A critical part of our nutrition, vitamins are essential substances that the body cannot manufacture itself - we thus need a small amount of these substances for growth and development.
The name is derived from the two words "vital amine", and it is indeed vital that our nutrition contains vitamins in the correct quantities.
Whatever your attitude towards nutrition, vitamins must be included, either in the foods you eat or from supplements.
There are two main types:
- Fat-soluble (A, D, E and K): These are typically found in meat and meat products, animal fat and vegetable oils, dairy products and fish. Transported around the body in fat, if you have any excess of these your body stores them in the liver and fatty tissues. As a result, you don't have to eat them every day for your body to remain well supplied.
- Water-soluble (B, C, folic acid): Found in lots of foods including meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and whole grains. As you might expect, they are transported around the body in water - as a result your body can't store them, and excretes any excess in your urine. You must therefore eat foods containing these every day. In addition, the water-solubles can be destroyed by cooking, so it is better to steam and grill food, rather than boil it.
While it is theoretically possible to get all you need from your diet, many foods have much lower nutrient counts than in years past, due to modern processing techniques. For this reason, many people use supplements to be sure they are getting enough.