This is the second part of our two-part look at essential nutrients. Last week’s blog looked at essential minerals; this week we take a look at vitamins and what they do.
Vitamins are organic compounds we require in tiny amounts. Not to be confused with organic food and produce, chemists use the phrase organic compounds to indicate that the molecule contains carbon. So the study of organic chemistry is essentially the study of carbon chemistry.
What is a vitamin?
An organic chemical compound (or related set of compounds) is called a vitamin when we cannot synthesise it in sufficient quantities in our bodies and we therefore have to obtain through our diets. So whether or not something is a “vitamin” depends on the circumstances and on the particular organism. For example, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a vitamin for humans, but not for most other animals, and biotin (vitamin H) and vitamin D are required in the human diet only in certain circumstances. Vitamins are classified by their biological and chemical activity and not their structure.
Types of Vitamins
Vitamins are classified as water-soluble (they can dissolve in water) or fat-soluble (they can dissolve in fat). For humans there are 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K) and 9 water-soluble (8 B vitamins and vitamin C) vitamins – a total of 13. Water soluble vitamins need to be consumed more regularly because they are eliminated faster and are not readily stored. Urinary output is a good predictor of water-soluble vitamin consumption. Bacteria manufacture several water-soluble vitamins. Fat soluble vitamins are absorbed through the intestines with the help of fats (lipids). They are more likely to accumulate in the body because they are harder to eliminate quickly. Excess levels of fat-soluble vitamins are more likely than with water-soluble vitamins – this condition is called hypervitaminosis. We know that most vitamins are involved in many different reactions, which means they have several different functions. Below is a list of vitamins, and some details we know about them:
Chemical name – Retinol, Retinoids and Carotenoids.
Solubility – fat.
What does it do? Vitamin A has multiple functions, it is important for growth and development, for the maintenance of the immune system and good vision. Vitamin A is needed by the retina of the eye in the form of retinal, which combines with protein opsin to form rhodopsin the light – absorbing molecule,  that is necessary for both low-light (scotopic vision) and color vision.
Deficiency disease – Night-blindness.
Overdose disease – Keratomalacia (degeneration of the cornea).
Chemical name – Thiamine.
Solubility – water.
What does it do? Thiamine is used in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine
Deficiency disease – detrimental neurological effects if not present in the diet. Beriberi, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
Overdose disease – rare hypersensitive reactions resembling anaphylactic shock when overdose is due to injection. Drowsiness.
Chemical name – Riboflavin.
Solubility – water
What does it do? Vitamin B2 is required for a wide variety of cellular processes. It plays a key role in energy metabolism, and for the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
Deficiency disease – ariboflanisosis (mouth lesions, seborrhea, and vascularization of the cornea).
Overdose disease – no known complications. Excess is excreted in urine.
Chemical name – Niacin.
Solubility – water.
What does it do? Used to increase levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol) in the blood and has been found to decrease the risk of cardiovascular events modestly in a number of controlled human trials
Deficiency disease – pellagra.
Overdose disease – liver damage, skin problems, and gastrointestinal complaints, plus other problems.
Chemical name – Pantothenic Acid.
Solubility – water.
What does it do? Animals require pantothenic acid to synthesize coenzyme-A (CoA), as well as to synthesize and metabolize proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Deficiency disease – paresthesia (tingling, pricking, or numbness of the skin with no apparent long-term physical effect).
Overdose disease – none reported.
Chemical name – Pyridoxal Phosphate (PLP).
Solubility – water.
What does it do? PLP is a cofactor in many reactions of amino acid metabolism, including transamination, deamination, and decarboxylation. PLP also is necessary for the enzymatic reaction governing the release of glucose from glycogen.
Overdose disease – nerve damage, proprioception is impaired (ability to sense stimuli within your own body is undermined).
Chemical name – Biotin.
Solubility – water.
What does it do? Biotin is necessary for cell growth, the production of fatty acids, and the metabolism of fats and amino acids. Biotin assists in various metabolic reactions involving the transfer of carbon dioxide. It may also be helpful in maintaining a steady blood sugar level.
