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Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients because the body needs them in smaller amounts than carbohydrate, protein, and fat.  Vitamins and minerals do not provide energy (calories), but they help to release energy from carbohydrate, protein, and fat.

To date, there are 13 essential vitamins: vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and 8 B vitamins. Vitamins play many important roles in your body, such as maintaining healthy eyes and skin, acting as antioxidants to protect your cells from damage, and contributing to healthy  reproduction & growth, strong bones and normal blood clotting.  Different vitamins are found in foods from grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and meats/beans.  By eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods from the 5 food groups, you will have a vitamin-rich diet.

There are 16 essential minerals: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, and selenium, molybdenum, chromium, and fluoride.  Minerals play important roles in maintaining blood pressure, fluid & electrolyte balance, and bone health; making new cells; delivering oxygen to cells; and contributing to normal muscle and nerve functioning.  Minerals are widely distributed in foods, with specific minerals being found in certain foods.  By eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods from the 5 food groups, you will have a mineral-rich diet.

Two minerals of particular importance are calcium and iron. Unfortunately, many Americans do not consume enough iron or calcium. Calcium is needed for the formation of strong bones and teeth from birth through young adulthood.  Calcium continues to be important throughout life for the maintenance of bone density to prevent osteoporosis (porous bones that fracture easily).  Calcium is found mostly in the milk group – milk, cheese, and yogurt.  Some foods are fortified with calcium during the manufacturing process; therefore, calcium-fortified juices and cereals also provide ample amounts of calcium.  Smaller amounts of calcium can be found in tofu, greens, and legumes.

Iron is part of hemoglobin in red blood cells and myoglobin in muscle cells.  So iron helps to carry oxygen from the lungs to working cells throughout the body.  Iron deficiency, the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide, results in fatigue, weakness, pallor (pale skin, lips, tongue, palms and mouth), and anemia.  Iron is found mainly in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, greens, and dried fruits.  Breads and cereals are enriched with iron during the manufacturing process; therefore, enriched breads and cereals also are good sources of iron.  If you eat a vitamin C source and an iron source at the same meal, you can double the amount of iron absorbed.  For example, for more iron availability, eat tomatoes on your turkey sandwich and drink orange juice with your eggs!

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