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Human NutritionIndex to this page

How dietary needs are established
Types of fats
Read the label!
Vitamin A
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B12
Folic acid (Folacin)
Vitamin C
Vitamin D
Vitamin E
Vitamin K
"Natural" versus "Synthetic" Vitamins
Human Nutrition
Human Dietary Needs
The human diet must provide the following:
calories; enough to meet our daily energy needs.
amino acids. There are nine, or so, "essential" amino acids that we need for
protein synthesis and that we cannot synthesize from other precursors.
fatty acids. There are three "essential" fatty acids that we cannot synthesize
from other precursors.
minerals. Inorganic ions. We probably need 18 different ones: a few like
calcium in relatively large amounts; most, like zinc, in "trace" amounts.
vitamins. A dozen, or so, small organic molecules that we cannot synthesize
from other precursors in our diet.
Link to discussion of the physiology of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
How dietary needs are established
Determining what substances must be incorporated in the human diet, and how much
of each, is - even after years of research - still under active study. Why the
Vitamins. Inadequate intake of some vitamins produces easily-recognized
deficiency diseases like
scurvy: lack of ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
beriberi: lack of thiamine (vitamin B1)
pellagra: lack of niacin.
However, it is so difficult to exclude some other possible vitamins from the
diet that deficiency diseases are hard to demonstrate.
Minerals. Some minerals are needed is such vanishingly small amounts that it
is practically impossible to prepare a diet that does not include them.
However, totally synthetic diets are now available for intravenous feeding of
people who cannot eat. This so-called total parenteral nutrition has revealed,
unexpectedly, some additional trace element needs: chromium and molybdenum.

lysine and tryptophan. Examples are olive. Have at least one double bond three carbon atoms in from the end . converting them from a cis to a trans configuration. health. Polyunsaturated. are poorly represented in most plant proteins. Link to table giving RDAs for men and women age 19-22. In order to maintain blood sugar levels. Age. three essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized this way and must be incorporated in the diet. peanut. sex. and the intensity of physical activity strongly affect the daily need for calories. Until the summer of 1997. However. these were called recommended daily allowances or RDAs. All are unsaturated. Most animal fats (e. Omega-3 fats. However. These are linoleic acid. linolenic acid. Fat provides our most concentrated form of energy. National Academy of Sciences publishes guidelines. Types of fats Saturated.. they attack their own protein. Protein Humans must include adequate amounts of 9 amino acids in their diet. the National Research Council of the U. sunflower. cysteine can partially meet the need for methionine (they both contain sulfur). and rapeseed (canola) oil. cottonseed. This condition of semi-starvation is known as marasmus. Have two or more double bonds in their fatty acid chains. Fats Ingested fats provide the precursors from which we synthesize our own fat as well as cholesterol and various phospholipids. and safflower oils. while males of the same age need 2500-3300 kcal/day. Carbohydrates Carbohydrates provide the bulk of the calories (4 kcal/gram) in most diets and starches provide the bulk of that. No double bonds between the carbon atoms in the fatty acid chains. Have a single double bond in the fatty acid chains. Thus strict vegetarians should take special pains to ensure that their diet contains sufficient amounts of these two amino acids. In the future. Link to discussion of the chemical nature of fats. Have been partially hydrogenated producing fewer double bonds and. Its energy content (9 kcal/gram) is over twice as great as carbohydrates and proteins (4 kcal/gram). These "essential" amino acids cannot be synthesized from other precursors. Moderately active females (19-22 years old) need 1500-2500 kcal/day. S. they will be called Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). Monounsaturated. that is. too many children do not receive enough calories to grow properly. In some poor countries. The Essential Amino AcidsHistidine Isoleucine Leucine Lysine Methionine (and/or cysteine) Phenylalanine (and/or tyrosine) Threonine Tryptophan Valine Two of the essential amino acids. size. butter) are highly saturated.Despite some uncertainties. of those that remain. soy bean. Examples: corn. and tyrosine can partially substitute for phenylalanine. have double bonds. Humans can synthesize fat from carbohydrates (as most of us know all too well!).g. arachidonic acid. Trans Fats.

