July 22, 2010 — Vitamins and minerals are an essential part of our nutrients, yet most people are deficient in one vitamin or another. According to Kashif Ahmad, PhD, MBBS, MS, an associate professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University, “more than 80 percent of the population could be deficient for a vitamin for a variety of reasons.”

For example, the short winter days in Minnesota may prevent individuals who live there from getting a sufficient amount of sunlight for their Vitamin D needs.

The nutrients that the body needs on a daily basis can be defined into two groups, essential nutrients and accessory nutrients. Essential nutrients are those that are vital for the body to function properly.

They include at least 15 minerals, 13 vitamins, and eight amino acids, plus fatty acids, carbohydrates and water. Accessory nutrients are those that work with the essentials to help the body breakdown and convert food into cellular energy, and support all of the body’s mental and physical functions.

According to Ahmad, the top 10 most important vitamins to have in your diet are:

1. Vitamin D – Necessary for calcium absorption; helps to maintain healthy bones; helps the body maintain blood levels of phosphorus and calcium; and helps prevent and cure rickets in children.

2. Vitamin A – Keeps skin, eyes, teeth, gums, hair, mucous membranes, and glands healthy; keeps the immune function strong; aids with night and color vision; necessary for strong bones and normal growth in children.

3. Vitamin E – Necessary for the formation of red blood cells, muscles and tissue; necessary for immune function; important for DNA maintenance; helps protect lipids and cells from free radical damage.

4. Vitamin K – Necessary for blood clotting and maintaining normal bone metabolism.

5. Vitamin B12 – Helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells and is also needed to make DNA.

6. Vitamin B6 – Necessary to keep peripheral nerves, skin, mucous membranes, and blood cell system healthy.

7. Vitamin C – Necessary in the body to form collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels, and aids in the absorption of iron.

8. Thiamin/Vitamin B1 – Needed for nervous system and muscle functioning; flow of electrolytes in and out of nerve and muscle cells; multiple enzyme processes; carbohydrate metabolism; and production of hydrochloric acid.

9. Riboflavin/Vitamin B2 – Necessary for normal cell function, growth, and energy production.

10. Niacin/Vitamin B3 – Plays an important role in ridding the body of toxic and harmful chemicals; it also helps the body make various sex- and stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands and other parts of the body.

Ahmad says to get the most essential vitamins; one should have a colorful plate. Fresh fruits and vegetables, specifically carrots which contain beta carotene, are good foods to have in the diet. “In my experience, it’s best to include more foods in your diet that contain essential vitamins.” A multivitamin can be taken to supplement your diet, he notes.

Source: Northwestern Health Sciences University, www.nwhealth.edu/nwtoday/index.html