Vitamins and minerals are essential for good health in every stage of the human lifecycle. They are considered essential because the body cannot make them, so they must be consumed through food, beverages and dietary supplements. Vitamins and minerals support normal metabolism, growth and physical well-being. It is very important to consume enough vitamins and minerals as they play a particularly critical role during the first 1,000 days of development and throughout childhood.
What is it? This long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, is found throughout the body. It is the most abundant omega-3 in the brain and eye and is an important structural component of heart tissue. DHA is naturally found in breastmilk in combination with ARA.
What does it do? Omega-3 DHA supports infant brain and eye development and supports brain health of children as they grow.
Where can it be found? Dietary sources of DHA include fatty fish (anchovies, salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna and halibut), eggs and DHA fortified foods, beverages and dietary supplements.
What is it? This long chain omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid or ARA, is the most abundant omega-6 fatty acid in the brain and is naturally found in breast milk in combination with DHA. ARA is considered to be an essential nutrient during early life, related to cognitive, visual and immune development during infancy.
What does it do? It plays a role in cognitive, visual and immune system development during infancy. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “There can be little doubt about the essentiality of DHA and ARA for the brain.”
Where can it be found? The most reliable way to obtain ARA is through the diet. ARA is plentiful in a western diet. Dietary sources of ARA are meat (particularly poultry) and eggs.
What is it? This red-orange colored carotenoid can be turned into vitamin A in the body and is also a powerful antioxidant.
What does it do? Like vitamin A, it is important for vision, the immune system and growth and development in general.
Where can it be found? Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, mangoes and pumpkins, but also green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale are rich sources of this nutrient.
What is it? Biotin is a member of the B vitamin family and can only be produced by bacteria, molds, yeasts, algae and some plants.
What does it do? Like all B vitamins, it is involved in a range of processes in the body. Among them is its role in maintaining healthy hair, skin and nails. Inadequate intakes during pregnancy could affect bone health in newborns.
Where can it be found? It is found in a range of foods including nuts, salmon, oats and vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and onions.
What is it? Calcium is a mineral, found in bones and teeth, giving them their strength.
What does it do? It is very important during pregnancy, infancy, childhood and adolescence, when bones grow and teeth are formed. It also plays a role in the functioning of muscles and helps signals to be sent from nerves to the brain.
Where can it be found? Milk, dairy products and meat are rich sources of calcium, but it is also found in a range of vegetables such as spinach, collard greens and turnips.
What is it? Chloride is a mineral found mainly in blood and stomach fluids.
What does it do? It plays an important role in the stomach where it helps with the digestion of food, water and a range of nutrients. Within the body, it works in balance with sodium and potassium to send nerve impulses around the body and to regulate blood volume and pressure (See Sodium and Potassium).
Where can it be found? Salt, which consists of sodium and chloride, is the most important source of chloride.
What is it? Choline is needed for the building blocks of cell membranes and to transmit nerve signals.
What does it do? During pregnancy and lactation, it is particularly important to include adequate amounts of choline in the diet as this nutrient is important for the developing brain.
Where can it be found? Eggs, meat, fish and seafood are rich sources of choline.
What is it? Folic Acid / Folate is a member of the B vitamin family, and is known as vitamin B9.
What does it do? It is essential for many functions in the body, particularly when cells divide during periods of rapid growth and development. Inadequate intakes during early pregnancy, when most women do not even know they are pregnant, increases the risk of birth defects such as neural tube defects. Therefore, it is recommended that all women who plan to get pregnant take folic acid supplements.
Where can it be found? It is found in significant amounts in foods such as beef liver, peanuts, spinach, broccoli and asparagus. To achieve the optimal level for women who are planning to get pregnant or are pregnant, it is important to take dietary supplements.
What is it? Iron is a mineral that is needed to transport oxygen in the blood and muscles.
What does it do? Iron is important to build red blood cells and is therefore crucial during pregnancy and in preparation for delivery. It is also very important for the rapidly growing brain in infants. Deficiency is thought to lead to undesirable effects on learning and memory.
Where can it be found? Red meat, cereal and legumes are good sources of iron. Iron uptake from cereals and legumes can be increased if a rich source of vitamin C is consumed with meals. For example, iron uptake from cereals may increase if orange juice is consumed with breakfast (See Vitamin C).
What is it? Lutein is one of the most common carotenoids in nature and is known for its yellow to orange color.
What does it do? Large amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, another carotenoid, are found in the brain and the eye, particularly in those of infants (See Zeaxanthin). It is believed that lutein and zeaxanthin play an important role in sight, memory and learning.
Where can it be found? It is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, but also in brussels sprouts and peas.
What is it? This carotenoid is responsible for the red color of fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, apricots and watermelon.
What does it do? This strong antioxidant is thought to have a beneficial effect on heart health by protecting the blood vessels from oxidative damage.
Where can it be found? This carotenoid is found in a range of fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, papaya, guava, watermelon and red peppers.
What is it? Magnesium and calcium function as a muscle seesaw: while the magnesium makes the muscle relax, calcium stimulates the muscle to contract.
What does it do? It is important for a range of functions in muscles, nerves and bone.
Where can it be found? This mineral is found in vegetables such as spinach, avocado and potato, and also in nuts, cereals, milk and yogurt.