childhood. food labels in the U.S. and monounsaturated fat. and pregnancy. polyunsaturated.1 grams/day for women (1. the discrepancy (2 g in this example) represents the amount of trans fat. Link to further information of calcium in the diet. but the evidence seems to indicate that: A diet high in fat is harmful. list the total amount of fat in a serving of the product (5 g in the example shown here) with a breakdown of the amounts of saturated (1 g). For this reason. and hemoglobin. Fish oils are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. However. if you add the amounts of saturated. Three hormones: parathyroid hormone (PTH) calcitonin.. and calciferol (vitamin D) work together to regulate how much calcium is absorbed from your food is taken from or added to bone is excreted in the urine. In developed countries like the U. such as blood clotting. So substantial amounts are needed in the diet. but at present they are not. However. What about trans fats? There is a proposal to have them included. Baked goods (like the one whose label is shown here) tend to have quite a bit of trans fat.of the fatty acid molecule. only trace amounts are needed. A temporary deficit in the amount of calcium in the diet can be compensated for by its removal from the huge reserves in bone. except that trans unsaturated fats may be worse than saturated fats. Marginal iron intake is so widespread that some nutritionists want to have iron added to common foods like bread and cereals.6 for men) was established in September 2002. notably cytochromes myoglobin. intracellular signaling. There is still no consensus. Many studies have examined the relationship between fat in the diet and cardiovascular disease. iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency. especially during infancy. Linolenic acid is an example. polyunsaturated (0. Ingestion of omega-3 unsaturated fats may be protective. and monounsaturated fat (1. and the total does not equal "Total Fat" . Mono and polyunsaturated fats are less harmful than saturated ones.5 g).S. muscle contraction. a DRI of 1. Not surprisingly. For most of these. just as some vitamins now are. It is particularly common among women because of the loss of blood during menstruation the need for extra iron during pregnancy and breast feeding.5 g). Read the label! At present. an iron deficiency shows up first as anemia. large amounts of calcium are needed to make bone (which is 18% calcium). Iron (Fe) Iron is incorporated in a number of body constituents. . Minerals Calcium Calcium is essential to almost every function in the body.

Sources: cream. eggs. the prosthetic group of all four of the light-absorbing pigments in the eye. Its most frequent cause is from ingested acidic food or drink that has been stored in galvanized (zinc-coated) containers. food may not contain enough iodine to meet body needs. are accidentally poisoned each year by swallowing too many iron tablets. butter. Vitamin A (Retinol) Function: precursor to retinal. the safety and efficacy of this public health measure has been thoroughly established. Excessive intake of zinc causes a brief illness. When tin and vanadium were then given to the deprived rat. Perhaps because the range between optimum and excess is more narrow for fluoride than for most minerals in the diet. Leaving aside the philosophical and political questions raised by proponents and opponents of fluoridation. Vitamins Link to table giving recommendations for vitamin intake. Fluoride The value of fluoride (in ionized form. vanadium. In fact. (Photos courtesy of Klaus Schwarz. it still did not grow normally. Long Beach. VA Hospital. which the liver can convert into vitamin A. water fluoridation has been controversial. excess iron in the body also leads to problems. This makes sense because fluoride ions are incorporated along with calcium and phosphate ions in the crystalline structure of which both bones and teeth are constructed. The use of iodized salt (table salt to which a small amount of sodium iodide. Link to table giving recommendation for iron intake. and fluorides were carefully excluded for 20 days. many communities add enough fluoride to bring the concentration up to 1 ppm. In regions with iodine-deficient soils. fish liver oils. Excess: stored in the liver. and this has made the proposal controversial.S. especially in children. Iodine Incorporated in the hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). KI.) Humans get most of their fluoride in drinking water. Carrots and some other vegetables provide beta-carotene. is added) has reduced the incidence of goiter in most developed countries. Deficiency: night-blindness. iron is the most frequent cause of poisoning deaths among children in the U. Zinc Zinc is incorporated in many: enzymes and transcription factors [Link to view of a steroid receptor with "zinc fingers"] Zinc supplements are popular for their supposed antioxidant properties and to hasten the recovery from colds.5 ppm of potassium fluoride (KF) to its diet restored normal growth and health. F-) was first recognized as a preventive for dental caries (cavities). But adding 0. In order to grow properly. But it may have other functions. Even iron supplement tablets pose risks: thousands of children in the U. a rat must consume 0.5 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride ions in its diet. CA. In regions where the natural amount is less than 1 ppm. The rat in the bottom photo received the same diet as that in the top except that tin.However.S. Even in adults the range between too little and too much is narrow: . The result is goiter: a swelling of the thyroid gland. but can be toxic in large doses.