Deficiency disease – dermatitis, enteritis.
Overdose disease – none reported.
Chemical name – Folic Acid.
Solubility – water.
What does it do? The human body needs folate to synthesize DNA and repair DNA as well as to act as a cofactor in certain biological reactions. It is especially important in aiding rapid cell division and growth, such as in infancy and pregnancy. Children and adults both require folic acid to produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.
Deficiency disease – birth defects during pregnancy, such as neural tube.
What does it do? A key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and for the formation of blood. It is normally involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body, especially affecting DNA synthesis and regulation, but also fatty acid synthesis and energy production. Neither fungi, plants, nor animals are capable of producing vitamin B12. Only bacteria and archaea (a group of single-celled organisms) have the enzymes required for its synthesis, although many foods are a natural source of B12 because of bacterial symbiosis. B12 is the largest and most structurally complicated vitamin.
Deficiency disease – megaloblastic anemia (red blood cells without nucleus).
Overdose disease – none reported.
Chemical name – Ascorbic Acid.
Solubility – water.
What does it do? Vitamin C is a cofactor in at least eight enzymatic reactions, including several collagen synthesis reactions that, when dysfunctional, cause the most severe symptoms of scurvy. In animals, these reactions are especially important in wound-healing and in preventing bleeding from capillaries
Deficiency disease – scurvy that can lead to a large number of complications.
Overdose disease – vitamin C megadosage – diarrhea, nausea, skin irritation, burning upon urination, depletion of the mineral copper, and higher risk of kidney stones.
Vitamin D Group
Chemical name – Ergocalciferol D2, Cholecalciferol D3.
Solubility – fat.
What does it do? Synthesis from exposure to sunlight, as well as intake from the diet, generally contribute to the maintenance of adequate serum concentrations
Deficiency disease – rickets, osteomalacia (softening of bone), recent studies indicate higher risk of some cancers.
Overdose disease – hypervitaminosis D (headache, weakness, disturbed digestion, increased blood pressure, and tissue calcification).
Chemical name – Tocopherols and Tocotrienols.
Solubility – fat.
What does it do? Vitamin E has many functions: As an antioxidant; as an enzyme activity regulator; it plays a role in neurological functions and it is also involved in gene expression.
Deficiency disease – very rare, may include hemolytic anemia in newborn babies.
Overdose disease – one study reported higher risk of congestive heart failure.
Vitamin K Group
Chemical name – Phylloquinone K1, Menaquinones K2.
Solubility – fat.
What does it do? Needed for modification of certain proteins required for blood coagulation, and in metabolic pathways in bone and other tissue.
Deficiency disease – greater tendency to bleed.
Overdose disease – may undermine effects of warfarin (a blood thinning agent).
So, there’s quick run-through on the vitamins. The most important thing to note is that they are all provided nicely by a healthy, balanced diet of fresh foods. If you employ a little Mindful Eating from each of the five food groups, you’ll generally get all you need.
We read an interesting article this week in The Australian regarding the link to organic food and better bowel health. If you didn’t catch it, please read below.
There is growing evidence for the benefit of organic food, according to a previously skeptical doctor who says many agricultural pesticides are lethal to good bacteria in the bowel.
“Scientists have always said eating organic food is senseless and makes no difference as pesticides don’t harm humans,” says Dr Mark Donohoe, a Sydney GP with a special interest in environmental medicine. “However, the pesticides kill certain species of gut bacteria, not us.”
This causes an imbalance that contributes to obesity and poor general health, says Dr Donohoe, who spoke at an AustralAsian Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine Conference in Melbourne on August 24.
“This thinking is becoming mainstream, particularly among gastroenterologists. My wife and patients have told me for 20 years that they feel better on an organic diet, but I have said there is no reason why they should. It turns out they are protecting their gut flora”, he says.
“For the past 10 years doctors have been looking at gut bacteria as something that makes us healthy. If our gut bacteria is not healthy, we cannot be healthy,” says Dr Donohoe.
