The ABCs of Nutrition
While there is a great deal of focus on nutrition and proper eating for our health and wellness, much of what is missing from the conversation is the necessity and function of the various vitamins in our bodies, especially for older adults.
The most common and well-known vitamins for healthy bodily function are vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. While most people know of these vitamins, far fewer are aware of the purpose they serve, as well as how unique nutritional requirements can be and how they change as we age. Each vitamin serves a purpose in the body, and once you know the function, spotting a deficiency is easily remedied with selecting more vitamin rich foods, or choosing supplements.
Vitamin A is an essential component of bone and cell growth, specifically the skin, and for maintaining healthy vision. Historically, children suffering from a vitamin A deficiency went blind. The first symptoms include night blindness and a suppressed immune system. Vitamin A is absorbed in the fatty tissues of the body and then used throughout. Foods rich in vitamin A include liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and other dark leafy greens, squash, melon, peppers and apricots.
Vitamin A is fat soluble, meaning that if your diet is heavy in low or no fat foods, you may be hamstringing your absorption of it. Dietary fat is essential for healthy bodily function, so instead of avoiding fats altogether, switch to healthier unsaturated fats instead of the more harmful saturated variety.
Vitamin B is important for helping your body in turning food to energy. It helps to form red blood cells and transport iron throughout your body, which is the carrier for the oxygen necessary to keep our organs and muscles working. There are several different types of vitamin B, and each one plays a different function, with each presenting differently in the case of a deficiency. B12 and B6 deficiencies can lead to anemia. Folate is another type of B vitamin, known as B9. Whole grains, legumes, chicken, potatoes, fish, eggs, and green vegetables are all excellent sources of B vitamins.
Vitamin C does more than help boost the immune system. It’s also an antioxidant, it helps with collagen production, and supports healing. Vitamin C deficiency is incredibly rare today, but was the culprit in the infamous disease scurvy that plagued sailors. Many fruits, tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries are all rich with vitamin C.
Vitamin D is produced through exposure to sunlight, so it is critical during the darker winter months to make sure to get adequate amounts. It plays a key role in bone growth, and adequate intake of vitamin D over your lifetime can help prevent osteoporosis. It doesn’t occur naturally in many foods, so if sunlight isn’t an option, supplements or fortified cereals and other foodstuffs can help.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps with preventing cellular damage. Vitamin E deficiencies are rare, frequently caused by diseases that hinder the absorption.
Vitamin K mainly helps with blood clotting. A deficiency can cause bleeding problems and serious illness. Too much vitamin K doesn’t seem to pose a problem, but it can interfere with medications like blood thinners. Dark, leafy greens, soybeans, and canola oils are rich in vitamin K, as well as it being fortified into many meal replacements and nutritional shakes.