in vitro studies show that a level of vitamin C equivalent to a person consuming 200 mg a day converts some lipids into substances that can damage DNA. milk. Excess: none identified. . enriched bread and breakfast cereals. Deficiency: beriberi. milk. whether low levels of folic acid predispose to the development of Alzheimer's. etc. Sources: liver. Thiamine (Vitamin B1) Function: coenzyme in cellular respiration. Women who expect to become pregnant should be extra careful that they receive adequate amounts (400 µg/day). eggs. and genitals.ingesting vitamin A in amounts not much greater than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) leads to an increase in bone fractures later in life. Sources: citrus fruits. Link to table giving recommendation for vitamin C intake. Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) Function: prosthetic group of flavoprotein enzymes used in cellular respiration. unpolished cereal grains. Excess: water soluble and any excess easily excreted. Two research groups have found a statistical association between Alzheimer's disease and low levels of folic acid in blood samples taking earlier in the patient's life. Deficiency: pellagra (producing skin lesions). Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) Functions: coenzyme in the synthesis of collagen. cheese. mouth. caused by lack of intrinsic factor or a vegan diet. Deficiency: pernicious anemia. High doses taken early in pregnancy have been linked to a greater risk of birth defects. Excess: water soluble and any excess easily excreted. any bread or breakfast cereal described as "enriched" must have enough folic acid added to it so that a single serving will provide 10% of this requirement. that is. Folic acid (Folacin) Function: synthesis of purines and pyrimidines. yeast. Sources: green leafy vegetables. a risk where corn is the staple carbohydrate. Niacin (Nicotinic acid or Vitamin B3) Function: this member of the B vitamins is a precursor of NAD and NADP Sources: meat. birth defects. Sources: meat. cancer. but destroyed by cooking. to their wallets. Starting 1 January 1998. destroyed by cooking. Deficiency: anemia. hoping to ward off colds. Excess: Many people take huge amounts of vitamin C. Vitamin B12 Function: needed for DNA synthesis. but niacin is water soluble and any excess is quickly excreted. enriched bread and breakfast cereals. yeast. Excess: water soluble and any excess easily excreted. milk. perhaps. needs intrinsic factor to be absorbed. Excess: accidental ingestion of very high doses produces a brief illness. However. Deficiency: damage to eyes. Sources: liver. is unknown. Deficiency: scurvy. Vitamin D Functions: absorption of calcium from the intestine and bone formation. Rarely found in developed countries except among alcoholics. They seem to suffer no harm except. enriched bread and breakfast cereals. tomatoes. Whether there is a causal connection between the two. eggs. green peppers.

Excess: However. Link to discussion of the physiology of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Deficiency: rickets in children. salad greens. and steroid-containing foods irradiated with ultraviolet light (vitamin D2). Excess: high doses may be toxic in infants. Vitamin K Function: needed for the synthesis of blood clotting factors. Deficiency: anemia. synthesized by intestinal bacteria. Excess: high doses may be toxic in infants. damage to the retinas. [Discussion] Sources: spinach and other green leafy vegetables. butter. Present in fish liver oils. vegetable oils. this fat-soluble vitamin is dangerous in very high doses. rickets has been very rare in North America. many pediatricians recommend vitamin supplements for breast-fed babies. Until recently. osteomalacia (softening of the bones) in adults. Sources: egg yolk. Vitamin E (Tocopherol) Function: acts as a reducing agent in cells. especially in infants. The thiamine molecule (or any other molecule) is the same entity whether synthesized by a plant or by an organic chemist whether it is still in plant or animal material or has been extracted and incorporated in a pill. "Natural" versus "Synthetic" Vitamins There is no scientific distinction between them.Sources: synthesized when ultraviolet light strikes the skin (forms vitamin D3). Breast milk provides less than 20% of the recommended daily dose for infants. So some pediatricians view the use of vitamin D supplements for infants with caution (especially since certain preparations have been found to contain amounts far higher than that listed on the label). Deficiency: slow clotting of blood. Until the infant is old enough to eat foods fortified with vitamin D. Link to table giving recommendations for vitamin intake. But the combination of two growing trends breast feeding and protecting children from exposure to the sun has caused cases to reappear especially in northern latitudes with their short winter days. causing excessive calcium deposits and mental retardation. Welcome&Next Search 14 May 2003 .