Vitamins are organic compounds that help with growth, reproduction and general health. Minerals are inorganic substances that help chemical reactions take place in the body and contribute to overall health. Vitamins and minerals are important nutrients for the body, and deficiencies can cause various physiological symptoms.
Vitamin A is essential for reproduction and proper fetal development as well as strong vision and immune system function. Adult females need 700 micrograms of vitamin A daily, and adult males require 900 micrograms daily. Good food sources of vitamin A include organ meats, milk, cheese, eggs and fortified cereals.
Vitamin D is required for the proper absorption of phosphorous and calcium, which is needed for strong bones. Some research has shown vitamin D may also help prevent diabetes and some cancers, according to "Nutrition & You." Vitamin D can be synthesized from sunlight or consumed in fortified milk or cereals.
The most important function of vitamin E is as an antioxidant, which serves to protect the membranes of cells as well as prevent oxidation. Vitamin E also prevents the formation of blood clots. Adults should aim to consume 15 milligrams of vitamin E per day. Vitamin E is found in highest abundance in oils, nuts and seeds, but can also be found in leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals.
Vitamin K allows the blood to clot when necessary and plays a role in the synthesis of proteins that contribute to bone health. Adult women require 90 micrograms of vitamin K per day, and adult men require 120 micrograms per day. Green vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus, spinach and brussels sprouts, are rich sources of vitamin K.
There are a variety of vitamins that make up the category of B vitamins. Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B-6, pantothenic acid and biotin are co-enzymes, which means they aid in a number of reactions that take place in the body. Folate and B-12 are required for the formation of red blood cells. Folate also contributes to neural development of a fetus.
Vitamin C is necessary for bone, teeth, skin, blood vessel and immune system health. Although many people associate vitamin C with prevention of a cold, it does not actually prevent the cold but can reduce severity and length, according to "Nutrition & You." Men should consume 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day and women 75 milligrams. Most vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables.
The most important function of calcium is to promote strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps contract the muscles and dilate the blood vessels. Adults require 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. Calcium is found in highest concentrations in milk, yogurt and cheese, but can also be found in broccoli, kale and salmon.
Iron is required for the proper formation of red blood cells as well as transport of oxygen to the tissues. Adult females require 18 milligrams of iron per day, adult males 8 milligrams. Iron is found in the greatest abundance in meat, poultry and fish. Grains and vegetables also provide small amounts of iron.
Potassium aids in many body functions including fluid balance, muscle contraction, nerve impulses, maintenance of blood pressure and bone health. Adults should aim to consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that consuming an abundance of fruits and vegetables every day can help meet potassium needs easily.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- "Nutrition & You"; Joan Salge Blake; 2010