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Vitamins are organic (carbon-containing) compounds that are essential in small amounts for body processes. Vitamins themselves do not provide energy. They enable the body to use the energy provided by carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The name vitamin implies their importance. Vita in Latin, means life. They do not, however, represent a panacea (universal remedy) for physi-cal or mental illness or a way to alleviate the stressors in life. They should not be overused—more is not necessarily better. In fact, megadoses can be toxic (poisonous). In the past it was believed that a healthy person eating a balanced diet would obtain all the nutrients—including vitamins—needed. That was in the past. Today’s reality is such that with after-school sports, dance lessons, music practice or lessons, both parents working, and more, people are in a time and energy crunch. So in many homes, home-cooked family meals have been replaced by fast food, home delivery, vending machines, and processed foods. Most of these choices are not found in the fruit and vegetable recommendation from MyPyramid.
The existence of vitamins has been known since early in the twentieth century. It was discovered that animals fed diets of pure proteins, carbohy-drates, fats, and minerals did not thrive as did those fed normal diets that included vitamins.
Vitamins were originally named by letter. Subsequent research has shown that many of the vitamins that were originally thought to be a single substance are actually groups of substances doing similar work in the body. Vitamin B proved to be more than one compound—B1, B6, B12, and so on—and consequently is now known as B complex. Many of the 13 known vitamins are currently named according to their chemical composition or function in the body (Table 7-1).
Vitamins are found in minute amounts in foods. The specific amounts and types of vitamins in foods vary.
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