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Micronutrients are vitamin and minerals and these are very important in the diet and they are in small quantities. Some are only needed as trace elements in our diet.

Having vitamins in our diet is essential to life, the word vitamin is derived from the word vital. We do not need large volumes of them like fats, sugars and proteins but without them, our bodies cannot function correctly.

There are two main groups, water soluble and fat soluble vitamins. With the water-soluble vitamins they cannot be stored in the body and a good example of this is vitamin C and the B group, which needs to be consumed regularly in our diet.

The B group of vitamins are lots of different vitamins which are then numbered like B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12. They also have names like Thiamin which is B1, Riboflavin which is B2, Niacin which is B3, Pyridoxine which is B6 and Cobalamin which is B12. We have put a full list of vitamins in the student resources section of this course and in what foods vitamins can be found.

Folic Acid or otherwise know as Folate, is one of the B group of vitamins and it is important in the formation of blood cells and also important in pregnancy to prevent disorders like spina bifida. Folate is mainly found in leafy vegetables, green beans and peas. Potatoes and some fruit like oranges also contain Folate.

Ascorbic Acid or Vitamin C is found in all types of fruit and vegetables and it is important for healing and the integrity of connective tissues. Ascorbic Acid also helps in the fighting of infections by increasing the bodies immune system. Ascorbic Acid is rich in citrus fruits but vegetables especially green vegetables, peppers and tomatoes. To ensure the maximum available Ascorbic Acid is retained in the food and during the preparation process, they should be used fresh and not peeled or finely chopped. Cooking should be with a minimum amount of water and kept hot for the shortest time to preserve the vitamin C. Freezing does not greatly affect the vitamin C. If someone has a serious deficiency of vitamin C they can get scurvy, which was common on sailboats in history but today the elderly can have a pre-scurvy state with bruising on the arms and legs.

The fat-soluble vitamins are those like vitamins A, D, E and K. Vitamin A is required for vision as its involvement in making the pigment in the retina of the eye. It is also needed for maintaining healthy skin, mucous membranes and normal growth in children. It is found in liver, oily fish, dairy products, carrots and green leafy vegetables and peaches, nectarines and dried apricots. Too much vitamin A is harmful and an excess can be stored in the liver as it is fat soluble. Deficiencies in vitamin A are common in developing countries and causes growth retardation and vision problems.

Vitamin D is also a fat soluble vitamin and it is required to enable calcium absorption in the small intestine. Vitamin D intake is related to bone health in early years. Vitamin D can be gained by the act of sunlight on the skin but it is also found in meat, oily fish, butter eggs, full cream milk and lean red meat. It is also added to spreads and kinds of margarine. Low levels of vitamin D can cause rickets in children and in older people vitamin D supplements are recommended to promote bone strength and prevent falls.

Vitamin E is widely found in foods and acts as an antioxidant to protect the body from disease. Recent research also shows that it may protect against heart disease and cancer. Key foods that are found in include vegetable oils, eggs, green vegetables, nuts whole grain cereals and avocados.

Vitamin K is found in whole grain cereals and leafy green vegetables and it can be formed in the body by bacterial synthesis in the intestinal tract. It is needed to ensure the correct clotting of blood. As it can be produced, deficiencies are rare although there are some cases where newborn babies have a deficiency.

Vitamins are best included in our diet where possible with a well-balanced meal but they can also be taken as supplements as individual vitamins or multi-vitamins.