When we were young, health education in primary school provided information on the basic food components, categorized into five groups. Three of these groups fall under the category of macronutrients large in structure and needed daily in substantial quantities: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. The other two, vitamins and minerals, are needed in smaller quantities and are called micronutrients. All five groups of nutrients are essential. Macronutrients support basic biological needs, providing the energy for daily activities, while vitamins and minerals, although needed in smaller quantities, are necessary for normal metabolism and well-being, with deficiencies often contributing to illness or death.
- Why vitamins?
Let us focus on the role and importance of one of these essential types of nutrients, vitamins. There are 13 kinds of vitamins, separated into two groups: fat soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins consist of vitamins A, D, E and K, while water soluble ones consist of vitamins B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B5, B6, B12 plus folic acid, biotin and vitamin C. These vitamins are needed in small recommended daily amounts, down to micrograms for vitamin B12, folic acid and biotin, or as high as 90 milligrams for vitamin C, but all play an important role in our well-being. Vitamin A is known to improve vision and body growth. Vitamin C is a good antioxidant and supports collagen synthesis, vital for healthy skin. Vitamin E is also a good antioxidant, as well as being important for the reproductive system. Biotin is essential for hair and nails. Folic acid prevents defects in the neural tube during fetus formation. Vitamin D helps promote healthy bones and teeth. Vitamins B6 and B12 play an important role in nerve and brain function. The benefits of these vitamins are broader than those listed, and continuing studies will no doubt reveal other ways they can enhance our quality of life.
- How many vitamins do we need?
It is easy to determine how much food we need as nutritionists suggest that we take in 2,000 kilocalories of food a day to cope with our energy needs. That energy comes from the macronutrients proteins, fats or carbohydrates, and deficiencies are unlikely, especially for Thais who live in a country where food is plentiful. On the other hand, it is hard for everybody to meet the bodily requirements of vitamins and minerals, as various factors can affect their quantity and stability, such as improper food storage, keeping raw food for long periods before processing, and high cooking temperatures that break down nutrients.