Vitamins are the stars of the nutrition scene. Nutrition,
the science of food, is the study of the nutrients and
substances in foods. Scientists examine how the balances
of food compounds relate to health and disease, and explore
how they interact during the process of ingestion,
absorption, utilization, and excretion.
There are six essential nutrients for health and body
maintenance: vitamins, minerals, water, fats, proteins, and
carbohydrates. They are the building blocks of life, and we
obtain them through our diet. Our bodies don’t make them.
At this time, it is known that there are fourteen vitamins
required by humans. Vitamins, first discovered in the
late 1800s, are organic compounds found in foods. Since
they are organic – containing carbon – they can be
destroyed by heat, unlike their companion essential
nutrient group, the incombustible minerals.
In the early 1900s, when scientists were continuing to
discover new vitamins, they named newly found compounds by
alphabet: A, B, C, D, E~. K. Note: The compounds that had
been named F, G, H, I, J were later disqualified as
vitamins, not fitting the definition: organic compounds
needed in small quantities for life growth and maintenance.
Compounds that have been given letters with numbers, B-1, B-
2~ were originally thought to be one compound, but later
determined to be several different compounds with specific
functions for each.
Vitamins are in one of two classes: fat soluble or water
soluble. Vitamin C and the B vitamins (such as niacin and
riboflavin) are water soluble. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are
fat soluble. Which type of solubility each vitamin has
will indicate which foods contain them. Basically, non-fat
food has no fat soluble vitamins. However, highly colored
vegetables like carrots do contain beta-carotene – a proto-
vitamin which can be converted to active vitamin A.
Water soluble vitamins are easily shed by the body and
lost from foods during preparation. Since they aren’t
stored by the body, we need to ingest them every day.
Nevertheless it is best to avoid taking them excessively.
On the other hand, fat soluble vitamins are readily stored
by the body. Thus caution is necessary to avoid excessive
quantities; it is possible to build up toxic levels of the
fat soluble vitamins.
People commonly wonder if they need to take vitamin
supplements, and which vitamins should be taken for good
health. The situation today is that our foods are coming
to us from conditions that previously were never the case
for humans. Modern food is highly processed, and is
frequently grown in depleted soils. Our foods are picked
unripe and therefore incomplete from the standpoint of
nutrition. Then they are shipped and handled more than the
ideal. Therefore, it seems unlikely that the average
person’s diet provides sufficient amounts of necessary
nutrients – vitamins and minerals in particular. Instead,
we are consuming excessive amounts of harmful compounds
like preservatives and refined sugars.
A suggestion. Do your own research project. Keep track
of what you eat for a week or two. Eat normally, and just
write down what you ate and how much of it. Then either
buy or check out from your library a book on vitamins that
will tell you approximately what you got from each food
source. Add it up and compare to the recommended daily
allowances. See how you’re doing, and if you think it’s a
good idea to make some improvements, consult with a
professional nutritionist, naturopathic physician, or other
healthcare professional to come up with a good plan of diet
and nutritional supplements. You’ll see what a profound
difference good nutrition can make in your health.