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In the second article in the series, Dr. (Mrs.) M.G. BHATIA focuses on the micronutrients essential for a healthy body.


A Balanced Diet

 

itamins, minerals and trace elements are micronutrients, which make a significant contribution towards good health.

VITAMINS:

There are two types of vitamins, water-soluble and fat-soluble.

Water-soluble vitamins are the B complex group, which includes vitamins B1 to B12 and vitamin C.

Its sources are milk, green leafy vegetables and fruits. These vitamins are easily destroyed by excessive washing and overcooking.

A deficiency of B1 causes beriberi (neuritis of hands and feet with a burning sensation).

A deficiency of B2 causes severe stomatitis (mouth ulcers), cracking of the soles of the feet and the corners of the mouth and lips.

A deficiency of B complex causes severe weakness.

B12 is available in animal sources only. A deficiency of this vitamin can cause pernicious anaemia and macrocytic anaemia.

Vitamin C is available in fresh fruits and leafy vegetables and is easily destroyed by overwashing and heating. A deficiency of this vitamin can cause scurvy and bleeding gums.

Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K. They can only be metabolised by the body from fat sources.

Sources of vitamin A are milk, animal proteins, yellow fruits and vegetables such as papaya, carrot, pumpkin and mango.

A deficiency causes night blindness, keratomalacia (rough and cracked skin, which is prone to infection).

Vitamin D is manufactured in the body under the effect of sunlight.

A deficiency can cause rickets and stunted growth in children and osteomalacia (softening of the bones) in adults.

Vitamin E helps in the reproductive cycle as well as in the regeneration process.

Vitamin K helps in the clotting process and a deficiency can cause severe bleeding.

MINERALS:

CALCIUM

Sources: Milk and milk products, green vegetables, particularly fenugreek (methi leaves), spinach and til seeds.

Function: Calcium forms the base of bones and teeth and, to some extent, of the muscles also.

Deficiency: Causes rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. If a mother is deficient in calcium during pregnancy, the child may be born with a poor constitution and poor teeth (which will be visible after the age of six months.) The mothers too end up with osteoporosis or osteopaenia leading to chronic backache and muscle cramps. Even when calcium is taken in high doses, if there is no exposure to sunlight, the body cannot manufacture Vitamin D and the absorption of calcium will not take place. Calcium absorption depends on calcium intake and the presence of Vitamin D in sufficient amounts. The presence of substances like phosphates interferes with calcium absorption.

Calcium and Parathyroid: The parathyroid gland regulates calcium levels in the blood and calcium metabolism in bones. If the calcium level falls in the blood it acts on the bone to release the calcium. It increases the excretion of phosphorus by the kidneys to maintain the calcium level in the blood. In hypo parathyroidism, the calcium level may fall very low and tetany (intermittent muscular spasms) may occur.

In hyper parathyroidism, the calcium in the bones is depleted to the extent that the bones become brittle and spontaneous fractures may occur.

IRON

Sources: Animal sources ?meat, liver, spleen, eggs contain an easily absorbable form of iron. Milk is a very poor source of iron. So children who are only on milk for a long period, remain anaemic if normal food is not introduced after four to five months of age.

Vegetable sources ?wholegrain cereals, split and unsplit legumes, green leafy vegetables, ragi and poppy seeds.

Functions: Iron helps in the synthesis of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body and carbon dioxide from all parts of the body back to the lungs.

Deficiency: Iron deficiency causes anaemia, so the person feels weak, lethargic and breathless following slight exertion. The cause of anaemia may also be a congenital deficiency of certain enzymes and to rule that out, a blood examination is necessary. Generally, microcytic anaemia is due to iron deficiency. Some parasites like hookworm infestations cause anaemia because they eat away the blood in the intestine.

IODINE

Source: Iodine is found in the soil. It has been observed that in high altitude areas, the soil is deficient in iodine because of erosion due to heavy rains. Iodine is crucial for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.

Deficiency: Iodine deficiency can cause mental and physical retardation. Iodine deficient children are stunted and dull with poor skin and are known as cretins. An iodine deficiency in adults results in myxoedema, which is a swelling of the skin and underlying tissues giving a waxy consistency. Both these conditions are caused by the poor production of thyroxin by the thyroid gland.

PHOSPHORUS

Source: It is present in the body in the form of phosphates and mostly present in the bones and teeth. In organic form it occurs as phospholipids, lecithin and cephalin and in inorganic form it is an integral part of nuclear protein and cell structure.

Function: It acts as an intermediary in fat transport and metabolism.

MAGNESIUM

Along with phosphorus, it is present in bones and soft tissues.

SODIUM CHLORIDE

Sodium chloride is present in extracellular fluids such as plasma, tissue fluids and lymph. It is excreted in urine.

Functions: It maintains the acid base balance in extracellular and intracellular fluid. If intake is low, the person may suffer from heat cramps and the body may swell. Excessive salt in the body may cause high blood pressure as it retains water to be soluble.

POTASSIUM

Potassium is present in large amounts in red blood cells and is also found in cells of muscles and tissues. It functions just like sodium chloride to maintain the balance in extracellular and intracellular fluids.

Source: All types of fruits.

Functions: It regulates osmotic pressure. Potassium, along with calcium ions, regulates heartbeats.

Deficiency: Causes weakness of the body and may result in paralysis of the muscles.

TRACE ELEMENTS:

Trace elements are copper, zinc, chromium and cobalt. These are required in small amounts and are contained in a normal diet.

FLUORINE

Fluorine is available in a soluble form in water. Whenever the level of fluorine is less than 0.5 ppm in drinking water, children suffer from dental caries. The level has to be maintained at 1-2 ppm. If the fluorine content in water is high, it affects the teeth, bones and tissues resulting in extra calcification of tissues and ligaments which makes even normal everyday activities difficult.

Nature provides us with all the nutrients necessary for health and vitality. It is up to us to judiciously balance them to remain healthy.

There are many issues surrounding why we eat what we eat. Issues relating to junk food, obesity, addictions, lack of exercise and stress are other important aspects which need to be looked at closely. These will be discussed in subsequent issues.