“A lot of what doctors see in their surgeries is just a consequence of altered bacteria playing up.”
He says entire families can become obese if something in their environment disrupts their gut. “It’s not what they eat or some type of moral corruption of the owner of those bugs.”
Interestingly, Dr Donohoe is particularly concerned about the high rate of elective caesarean sections, which may leave babies with inadequate gut flora for years after birth, affecting their weight.
“More research is needed for a solution, but breastfeeding appears to be a healthy and effective way to encourage a broader diversity of gut bacteria in the infant.”
As the baby grows, plenty of fresh organic fruit and vegetables in season and minimising grains is the key to a gut-healthy diet, he says.
We can’t vouch for the veracity of Dr Donohoe’s line of thinking, but that all seems to make sense to us here at Bellamy’s Organic. Organic foods do not contain pesticides and hormones, so healthy gut bacteria are not at risk.
Following on from last weeks blog Organic farming: where is it going in Australia?, this week we thought we’d present some information from the Australian Organic Market Report, 2012. It makes interesting reading because it shows just how far we’ve come as a society in embracing organic food in Australia.
First, the size of the organic food business is now over $1.15bn in retail value. That represents a doubling since 2008. Australian exports of organic food are estimated to be about 10% of this value at some $126m.
Organic Farming in Australia
Australia still has the largest surface area of certified organic land in the world. Australian Bureau of Statistics data for 2011 noted that 11,199,577 ha is certified organic in Australia. Data from certification agencies suggests the area is actually much larger at 16.9m ha
In addition to that over 250,000ha is in “pre-certification” meaning that it is undergoing its period of transformation from conventional to organic.
Obviously not all of this land is arable. Much of the area is given over to grazing country. But then it would not surprise you to learn that 25% of all beef sold in Australia is organic meat.
Where Can I Buy Organic Foods?
Over one million Australians regularly purchase organic products. 65% of consumers reported that they purchased organic food occasionally. Beef, fruit, and vegetables/herbs make up the top three categories of fresh produce purchased, with dairy being fourth.
Showing just how mainstream organic is in this country, three in every four organic purchases are made at a major retailer. With availability increasing and pricing reducing, organic food is set to grow strongly over coming years.
Why Organic Farming?
The environmental benefits of organic farming practices are numerous – it protects the soils, improves water quality, conserves water and lowers greenhouse gases from agriculture. In fact, it is estimated that if 1,000 medium sized farms converted to organic it would be the same as taking 117,000 cars off the road every year. If it’s possible to farm successfully without chemicals, then that’s the way we should do it because we believe the whole community benefits from it.
Food Safety Issues
In Australia we’re very lucky that we have good fresh foods that are clean and healthy. And let’s be clear, our conventional food stream is closely tested and regulated, so it’s not just about organic foods.
But such controls are hard to police in some countries. China is one of these. Even Certified Organic growers in China flout the rules and there are exposures of these unscrupulous people every week.
That’s one of the reasons why Bellamy’s Organic baby formula is so highly sought after in China. Australia, and Bellamy’s Organic, have a very high reputation for organic quality and more importantly, safety.
Sadly though, the very reason why Chinese mothers buy Bellamy’s Organic is the reason why we don’t buy any Chinese ingredients that go into our formulas or indeed any of our other food ranges. We are committed to buying only the best quality, verified ingredients. That may make us more expensive sometimes, but it arguably does make us the best you can get.
Organic Food and Health
Naturally, we believe that certified organic baby foods are best. Quite simply it’s because of what is not in them. It seems that, increasingly, mothers who want to give their babies A Pure Start to Life are switching to organic baby food and it’s easy to understand why. Conventional farming practices continue to use pesticides, insecticides and hormones that are potentially harmful. Many are untested.
