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The ABCs of vitamins: what exactly do they do?

A vitamin is an “organic compound” required in the diet to ensure normal health and body function, according to the Merriam­ Webster dictionary.

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By Sandeep Dosanjh (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 12, 2014

Image: mehradhm/flickr

Image: mehradhm/flickr

A vitamin is an “organic compound” required in the diet to ensure normal health and body function, according to the Merriam­ Webster dictionary. In short, we need them — but not too much of certain vitamins, or they could have adverse effects on our bodies.

But which vitamins do what? How much do you need? How much is too much? The best way to answer these questions is to just jump in.

There are two main kinds of vitamins: fat­-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) which are stored in our bodies for anywhere from a few days to six months, according to Livestrong.com; and water­-soluble vitamins (B-­complex and C), which are excreted quickly and need replenishing every day. But since fat-solubles are stored for so long, small doses everyday will make your body happy.

Scientists are intrigued by vitamin C’s ability to act as an antioxidant in healthy cells while simultaneously over­oxidating tumour cells to the point of death. WebMD.com recommends 200 milligrams a day; that’s equivalent to eight oranges a day, one and a half red bell peppers, three cups of strawberries, or two cups of chopped broccoli. And don’t worry about going overboard on the vitamin C; in fact, you’re more likely to overdose on water. The worst thing to deal with after gorging on this cancer-killer is a case of the runs. Enjoy!

Do you see it? Do you? No? Well, if you don’t, you should probably invest in some sweet potatoes, because they contain enough vitamin A for a lifetime. Again, don’t worry about overdosing, because the worst the vitamin A found in sweet potatoes and carrots will do is leave your skin with a sweet orange tint. Be careful with vitamin A supplements, however, because too much (more than 2000­-3000 IU) can cause liver damage. On the other hand, too little vitamin A is linked to blindness. Just one carrot or one cup of spinach, kale, or blueberries can meet your body’s needs.

Get delicious canker sores? You’re probably deficient in vitamin B-­complex. Take a supplement if you’ve got indigestion or heartburn. And remember, B-­complex is a water­soluble vitamin that’ll need daily replacing.

Vitamin D is the most versatile vitamin on this list. How can you get it? Two days a week of five- to 30-minute sun exposure on your arms and legs would be ideal, or you can skip the sun to eat fish and drink milk. All milks sold in Canada, including almond and soy, are vitamin D-fortified. Mushrooms and cheese also contain vitamin D; however, supplements may be the most practical way to acquire your D fix.

Some studies have shown the vitamin’s ability to treat type-2 diabetes and cancer in the lung, breast, and prostate. It can even help with neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Vitamin D puts calcium into your bones, making them stronger. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease reports that correct amounts of vitamin A and D work together to help you avoid osteoporosis and hip fractures.

There are so many benefits to eating fruits and vegetables that we could research it forever. Hopefully, you’ll start to rethink your bodily needs and nourish it with what it really wants.

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