Blog Directory - Blogged foodliterate: The ABC's of Vitamins

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The ABC's of Vitamins

I received some ribbing about jumping right in to the vitamins without starting from the basics. Since I am guilty as charged, and in an effort to make amends, I am going to take a step backward before I continue to move forward with the B-vitamins. The word vitamin comes from the Polish scientist Casimir Funk who thought they were “vital amines” (meaning nitrogen containing) and called them vitamines. When it was later determined that not all of them had nitrogen, they simply dropped the ‘e’ from the end giving us “vitamin”.

Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential to us, in order to maintain bodily functions, in very small amounts. There are about 13 vitamins that we need to maintain our health, one of which we can make (D) and another the bacteria in our gut can make for us (K) and the rest of which we need to obtain from our diets. While not used for energy, some vitamins are required for energy production. Other vitamins are used much like hormones (D especially) and others as co-enzymes (B group).

The vitamins were named alphabetically, so why does it go A, B, C, D, E, K? Well, originally lots of things were thought to be vitamins that turned out not to be. What was vitamin F is really essential fatty acids, vitamin G was renamed Riboflavin (B2), vitamin H was renamed as Biotin (B7), vitamin J is catechol… you get the point.

Obviously some of the vitamins have subsets – the B vitamins being the most familiar, but there are others; and they are further divided into water soluble and fat soluble. Fat soluble vitamins include: A, D, E, K and the carotenoids. Water soluble vitamins include: the B’s (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, biotin, folate, cyanocobalamin) and C. ). Excess fat soluble vitamins are stored for future use and most of the excess water soluble vitamins are excreted and so must be ingested daily.

The US government has distributed a Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for many of the vitamins. (The RDA is calculated as the daily intake that is sufficient for 97-98% of healthy individuals in a particular age/gender group.) You’ll see the effects of this on a nutrition data panel on the foods you purchase as % daily value. Most Americans get all the vitamins they need from the foods they consume; the fact that my industry adds (supplements) many of the foods consumed definitely helps in this regard. But some still choose to take supplements daily. There are some groups for whom supplementation makes good sense: elderly, pregnant, Chron’s disease, low calorie diets, high protein (low veggie) diets, and those with intestinal issues (diarrhea).

So, now that the basics have been covered, I’ll get back on the bus and take us to B-town - the vitamin B group. Hope to see you there!

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