The problem is that some of these chemicals are found in maternal blood, placental tissue, and breast milk samples from pregnant women and mothers who recently gave birth. A 2013 study by a UN & WHO Panel[i] indicated that chemical contaminants are being passed on to the next generation, both prenatally and during breastfeeding. Some chemicals indirectly increase cancer risk by contributing to immune and endocrine dysfunction that can influence the effect of carcinogens.
The report noted that children are at special risk due to their smaller body mass and rapid physical development, both of which magnify their vulnerability to known or suspected carcinogens, including radiation. Numerous environmental contaminants can cross the placental barrier; to a disturbing extent, babies are born “pre-polluted.”
The UN & WHO Panel[ii] reported that evidence linking hormone-mimicking chemicals to human health problems has grown stronger over the past decade. Specifically, the panel noted “Fetuses, babies and young children “are not just little adults” and are the most vulnerable to hormone-altering chemicals since their bodies are still developing, the authors wrote.
“We seem to be accepting as a society that it’s acceptable to load up our next generation with chemicals in an unregulated manner and hope they’re not bad. We need to change that entire culture.”
We would agree.
If you’d like to read more of what the WHO had to say, go to the link below
For many people the growth of organic farming and the consumer uptake of organic food has been depressingly slow. Some might say it’s an experiment that’s failing. But is it?
The introduction of many new ideas start with an excited introductory phase and then a long haul of slow growth as the “status quo” is overcome and overturned. I believe that this is the case with organic farming. But for any idea to have any chance of long term success in any field of endeavour there are two precursors:
Does it actually represent a better way to do things (as opposed to just an alternative way to do things) and
Does it make economic sense, by which I mean can the industry make realistic returns on a consistent basis into the future?
I’m hard pressed to think of any idea that has been a long-term success that does not meet these fundamental criteria. So what about organic food?
Is organic food a good idea?
There is no doubt that the world’s ability to feed itself is under threat.
In comparison to the past 50 years, the rate at which pressures are building up on natural resources – land, water, biodiversity – will be somewhat tempered during the coming 50 years due to the slowdown of demand growth for food and feed. However, an expanded use of agricultural feedstock for biofuels and ongoing environment degradation would work in the opposite direction.
Even if total demand for food and feed may indeed grow more slowly, just satisfying the expected food and feed demand will require a substantial increase of global food production of 70 percent by 2050, involving an additional quantity of nearly 1 billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tons of meat.
Much of the natural resource base already in use worldwide shows worrying signs of degradation. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 15 out of 24 ecosystem services examined are already being degraded or used unsustainably. These include capture fisheries and water supply. In addition, actions to intensify other ecosystem services, such as the ecosystem service ‘food production’, often cause the degradation of others. Soil nutrient depletion, erosion, desertification, depletion of freshwater reserves, loss of tropical forest and biodiversity are clear indicators. Unless investments in maintenance and rehabilitation are stepped up and land use practices made more sustainable, the productive potential of land, water and genetic resources may continue to decline at alarming rates.
We have always looked to technology to help improve our farming yields, yet the fact is that globally the rate of growth in yields of the major cereal crops has been steadily declining, it dropped from 3.2 percent per year in 1960 to 1.5 percent in 2000. Technology has increased yields over past decades, but at long term cost to the ability of land to produce at all. It’s funny how the laws of physics and the laws of nature seem to firmly agree on one thing: you can’t get something for nothing.
If technology is to save us then, it must do so in a way that does not contribute to the decline of the very land it is designed to support.
Alternatively, organic farming actively works to rehabilitate the land whilst decreasing the possibility that harmful chemicals enter the food chain. As a person with a science background myself, I don’t make these comments from a romantic viewpoint. I have no doubt that technology will need to be harnessed to improve food yields, but I think that this will be increasingly from working smarter with nature rather than with chemicals. I have no doubt also that in many farming situations currently, yields fall under organic practices. But that does not mean that they will always be less.
Fundamentally, then, it makes sense to work with nature in farming and the environment. Organic farming and food production is a better idea. Early adopters may have found it tough and many have retreated. That’s more a reflection of technique and know-how rather than on the idea itself.
