What You Need to Know About Vitamins

For most people, eating the types and amounts of food recommended by Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide provides them with the vitamins and minerals their body needs. Our bodies cannot make vitamins, so we must get them from the foods we eat.

Vitamins in food help convert energy from food components into a type of energy your body can use, but they do not supply energy by themselves. Food contains important nutrients that vitamins and mineral supplements don’t provide, such as fibre, carbohydrate, protein and essential fats.

There are two types of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble. The fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. These vitamins can be stored in the body, so taking them in high amounts is not recommended. The water soluble vitamins are the B vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12, C, biotin and folate. These vitamins are not stored in large amounts in the body. Excess amounts of these vitamins are excreted through urine.

For some people, eating a healthy diet may not provide them with the required amount of vitamins. Vitamin or mineral supplements may be needed for certain medical conditions or during times of physical stress, such as after an operation.

Here are just a few examples:

Men and women over the age of 50. The need for vitamin D, which is important for bone health, increases after the age of 50. Everyone over the age of 50 should take a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 μg (400 IU).

Vegetarians. A healthy vegetarian diet can meet most nutritional needs. However, because vegetarians rely on plant sources of iron, their iron needs are higher. Supplements may be required.

Women of childbearing age. It is recommended that all women who could become pregnant should take a multivitamin containing 400 μg (0.4 mg) of folic acid every day to help prevent neural tube defects, which is a birth defect that affects the baby’s brain, skull or spine. Folic acid needs are also increased for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and these women should also take a multivitamin containing folic acid every day.

A single daily multivitamin is usually safe. However, some vitamins and minerals are dangerous when taken in large amounts if you take them as single nutrient supplements. Before taking any supplement, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider or Registered Dietitian to discuss your individual needs.

For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to take a look at these essential vitamins for our health in greater detail. If you have any questions on a specific vitamin or vitamins in general, let me know.

If you have any nutrition topics you would like me to write about or have a question you would like answered, email me at [email protected]. I would really like to hear from you!