamins;
– in addition to some mineral salts, certain vitamins are also essential for keeping bones and teeth healthy , preventing some bone tissue diseases typical of advanced age;
– some vitamins have an antioxidant property thanks to which they can fight the harmful action of free radicals at every level, from muscles to skin, from the circulatory system to the gastric and intestinal systems;
– other vitamins are essential for hormonal regulation in adults, both in men and women (for the latter, vitamins become even more fundamental during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but obviously they cannot be missing in men too);
– furthermore, some vitamins have a preventive action that protects the body from the development of certain pathologies.
How vitamins are classified
There are 13 vitamins in total, some of which are collected into “groups”. All of them have an indispensable role for our health, but obviously present various differences in terms of chemical structure and, consequently, functions and properties.
There are, in reality, many ways to classify vitamins, based on different parameters. The simplest subdivision, into two macrocategories, distinguishes between fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins, and therefore considers the physical characteristics of the molecules:
– fat-soluble vitamins are those that can be dissolved in fats. The group includes vitamin A (or retinol), vitamin D (or calciferol), vitamin E (or tocopherol) and vitamin K (or naphthoquinone);
– water-soluble vitamins , on the other hand, are those that can dissolve in water. Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) and vitamin B or, better said, the B group vitamins are water-soluble. The latter include vitamin B1 (or thiamine), vitamin B2 (or riboflavin), vitamin B3 (or niacin, also called vitamin PP), vitamin B5 (or pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (or pyridoxine), vitamin B8 (or biotin, better known as vitamin H), vitamin B9 (or folic acid) and vitamin B12 (or cobalamin).
Group D vitamins
Vitamin D is one of the best known: its bone-strengthening properties are especially famous, due to which it is often prescribed to the elderly through special supplements. However, it has many more functions in the body, which are equally useful but less well known.
In foods, vitamin D is found in two forms, vitamin D2 (or ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (or cholecalciferol), both with a rather complex chemical structure. However, nutrition is not the main source , since only small quantities can be integrated into the diet.
The supply of vitamin D mostly comes from the production carried out by our own body thanks to the action of sunlight . Exposure to the sun, therefore, is essential to ensure the right levels of vitamin D, and is recommended (obviously without exaggerating) at all ages, even better if associated with physical activity.
But why is vitamin D so important? Because, as we mentioned, it has many specific functions, including:
– protect the functioning of the immune system , preventing colds and other seasonal ailments and contributing to the defenses against some diseases;
– promote the absorption of calcium , and therefore the strengthening of bones and teeth;
– maintain levels of phosphorus and calcium in the blood, which are essential for many other chemical processes, especially for children and in general during the developmental age;
– reduce the risk of heart disease, thus helping to maintain the health of the cardiovascular system ;
– contribute to the prevention of some tumors , based on some recent scientific research;
– promote an improvement in mood in some subjects.
How to take vitamins through food
Although some vitamins can be synthesized by our body (for example, as we have seen, vitamin D), most of them must be obtained through diet. But what are the right foods to always meet the recommended vitamin needs?
In general, among the many pieces of advice that can be given, only one is fundamental, as well as very simple: following a healthy, varied and balanced diet . It is therefore a question of avoiding repetitiveness in the choice of food and integrating all types of food into one’s diet, both products of animal origin and those of plant origin. It is also important to avoid nutritional deficiencies of any kind: a good diet includes carbohydrates, proteins, fiber and so on.
If you want to be more sure, here is a list with some suggestions on the best foods to always take the correct daily ration of vitamins. Bear in mind, however, that this is a non-exhaustive list:
vitamin A. It is found mainly in yellow or orange fruit and vegetables (in fact it is also called “beta-carotene”). Secondary sources are green leafy vegetables, dairy products and liver;
vitamin B1. It is found above all in whole grains and wheat, but also in foods such as brewer’s yeast, wheat germ oil or liver;
vitamin B2. It is present in milk and dairy products, eggs, meat (especially chicken, but also beef liver), dried fruit (especially almonds) and various green leafy vegetables;
vitamin B3. It is contained mainly in meat (beef, chicken) and fish, but also in other animal products (milk, eggs), cereals, peanuts and potatoes;
vitamin B5. It is abundant in offal and legumes and to a lesser extent in many other products, both animal and vegetable;
vitamin B6. It is present in lean meats (chicken, fish), legumes (beans, chickpeas) and some fruits (bananas, avocados, plums);
vitamin B7. It is found in liver, whole grains and citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit);
vitamin B9. It is widespread in many different foods, including milk and dairy products, liver, green leafy vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, lentils) and eggs;
vitamin B12. It is contained in almost all foods of animal origin (meat, fish, milk, eggs), but especially in the liver and in certain fish or seafood (mussels, clams, mackerel, herring);
C vitamin. It has multiple sources of plant origin, including red peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, melon, broccoli, kiwis, currants, cabbage;
vitamin D. As we said, it mainly comes from exposure to sunlight. Food sources are milk derivatives, some fish (those rich in omega3, such as salmon, tuna, herring, sardines), egg yolk and some green leafy vegetables. The food that contains the most, however, is much less common: it is cod liver oil;
Vitamin E. It is found in cereals, vegetable oils, dried fruit (especially nuts) and some green leafy vegetables;
vitamin K. It is present in all fruit and vegetables, especially artichokes and green leafy vegetables. It is also found in cereals, milk and dairy products.