Without vitamins, our body would not be able to perform vital functions.
The deficiency of required vitamins in our metabolic system can cause malnutrition; massive doses of some vitamins, instead, can cause toxicity, especially if vitamin supplements are taken without medical guidance.
Vitamins are essential micronutrients that can be obtained daily by eating animal and vegetable food: consuming milk and dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, herbs and spices in the quantity and frequency provided by the Mediterranean diet helps meet the daily requirements in respect of these important micronutrients.
Vitamins and health
Vitamins do not provide calories but are indispensable because they are necessary for many biochemical processes that occur in our body (including energetic processes) and are very important for the prevention of many diseases, including cancer.
Vitamins are present in the animal and plant world and are divided into two broad categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins are those that are soluble in water: they act as co-enzymes, and should be taken every day because they do not accumulate in the body (the only exception is vitamin B12). Water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C, B1, B2, B5, B6, B3, B12, B9, and H.
Fat-soluble vitamins are soluble in fats, in the absence of which they cannot be metabolized. These vitamins are used by everyday metabolic processes and stored in the liver and adipose tissues. Important vitamins including A, E, D, F and K are fat-soluble.
All vitamins, or precursor molecules of their metabolic synthesis, are present (in different quantities and bioavailability) in the animal and plant kingdom. Some we find in plants, fruits, cereals and legumes, vegetable oils, others in meat and liver, eggs, fish, milk, and cheese.
Main activity of several important vitamins
Vitamin A (retinol, carotenoids) found in large quantities in eggs, liver, milk and dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables: it is a powerful antioxidant, acts on growth and bones, helps the formation of the retina, and is good for vision.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) found in large quantities in bell peppers, citrus, herbs: it is a powerful antioxidant, strengthens the immune system, aids in the absorption of iron from vegetables, contributes to the production of collagen (skin, bone, cartilages).
Vitamin E (tocopherol) is found in olive oil: it is a powerful antioxidant, has a protective action on cell membranes, protects from pollution damages and those caused by smoking, as well as helping prevent cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) it helps produce energy from carbohydrates and supports the nervous system.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): it helps produce energy and "repair" tissues, such as skin and mucous membranes.
Vitamin B3 (PP or Niacin): it aids in metabolizing fat and protein, in addition to supporting blood circulation.
Vitamin B5 (Pantethine): it helps metabolize fats for the production of energy.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): helps the brain and nervous functions and metabolize sugar and fats for the production of energy.
Vitamin B8 (H o Biotin): acts on the synthesis of glucose and fatty acids.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): is necessary for correct functioning of the nervous system (brain included), formation of red blood cells (against anemia) and to metabolize sugar and protein for the production of energy.
Vitamin D can be found in small quantities in food like milk and dairy products, but it can be synthesized by exposing the skin to the sun: it helps absorb calcium and phosphorus, regulate the immune system and has anticancer activities.
Vitamin K: acts on blood clotting.
The contents of this article are in accordance with the parameters set out by the European Food Safety Authority - EFSA.