So what is the situation in Australia at present? Let’s look at some basic information. In Australia there are already over 11 million ha of organic farming and grazing land available. This is a larger area than exists in any other country and it is continuing to grow.
ABS data shows that over 50% of farms are still small-scale, but that the average size of organic farms continues to grow, highlighting the trend toward professional farming.
So what of the second criteria?
Do organic farms make economic sense?
In Australia it takes three years of preparation for a farm to be certified organic. That’s the time deemed necessary for the chemicals previously used to disappear from the soil or pasture. The cost of chemicals and additives is taken out of the farm accounts. The cost of diesel for the machinery to apply them is removed, along with the time that takes. On the other side of the ledger we have reduced yields probably, particularly in the early years.
The other key factor, though, is what can farmers sell the crop for? Can they get a premium? Often the answer to that lies in what they are producing and where they are selling it. Perhaps it stands to reason that expensive foods are more likely to be able to stand some premium over the most simple basics, so that’s a consideration for the farmer. But is this born out by what we buy? The 2012 Australian Organic Market Report provides the following information. What organic product are consumers buying?
60% fresh fruit and vegetables
45% home-cooking ingredients
39% canned goods
It seems that simple basics that can carry an organic premium and are being purchased. 65% of consumers report that they buy organic food occasionally and the total value of the organic industry in Australia is now estimated at $1.276bn, $220m of which is exported.
However, there is no doubt that the marketplace is often “market-centric”, so selling to supermarkets can negate upside returns as the supermarket captures most the value of the effort. Despite this 75%, of all purchases of organic food in the country are through supermarkets, so presumably economically viable deals are being struck, if under pressure.
Export of organic food from Australia to Asia represents a good opportunity for growth. This is because, unlike Australia, Asia and particularly China has on-going concerns about basic food safety. For example, this month in Shanghai, a man was arrested with 10 tonnes of fox, mink and rat meat that he was selling for human consumption. Most of us have heard of the melamine-in-baby-milk scandal. Food safety in China continues to be a problem despite Chinese authorities working hard to eliminate these issues. Chinese consumers are prepared to pay a premium for clean, safe food and Australia’s reputation in this regard is second to none.
In the domestic market there are two issues. The first is price. Price apparently puts a lot of consumers off, but that’s the sort of explicit response that you can expect from market research in any category. Implicitly, consumers know that organic food is free from harmful chemicals. 89% of people say that’s why they buy it! The penetration of organic purchase continues to grow, as mentioned above it’s now over 65%, and so organic is now very much mainstream rather than a fad.
Production wise, 24% of all Australian beef production and 6% of all lamb production is organic. Demand for organic dairy products continues to rise. Interestingly, Australian companies can’t source enough organic milk or butter in Australia and the shortfall is made up almost exclusively from New Zealand, so opportunities exist here in markets that are already developed.
The other issue that can be addressed directly is that 48% of consumers say they’re not sure that they can trust that the food really is organic. If it’s a produce or packaged food that has been certified in Australia, it can be trusted. If it’s “organic” from China or other parts of Asia then that’s a problem. Despite this, Australian supermarkets insist on buying more and more product from Asia because it’s cheap, not because it’s good. That in turn impacts on the ability of Australian farmers to make the change to organic.
On balance then, organic seems to be a sound long-term idea that should get better as technology learns to support it. Interestingly these support techniques may well come from aid to developing countries where the infrastructure, machinery and cost of herbicides and pesticides probably make them unviable as a solution to yield increases in the first place.
Economically, it appears that organic farming practices can be viable in the long term but that short term there is some pain as markets establish.
The trend of buying organic fresh produce in Australia continues to rise, albeit slowly, but the increasing recognition of the role of epigenetics on long term health will slowly educate people to the real value of an untainted food chain. Then we will see human health and environmental health values begin to coalesce in people’s minds, as they always have in practice.
