Alphabet Soup (Part 1)

Updated: Jun 19

A, B, C, D, E and K...

What's the blog about today?

No we are not returning to our preschool years and learning the alphabet all over again. If we were you'd hopefully notice a few letters got skipped. Why? Well because for this week only they just don't exist. Last time we found a similarity between words ending in "um." Any ideas what it might be for this post? No, we are not forming words with letters we find in our soup either. Don't tell me you've never done that! Although there is a catchy title at the top of the page, it may not be offering suggestions as to the topic we are covering today. For some of you, however, you may know these letters as the same ones you find on bottles lining shelves in your local pharmacy or medicine cabinet at home.

Still stumped as to the connection between soup and exercise? As in previous blogs, there isn't a direct one. However, if you were to make a hearty vegetable soup loaded with pasta style vegetables you would be getting a pretty good dose of necessary vitamins (as well as a delicious meal). Ah yes, that is exactly what I thought all those letters meant. It does make sense because last week we learned tons about their counterpart...minerals! I'm beginning to see a pattern here...

Before getting into the main course, we need to understand what vitamins are. Like in the last article, a brief description might be helpful in bringing a better idea of why they are vital to promoting health. Wikipedia defines a vitamin as "an organic molecule that is an essential micronutrient." We know that something essential means it is required for proper functioning. What may not be known is that even though these are necessary, the body doesn't synthesize (or make) them so they must be obtained from external means (i.e. diet). Since you all mentioned noticing a pattern to how things are arranged, let's continue to follow it and get down to business, shall we?

On the subject of arrangement, are you aware of their placement? If you said alphabetical order, you would be correct. Typically, I like to do things in that order so as not to forget something. But vitamins, unlike minerals, have their own system based on how they are metabolized. So for the purposes of clarity, they get center stage and will dictate which ones are covered and when. This may not make sense at the moment, but be patient, everything will fall into place nicely as things develop.

Vitamins fall into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble. Those that are fat soluble (A, D, E and K) are digested and work better when fat is present in the diet. Conversely, water soluble ones (B and C) dissolve and are absorbed best in liquids (preferably water). With that being said, I will start with Vitamin A and move through the fat soluble and then discuss those classified as water soluble. Now you get it, huh? Without further adieu...

Vitamin A, as previously mentioned, is a fat soluble vitamin primarily responsible for visual acquity, but also aids in cell division, immunity and reproduction. How well a person can see is usually contributed to genetics, but consuming Vitamin A in your diet does play a role in delaying vision deterioration conditions such as macular degeneration, for example. As you will see (no pun intended), many of the vitamins have code names or aka's that appear on nutrition labels and vitamin A is no exception. If you notice retinol or retinoic acid, that is its Morse Code so to speak. Foods such as cantaloupe, carrots and spinach contain large amounts of beta-carotene which is converted into Vitamin A. The RDA for vitamin A is 900 mcg for men and 700 for women. A super cool thing is that it is virtually impossible to be lacking in vitamin A so just eat a well-balanced diet and you're good to go. Additionally, it is used in topical creams to treat acne, crepy skin and reduce age spots, fine lines and wrinkles.

Another fat soluble vitamin is calciferol or Vitamin D. You may also recognize it as the sunlight vitamin because ultraviolet rays found in sunlight are required for it to be synthesized. Even though it is referred to as a vitamin, in reality it is actually a hormone. Pretty cool piece of trivia, eh? Learn something new every day! The two primary functions of vitamin D are to aid in the immune response and promote calcium and phosphate absorption in bone. However, other roles include cell growth, decreasing inflammation and glucose metabolism. Another interesting tidbit: this vitamin is especially unique from others in its class because it has two forms: vitamin D² (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D³ (cholecalciferol) although when reading nutrition labels is usually just listed as vitamin D. Earlier in this paragraph I mentioned that sunlight significantly contributes to vitamin D synthesis, but there are foods that contain this important compound as well so if you consume any (or all) of these you are furnishing your body with adequate amounts of vitamin D. Beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, fatty fish like mackerel, salmon and tuna (my personal favorites), fortified cereals and milk. Speaking of adequate, just how much should I get in my diet? Thanks for asking...the RDA for adults up to 70 years of age is 600 IU or 15 mcg. Seventy plus individuals benefit most from 800 IU or 20 mcg due to the loss of bone density that occurs in the aging process.

Alpha-tocopherol or Vitamin E is used by the body as an antioxidant to grab and rid our bodies of loose electrons or "free radicals" that can be damaging to cells. Additionally, it assists in preventing blood clots in the arteries and provides immunity from illnesses. Recent studies have shown there may possibly be a connection between vitamin E and slowing the progression of memory loss in patients with Alzheimer's disease. While many people with ailments take medication(s) to treat their symptoms, it is always better to get vitamins from ingesting foods rather than supplements. So what are the best sources of vitamin E? Let's find out. Eating almonds, dark leafy greens, fortified cereals, margarine, meats, and peanuts and/or using canola or olive oil and margarine (without trans fats) when cooking are some easy ways to obtain proper amounts, which according to the FDA is 15 mg daily.

The last fat soluble vitamin from the list above is vitamin K. Many of you may not even be aware this vitamin exists but if you've ever cut yourself and noticed that after a couple minutes you stopped bleeding, that's vitamin K at work. Vitamin K helps make proteins used to clot blood as well as build bone and heal wounds. There are three interesting things about vitamin K:

1) Unlike the other fat soluable vitamins, vitamin K comes in two forms K1 known as phylloquinone and K2 (metaquinone). The difference between the two is that K1 comes from plant based foods while K2 is found in animal products. Being that you can get it from numerous sources, it is hard to be deficient in vitamin K. Some exceptions will be discussed in a future blog post.

2) Any excess vitamin K is stored in the liver so can be used at a later time making the amounts needed to reach the RDA not required in the diet on a daily basis.

3) Another unique feature is that most other vitamins have a specific one size fits all RDA whereas vitamin K is based on body mass in kilograms. Because its recommended consumption is approximately 1 mcg per kg of body weight, the quantity for optimal health may differ from one person to the next. However, as I mentioned before, eating lots of fresh veggies and varying your diet with lots of colorful foods is always the best way to ensure good health. Menu selections such as broccoli, cauliflower, cereal grains, dairy products, egg yolks, kale, meats, romaine (or other bright green leafy) lettuce, spinach, and vegetable oil are excellent options.

Over the past few weeks, we have learned about the importance of shopping wisely to maintain bones and teeth and prevent disease, but let's also not forget to pair a healthy diet with a regular dose of exercise. Get up, get out and get moving and come back next week for part two to discover that getting frequent B's or C's really is ok!

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