Vitamins & Minerals: What Do These Nutrients Do, Exactly?

swiss chard  spinach  lettuce

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that are obtained by eating a variety of foods. They don’t give you energy or calories, but they do help with important functions in your body. Here we provide a short description of some of the nutrients found in Swiss Chard, Spinach, Arugula, Collards and Asian Greens:

-Vitamin A: Helps maintain normal vision and protects from infections by keeping skin, eyes and immune system healthy. It also promotes normal growth and development.

-Vitamin E: An antioxidant that protect cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Helps to maintain a healthy immune system and other body processes. When consumed as part of whole foods, vitamin E may play a role in preventing chronic disease such as heart disease and cancer.

-Vitamin K: A vitamin involved in making body proteins for your blood, bones and kidneys.

-Vitamin C: A vitamin that helps heal cuts and wounds, keeps gums healthy and protects from infections. It also increases the amount of iron your body absorbs from certain foods. Vitamin C prevents cell damage and may reduce risk for certain cancers and heart disease.

-Magnesium: A mineral that helps your body take energy from food and make new proteins. Magnesium keeps nerves and muscles strong and also helps form bones and teeth.

-Potassium: An important mineral that keeps fluids balanced in blood and tissues. Helps in controlling blood pressure and allows nerves and muscles to function properly.

-Calcium: A mineral that helps build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Your body also requires calcium for proper muscle function, such as maintaining your heartbeat.

-Iron: An important mineral that carries oxygen to all parts of your body. Eating foods rich in vitamin C (red & yellow peppers, berries, cooked broccoli) at the same time as plant sources of iron (cooked spinach, beans, peas & lentils, tomato puree) will help you absorb more iron from those foods.

Folate: A vitamin that helps produce and maintain DNA and cells. It also forms red blood cells and prevents anemia. Folate is especially important for infants, children and women who are pregnant.

-Carotenoids: Carotenoids are not vitamins but some types (e.g. Beta Carotene) can turn into Vitamin A in the body. They act as antioxidants, which protect your body from damaging free radicals.

Dietary Fibre: Dietary fibre comes from plant foods. There are 2 types: Soluble fibre (found in fruit, veggies, dried beans & peas) helps lower blood cholesterol levels and controls blood sugar levels.  Insoluble fibre (found in skins of fruits & veggies and the bran portion of whole grains) helps promote regularity and a healthy digestive system.


References:
Dietitians of Canada (2014). Food Sources of Vitamin A.
Dietitians of Canada (2014). Food Sources of Calcium.
Dietitians of Canada (2014). Food Sources of Vitamin E.
Dietitians of Canada (2014). Food Sources of Soluble Fibre.
Dietitians of Canada (2013). Functions and Food Sources of Some Common Vitamins.
Dietitians of Canada (2011). Functions and Food Sources of Some Common Minerals.
Health Canada (2012). Canadian Nutrient File.