Good nutrition is not only eating the proper amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fats to provide the human body with energy, it also involves supplying the body with other necessary ingredients. In order for the body to function properly and to be able to use foods for energy, it must have some other necessary ingredients or chemical compounds ingested. Vitamins and minerals are considered necessary because they may partake in the chemical reactions within the body that allow humans to actually burn the fuels or build new tissues. In fact, some necessary daily reactions will not take place if the proper vitamins or minerals are absent.
Vitamins contribute to good health by regulating metabolism and assisting the biochemical processes that release energy from digested foods. Vitamins enable the body to process carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Some vitamins also help the body produce blood cells, hormones, chemicals and genetic material. Therefore, a vitamin is any of the organic compounds, required by the body in minute amounts, to protect the health, activity, and normal growth of the body.
Vitamins are not only necessary for health and well-being, vitamins also help prevent diseases associated with a lack of vitamins and minerals such as scurvy, and pellagra. If a vitamin is absent from a person's diet or is not absorbed properly, a disease specific to that vitamin deficiency may result. Vitamins also help protect the body from heart disease and cancer.
There are 13 well-identified vitamins and they are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. The water-soluble vitamins include the B vitamins and vitamin C. These must be consumed frequently as the body cannot store them. Also, toxicity or ‘overdosing' is less likely to occur with water-soluble vitamins since the excess vitamin is usually excreted in urine. The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K. These vitamins do not have to be consumed as frequently as they can be stored in the body's fat. The only vitamin that can be manufactured in the body is vitamin D. All other vitamins must come from the diet. Unlike carbohydrates, fats and proteins, vitamins do not provide the body with fuel (calories), they assist in chemical reactions.
Minerals are inorganic substances, meaning minerals do not come from plants or animals, minerals originate from the earth. Many of these minerals are crucial to maintaining a healthy body. Of the 92 naturally occurring elements, 14 minerals have been shown to be critical to human health. These minerals are calcium, chromium, copper, fluorine, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc. These minerals can be further broken down into essential macrominerals, which are those minerals the body needs in significant quantities, and essential trace minerals, which are those the body needs only in minute quantities.
Most of the minerals the body obtains come from plants that obtain these minerals from the soil. The body can also obtain minerals indirectly from animal sources. Good sources of minerals include fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, beans and dairy products. Water can be a good source of minerals as well but the minerals present in the water can vary depending on geographic location.