Shopping lists, check lists, mental to-do lists, busy Mums are forever making lists – we thought we might make a list of our own! One of our key objectives at Bellamy’s Organic is to be available for contact to those who want to get in touch, whether it be by phone, e-mail, Facebook or comments on this blog! Through this contact we have been very grateful to receive some wonderful feedback about why Mums are choosing Bellamy’s Organic, so we’d like to take an opportunity to share some of their motives – in a list of course!
No surprises here, it’s in our name and it makes up 100% of our product range. How can you be sure it’s organic? We clearly and proudly display the NASAA certification logo across the packaging to show that our products are indeed certified organic. Why do we choose NASAA as the certifying body of our products? Amanda, Bellamy’s Organic Quality & Compliance Specialist says, “We choose NASAA certified organic as not only were they the first organic certifying body in Australia but NASAA’s integrity and ethical interpretation in applying various standards, is held in the highest regard”. Learn more about why we choose organic ingredients here!
2. Australian Made (and Owned)
This is important to Mums for different reasons, some say it’s mainly because they know that our products must comply to our strict Australian manufacturing standards, others because they believe Australian food products are among the highest quality in the world, and some Mums simply like the comfort that they are supporting an Australian business and jobs.
3. The Bellamy’s Organic Brand
Whether it be our recipes, our communication or the contents of our products itself, we strive to stay true to our brand promise of providing ‘a pure start to life’. More importantly though is what the Bellamy’s name means to Mums. With the release of our Ready to Serve baby food range, there is now a Bellamy’s product represented across the complete baby and toddler food and drink categories that are typically found in an Australian supermarket. So if Mums are happy with one of our products they may be more likely to try another product in the Bellamy’s Organic range as well. We’ve previously quoted Laura McBain our CEO (and mother!) as saying “for the first time, 100% Australian made organic formula AND organic baby food are available for Mums under the same trusted Australian brand” see what else is in our full range here!
Bellamy’s Organic is committed to wholesome, nutritious food for babies and children, that’s how we ensure your baby’s food is naturally of the highest quality (and tastes great)! Our interest in diet doesn’t stop at babies and young children; we believe that starting children on a pathway to ‘mindful eating’ will set a foundation of good eating habits leading to greater health benefits later on in life, many of our customers seem to agree. Click here to find more about ‘mindful eating’.
5. Environmentally Responsible
At Bellamy’s Organic we recognise our Mums want the best for their kids, so in this spirit we take measures to ensure we aren’t unnecessarily hurting the environment for kids in the future. Not only are our ingredients organic but they are sustainably sourced too, and we always choose BPA-free packaging that doesn’t compromise on protecting its contents! This is one of our frequently asked questions to which we are happy to give a positive response! Learn about our three tiered commitment to sustainability here.
6. Started by a Mum for Mums
They say necessity is the mother of all invention, but it was the necessity of a mother that led to the creation of Bellamy’s Organic when it was found to be difficult to source quality organic products for her kids! Now we have grown we hold true to the value of providing your child ‘a pure start to life’, and to this day we draw on the inspiration of Mums needs and what’s best for their children when creating our Bellamy’s Organic products!
We acknowledge that Mums are among the busiest people on earth, furthermore one of the biggest obstacles to feeding children healthy food is convenience. That’s why we always have Mum in mind when creating our products to make it easy to prepare and place in packaging that is easiest to serve. And, with our new partnership with Chemist Warehouse and our existing presence in Coles and Woolworth and independents Australia-wide; there are now more places to find our products than ever before – don’t forget you can always purchase our products from our online store here as many Mums continue to do!
Safety is taken very seriously by Bellamy’s Organic, we recognise without an absolute commitment to safety, we can’t absolutely be the best! This is our foremost consideration and can be demonstrated in our quality assurances. Use of choke-free caps on our Ready to Serve baby food or clearly communicated best serving practices on our labeling are examples of this and much, much more!
So, there you have it, 8 reasons we have heard that Mums (and Dads) are choosing Bellamy’s Organic through our feedback. If you agree or have another reason why you choose Bellamy’s Organic products it would be wonderful to hear from you in the comments below or on our Facebook page! Thanks for your continued support.