As well as the food groups that we require for energy, there are a range of other materials that the body requires in much smaller amounts to perform its essential functions. These include vitamins and minerals, the so-called micronutrients. A lack of these leads to a type of ‘relative malnutrition’.
Vitamins are essential nutrients that regulate the body’s metabolism and are necessary for the utilisation of the building materials and energy we get from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Vitamins are mainly acquired through our food and drink, but they can also be taken as a dietary supplement.
There is no chemical relationship between the various vitamins, but we categorise them into two groups:
- fat soluble.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble and vitamin C together with the B vitamins are water-soluble. Good daily sources of vitamins include fruits, vegetables, potatoes and wholemeal flour. Water-soluble vitamins are also found in meat, liver and milk.
Water-soluble vitamins are less stable and more volatile than the fat-soluble vitamins. Proper cooking of food is important to preserve them. Cooking food by boiling and keeping food warm for prolonged periods, as may happen in care settings, can reduce the vitamin content.
A balanced diet, containing a range of different food groups, should provide all of the vitamins necessary for health, but it’s important to maintain the diversity of foods in the diet to ensure this is the case as problems may arise where a diet becomes more restricted or limited. Older people may need to consider vitamin supplements as vitamins are absorbed less well from the digestive system.
Use the table opposite to explore the various vitamins, to find good sources and the role they play in the body.