All too often we will be watching television and see an advertisement for a new breakfast cereal, one that is jam packed with all the vitamins and minerals a person needs. Or perhaps we are riding the subway and notice an advert featuring our favorite basketball player promoting the newest flavor of sports drink; a drink that claims to give your body a boost of the powerful vitamins and minerals “every real athlete needs.” These claims don’t come as too much of a surprise these days, after all, everybody knows (or should) that our bodies need vitamins and minerals to be healthy. However, it seems few people actually know what vitamins and minerals actually are, let alone how much we need them.
In simple terms, vitamins are organic compounds that are essential in very small amounts for supporting normal physiologic function. The reason that it is so important to get vitamins in our diets is that our bodies can’t synthesize them fast enough to meet our daily needs.
Vitamins have three distinctive characteristics:
They’re natural components of foods; usually present in very small amounts.
They’re essential for normal physiologic function (e.g., growth, reproduction, etc).
When absent from the diet, they will cause a specific deficiency.
Typically, vitamins are categorized as either fat soluble or water soluble. All vitamins and their derivatives play important roles in our body, one of the most important beings as cofactors for enzymes – called coenzymes.
Minerals, on the other hand, are inorganic and hold on to their chemical structure. Most minerals are considered essential and comprise a vast set of micronutrients. There are both macrominerals (required in amounts of 100 mg/day or more) and micro minerals (required in amounts less than 15 mg/day).
Each and every day, our bodies produce skin, muscle, and bone. It churns out rich red blood that carries nutrients and oxygen to remote outposts, and it sends nerve signals skipping along thousands of miles of brain and body pathways. It also formulates chemical messengers that shuttle from one organ to another, issuing the instructions that help sustain your life. Pretty remarkable right? Well, it is; however, in order to do that your body requires some raw materials, and it is these vitamins and minerals that your body cannot manufacture in sufficient amounts on its own.
According to Harvard Health Publications, “vitamins and minerals are considered essential nutrients—because acting in concert, they perform hundreds of roles in the body. They help shore up bones, heal wounds, and bolster your immune system. They also convert food into energy, and repair cellular damage.”
So now that we know how important vitamins and minerals are to us and sustaining a healthy life, it does beg the question as to what those essential nutrients are and what it is exactly they do for our body’s. And thankfully, if you keep reading then you will have the answer.
To put things in perspective; you have trillions of blood cells in your body, and within each blood cell is a whole lot of iron. But what does it all do? Well, Iron is responsible for converting nutrients into energy, as well as facilitating the transfer of nerve impulses throughout your body.
Unlike many of the other essential nutrients on this list, most American get plenty of iron in their regular diet. However, there are some relatively common instances where a person's iron levels may drop, such as pregnancy, dialysis, or certain medications. If a person becomes iron deficient, they may experience fatigue and a drastically impaired immune system, which is why it so it is critical that you ensure your levels stay healthy.
In addition to the above, the red blood cell in your body depends on iron to function and reproduce. If you are iron deficient, your body is unable to produce enough healthy, oxygen-rich red blood cells. The result is iron deficiency anemia.
So it is obvious the iron is important, but that doesn’t tell you where to get it from? Interestingly enough, clams have the highest iron content, and then organ meats and oysters. For vegetarians, lentils, pumpkin seeds, and spinach are excellent sources of iron.