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Vitamins are organic compounds that are required in small quantities by our body. The term vitamins has its origin in the following two words: 'vital' and 'amines'. It means that they are amines that are very important. However, as earlier thought, all vitamins are not amines. They are important because lack of these cause deficiency diseases in individuals.

Categories

The 13 vitamins required by the human body are grouped into the following two categories:
  • Water Soluble: These do not get stored in the body but are present in the bloodstream, from where they are carried to different parts of the body, wherever required. The ones that are not required are removed through urine. Hence these need to be regularly replenished in the body. Vitamin B complex and C are water soluble vitamins.
  • Fat Soluble: These are stored in the liver and fatty tissues of the body, and can be retrieved whenever required. Hence a regular supply of these vitamins is not required by the body. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble vitamins.
Facts

VitaminFunctionsSourcesDeficiency diseases
Vitamin AAlso known as retinoids, Vitamin A ensures good eyesight and healthy skin. It also helps to strengthen the immune system.Good sources are milk, liver, fish, orange vegetables; and fruits like carrot, pumpkin, papaya, peach, and orange.Night blindness.
Vitamin BThis complex of 8 vitamins improves rate of metabolism, immune system, and nervous system. It maintains healthy skin and proper muscle tone.Best sources are meat, eggs, and green leafy vegetables.Beriberi, pellagra.
Vitamin CIt is important for healthy bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels.Liver, milk, spinach; and citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapes.Scurvy.
Vitamin DIt strengthens our bones and teeth as it helps in absorption of calcium and phosphorus.Eggs, fish oils, and fortified food like cereals and bread. Other than food, sunlight is also a very good source of vitamin D. When exposed to sunlight a substance is formed in our skin that gets converted into vitamin D.Bone malformations like rickets in children, and osteomalacia in adults.
Vitamin EProtects cells from the harmful effects of free radicals that cause heart diseases and cancer. It also plays an important role in maintaining healthy red blood cells.Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.Hemolytic anemia.
Vitamin KIt helps in blood clotting, and in making important bone proteins.Dark green leafy vegetables and liver.Impaired blood clotting.

Minerals

Like vitamins, minerals are also required in small amounts, and play an important role in ensuring proper functioning of the body. However, unlike vitamins, minerals are inorganic compounds. The different types of minerals, and their roles are as follows:
  • Calcium: Calcium is important for making our bones and teeth strong and for maintaining healthy gums. The most immediate effect of lack of calcium is osteoporosis which is loss of calcium from bones due to dietary deficiency of calcium. Milk, milk products, fish, seafood, and green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium.
  • Iron: The main function of iron in our body is to form hemoglobin - the red pigment in RBCs (red blood cells) that carries oxygen. Lack of iron causes anemia which results in low hemoglobin levels in blood. Due to this, transport of oxygen within the body is impaired, and one experiences fatigue and difficulty in breathing. Good sources of iron are spinach, beans, eggs, dried fruits, legumes, and whole breads.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium is required for proper relaxation, and contraction of muscles and for proper functioning of certain enzymes. Fatigue, irritability, insomnia, and poor memory are associated with insufficient amount of magnesium in one's diet. Magnesium is found in dark green vegetables, legumes, apples, bananas, milk products, and meat.
  • Phosphorus: Along with calcium, phosphorus is an important constituent of bones and teeth. Lack of phosphorous results in painful bones, fatigue, and numbness. Milk, fish, eggs, apples, and carrots are good sources of phosphorus.
  • Potassium: Potassium regulates nerve impulses, heartbeat, and blood pressure. Deficiency of potassium causes muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, and fatigue. Potassium is found in fish, meat, whole grain cereals, fruits and vegetables.
It is evident from the provided information that fruits and vegetables are good source of vitamins and minerals. However, in today's fast paced lives, we are becoming increasingly dependent on processed food that lack these. But, we must understand that a balanced diet along with proper exercise and rest, is the only way we can prepare ourselves to live our mechanical and stressful lives in a healthy way.