Nutrients cheat sheet
As we develop detailed content the full guides, I thought it would help to provide a very abridged overview of some of the key benefits attributed to the various vitamins and minerals cited. This is not exhaustive, and much is taken from government or academic websites (linked examples). You'll notice that while I have included major minerals I have omitted the trace minerals, which will be included in the fuller guides.
- Vitamin A: Known for its anti-oxidant properties, in particular those related to lung and oral cavities. Aids vision. Also helps skin. Increases the efficacy and production of white blood cells, aids bone regeneration.
- B Vitamins all help in part of the process by which we build new proteins and in energy metabolism, but specifically:
- Thiamine (B1) is a key component in the metabolising of carbohydrates to energy, and may also aid nervous system support. Most of us are deficient as B1 despite it being common, because it is degraded during modern food production (storage, refining and cooking).
- Riboflavin (B2) helps iron metabolism (aiding blood health) and aids recycling of the antioxidant glutathione.
- Niacin (B3) apparently helps anxiety and therefore sleep.
- Pantothenic acid (B5) is a real unsung hero. Forms part of the molecule Coenzyme A (CoA), which helps us convert carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into fuel, and makes CoA one of the most crucial elements to sustain life. Also a cholesterol builder, which is important as hormones required to our metabolism need a certain (healthy) level of cholesterol. Luckily an abundantly available vitamin.
- Some studies suggest getting higher levels of folate (B6) for 15 years or more have lower risks of colon cancer and breast cancer. Alcohol inhibits the metabolism of folate, so regular drinkers may want to consider taking more.
- Biotin (B7) builds healthy fats in the skin, helping retain moisture and preventing rashes/irritation. Low B7 diets may also impair insulin production, a blood-sugar regulating hormone.
- B9 can be important in the very early stages of pregnancy to help reduce the chances of birth defects. Relatedly it plays a key role in building DNA.
- B12 aids the production of red blood cells (haemoglobin, crucial for all aerobic functions) as well as preventing the build-up of excessive homocysteine, associated with heart disease and strokes. B12 is also a DNA producing cofactor.
- Vitamin C: The poster-child of the vitamin world, supposedly aiding our defence against infections, although the jury is still out. More usefully it is a “free radical” eradicating antioxidant. It also helps bone, gum, teeth and blood vessel health by aiding production of the tissue collagen.
- Vitamin D: Crucial for bone growth and strengthening. May also help increase muscle strength, including the heart (thereby reducing risks of heart disease). Most people are Vitamin D deficient, which may (trials on-going) increase the risks of contracting colon cancers in particular. May also have respiratory benefits, reducing illnesses like flu (see this interesting Japanese study).
- Vitamin E: An antioxidant hunting those nasty cell-damaging 1980s-ban-sounding “free radicals”. Studies are on-going into vitamin E’s potential (in combination with other vitamins and minerals) to reduce the impacts of dementia, Parkinson’s and age-related vision diseases.
- Vitamin K: Most prevalent in green leafy vegetables, an important blood coagulator and strengthens bone, with some interesting studies focusing particularly on increased vitamin K intake and reduced hip fractures.
- Calcium: Most known for its role in the construction and maintenance of bones and teeth, calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, is also important for vascular health, muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signalling and hormonal secretion. Many studies have focused on calcium’s role in either elevating or reducing cancers, heart disease and weight management. Most results are yet to prove fully conclusive but studies suggesting calcium’s protective effect against colon and rectum cancer are more positive.
- Magnesium: Most of us are deficient in magnesium (as discussed in an earlier blog. The body of research on magnesium’s benefits is extensive, but some of the key benefits include: regulating the sleep hormone melatonin and the mood (stress/depression when deficient) hormone serotonin; helps grow bigger and stronger muscles by activating muscles and nerves along with creating adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is helps cell's store energy; helps hydration as an electrolyte; stimulates enzyme function, crucial in myriad processes including digestion; aids sugar metabolism and insulin creation thereby reducing diabetes risks/effects; helps reduce hypertension and cardiovascular diseases; and works as a building block for DNA synthesis. In short, get more magnesium!
- Phosphorous: This mineral helps calcium in bone and teeth strengthening. But, a bit like magnesium, research is showing it does much more than that. Phosphate, derived from phosphorus, helps with muscle contraction, libido, regulating energy, synthesis of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, along with balancing electrolytes. Phosphorous aids digestion of riboflavin and niacin (vitamins B3 and B2). Some studies suggest phosphorous may help combat early onset Alzheimer’s disease, as the mineral helps stimulate hormone-producing glands that keep the brain active. At the other end of our bodies phosphorous helps the kidneys regulate urination and excretion keeping balance of things like uric acid, salts and fats that would otherwise be toxic if not regulated.
- Potassium: Helps control heart rate and blood pressure through, and present in cell and body fluids, this in turn aids kidney health. Beyond this, potassium shares some of phosphorous’s properties, including the synthesis of proteins, electrolyte and fluid regulation. Potassium also helps preserve the bone mineral density that calcium and phosphorous helped build. Potassium’s electrolyte function is fundamental, as it controls electrical activity in the heart. Some studies also suggest that anxiety and stress can be lessened with adequate potassium intake as it regulates hormone production including stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
- Sodium Chloride: These two generally form a potent double-act to help control fluids in the body and work with other members of the electrolyte family to maintain electrolyte balance. Additionally, chloride, in the form of hydrochloric acid helps your stomach digest food. Deficiencies are uncommon, but can be caused by excessive fluid and electrolyte loss from sweating, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
- Sulphur: Helps create the vital amino acids used to create protein, hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Additionally sulphur helps glucose metabolism (reducing risks of obesity as muscle and fat cells are damaged if glucose intolerant); artery and vein flexibility; detoxifies cells that might otherwise retain toxins causing illness and/or pain; helps the pancreas produce sufficient insulin; and helps the production of collagen which is important for healthy skin and scar healing. While not wholly conclusive, some studies suggest that Alzheimer’s sufferers have negligible sulphur in their system compared to the normal profile. Some articles also claim that research of Icelanders’ low levels of depression, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease may, in part, be due to the omnipresent sulphur emitted from the volcanoes.
Nutrition database: More beans for your buck
We are busy developing a comprehensive guide exploring the nutritional value of the herbs, fruit and veg you can grow at home. We are exploring what crops offer what percentage of your recommended daily amount of key vitamins, minerals and fiber. As ever, your comments will ensure what we develop best fits your needs.