Healthy Food. Vitamins and Minerals

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vitamins_cWe are foolish if we think we can beat nature at its own game. Vitamin and mineral supplements can never hope to replace all the nutrients contained in food. Listed below are the main vitamins and minerals that children need to grow and be healthy. Vitamins A, C, D, E, B complex vitamins, and also such minerals, as iron and zinc.

 

Vitamins

Vitamins are essential for the maintenance of a healthy body. Vitamins are either water-soluble (vitamins B and C) or fat-soluble (A, D, E and K). Water-soluble vitamins, except for vitamin B12, cannot be stored in the body, so foods containing these should be eaten regularly. These vitamins are destroyed by heat and dissolve in water, so do not overcook foods that contain them. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body and excessive amounts accumulate and can be toxic. If a balanced diet is eaten it is highly unlikely that this would happen, but beware of supplements.

Vitamin A: Also known as retinol, vitamin A only occurs in animal foods but fruit and vegetables contain carotenoids, which are converted to vitamin A by our bodies. Important for growth, preventing infections of the nose, throat and lungs, healthy skin and good night vision, vitamin A is found in liver, oily fish, full-fat milk and cheese, butter, margarine and egg yolks.

B complex vitamins: These are important for growth, the development of a healthy nervous system and are essential for converting food into energy. No foods except liver and brewers' yeast extract contain all of the vitamins in the B group. Good sources are meat, dairy produce, eggs, sardines, dark green leafy vegetables, wholegrain cereals, tofu, nuts, yeast extract (not suitable for infants as preparations are often very high in sodium), and bananas.

Vitamin C: This vitamin cannot be produced by our bodies and is needed for the growth and repair of body tissues, healthy skin and the healing of wounds. It is also important because it helps the body absorb iron and is a powerful antioxidant. Good sources are citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi fruit, blackcurrants, sweet peppers, dark green leafy vegetables and peppers.

Vitamin D: Although this is found in a few foods it is mainly manufactured by die skin when it is exposed to sunlight. This is one of the reasons why children should try to get some fresh air every day. It is needed to absorb calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones and teeth and to avoid rickets. Good sources are oily fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines, milk and dairy products, eggs and margarine.

Vitamin E: This is needed to help develop and maintain strong cells, protect against heart disease and maintain good function in the nervous system, and it may be important in maintaining immunity. Good sources for vitamin E are vegetable oil, wheatgerm, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Minerals

There are many minerals in food and of these, iron and zinc are very important. Selenium and copper are also essential to a well-rounded diet: they are both antioxidants, which means they help prevent damage to cells from free radicals. Good sources for selenium include wholegrains, nuts, meat, poultry and fish and good sources of copper are wholegrain cereals, bread and pasta, and dried fruit, tofu, pulses, nuts and seeds.

Iron: Iron deficiency is die commonest nutritional deficiency in the Western world. Babies are born with a store of iron that lasts for about the first six months. When this in-built store of iron is depleted, a baby must obtain sufficient iron from the diet. There are a few types of iron, the best source of which is found in meat and is easily absorbed by the body. Plant food sources are more difficult to absorb and the third type, added by manufacturers to foods such as breakfast cereals, is absorbed less well. However, if foods or drinks containing vitamin C are eaten at the same meal, then the iron is better absorbed. Offer fresh fruits like kiwis, citrus or berry fruits for dessert or a small glass of pure fruit juice. A good combination for breakfast would be an iron-fortified cereal followed by kiwi fruit and strawberries.

Zinc: In general, dark red meat has a higher zinc content than white meat and fish has less than meat. Cereals are a good source of zinc but as it is contained in the outer layer of the grain, the more refined the cereal, the less zinc there is. Good sources include red meat, wholemeal bread, Cheddar cheese, lentils, shellfish, pumpkin seeds and fortified breakfast cereals.

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