What is it? These are building blocks for the material that carries genetic information an organism needs in each cell to grow, live and reproduce.
What does it do? Nucleotides are particularly important during periods of rapid growth such as pregnancy and infancy as they are needed when new cells are formed.
Where can it be found? They are found in foods that are not, or only lightly, processed. Achieving adequate amounts is usually not a problem.
What is it? This is another mineral that acts together with sodium and chloride to regulate the water and mineral balance of the body (See Sodium and Chloride).
What does it do? Potassium counters the effect of sodium on blood pressure and should therefore be consumed in adequate amounts.
Where can it be found? Avocado, potatoes, bananas, dried apricots and squash are among the foods with important levels of potassium.
What is it? It is a fat-soluble vitamin. A deficiency in vitamin A is the most common cause for preventable blindness in children.
What does it do? Vitamin A is important for good vision, a strong immune system, and also plays an important role in early pregnancy.
Where can it be found? Only animal foods such as liver, egg yolk and dairy products contain vitamin A, but many fruits and vegetables are rich sources of beta-carotene, which can be turned into vitamin A in the body (See beta-carotene).
What is it? Thiamine, a member of the B vitamin family, was one of the first vitamins discovered.
What does it do? Thiamine is important for energy production in the body, but also for the functioning of muscles and nerves.
Where can it be found? Thiamine is found in foods such as pork, beef, cereals and legumes.
What is it? Vitamin B2, also known as Riboflavin, is a water-soluble vitamin.
What does it do? It is involved in producing energy in the cells of the body and therefore, is essential for normal growth. This is particularly important during periods of rapid development such as pregnancy, infancy and childhood.
Where can it be found? Riboflavin is found in a range of foods including milk and dairy products, eggs, meat, legumes, mushrooms and fortified cereals.
What is it? Niacin is a member of the B vitamin family.
What does it do? It is involved in the conversion of food into energy in each cell, and is important for normal growth and development.
Where can it be found? Niacin is found in a wide range of foods including meat, whole grain cereals, eggs, salmon and peas.
What is it? As its name indicates (“Pantos” is Greek for everywhere), this B vitamin is found in all living cells.
What does it do? It is involved in turning food into energy, but also in the production of a range of substances such as hormones.
Where can it be found? While it is found in most foods, rich sources are veal liver, peanuts, white mushrooms and eggs.
What is it? Pyridoxine, pyridoxal and pyridoxamine are three forms of vitamin B6, a water-soluble vitamin.
What does it do? It plays a vital role in metabolizing food into energy and producing cells of the immune system.
Where can it be found? Foods rich in vitamin B6 include salmon, various meats, bananas, potatoes and avocados.
What is it? Vitamin B12 is a red-colored water-soluble vitamin.
What does it do? It is important for formation of blood, nerves and brain and therefore crucial during times of rapid growth and development.
Where can it be found? It is found in animal foods such as meat, dairy products, fish and eggs. As vegans do not consume animal products, it is recommended they consult their physician on best sources to meet their needs.
What is it? Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, also known as ascorbic acid.
What does it do? As one of its many functions, vitamin C may help fight infections. Also, it increases iron absorption, which is particularly important for pregnant women, infants and young children (see Iron).
Where can it be found? Kiwis, oranges, strawberries and broccoli are among the fruits and vegetables that provide us with significant amounts of vitamin C.
What is it? This fat-soluble “sunshine vitamin” can either be achieved from the diet or produced in the skin with the help of the sun.
What does it do? It is essential for maintaining healthy blood levels of calcium and phosphorous, aids in maintaining and building healthy bones, as well as modulating the immune system.
Where can it be found? The sun is our major source of vitamin D; however, factors such as sunscreen and changes in season can reduce the production of vitamin D in the skin. Vitamin D found in foods is rare with the richest sources being fish liver oils, sardines, herring, salmon and mackerel. Vitamin D supplements are a reliable source of vitamin D.
What is it? Eight fat-soluble substances form the family of vitamin E. The name tocopherol, which is Greek for “childbirth” (tocos) and “bring forth” (pherein) indicates the importance of the vitamin for early development.
What does it do? Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells, tissues and organs from the damaging effects of free radicals, which are responsible for the aging process and play a role in several diseases.
Where can it be found? Vegetable oils such as olive, soybean and palm oil as well as nuts, whole grains and some green leafy vegetables are rich sources of vitamin E.
What is it? Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that occurs naturally in two forms, vitamin K1 and vitamin K2.
What does it do? It is best known for its role in helping blood to clot, but also plays a function in maintaining bone health and the proper function of blood cells.
Where can it be found? Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and brussels sprouts, while meat, dairy products and eggs are also good sources.
What is it? Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid, which is responsible for the color of foods such as corn, saffron and bell peppers.
What does it do? Large amounts of zeaxanthin and lutein, another carotenoid, are found in the brain and the eye, particularly in those of infants (See Lutein). It is believed that they play an important role in sight, memory and learning.
Where can it be found? Rich sources of zeaxanthin are dark leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and romaine lettuce.
What is it? Zinc is a mineral that is very important for health, even though only small amounts are needed.
What does it do? It plays an important role in immune function and is needed for proper growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence.
Where can it be found? It can be found in meat, legumes, nuts and whole grains.