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Vitamins are nutrients required for essential metabolic reactions in the body. The body typically assembles vitamin-dependent catalysts from a variety of building blocks including amino acids, sugars, phosphates, and vitamins. Each vitamin is typically used in multiple different catalysts and therefore has multiple functions.
Each food source contains different ratios of vitamins. Therefore if the only source of vitamins is food, a change in diet from season to season, year to year, or day to day changes the doses of vitamins.
Vitamins have only been recently produced as chemicals and made widely available as vitamin pills.
Vitamins can be classified as either water soluble, which means they dissolve easily in water, or fat soluble, which means they are absorbed through the intestinal tract with the help of lipids.
We rely mainly on food sources to meet our vitamin needs. However, there are a few vitamins that we obtain by other means: for example, one form of vitamin D is synthesized in the skin with the help of natural ultraviolet sunlight.
Although vitamins contain no calories, they are essential for normal growth and development. If those nutrients are missing, deficiencies in growth result and diseases such as malformed limbs in the case of rickets, or the mental retardation of iodine deficiency.
Research has shown that foods rich in antioxidants are particularly beneficial for health. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals. A buildup of free radicals can damage body cells and tissues, resulting in disease. Studies have shown that diets rich in vegetables and fruits result in a lower incidence of some diseases, including certain cancers.