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.
Last week we had a question from a Mum who wanted to know why there was copper in our baby formula. She thought it was strange until we explained that copper is in fact an essential element, vital to the proper functioning of the body. We started thinking that maybe we should write a review on vitamins and minerals to get the facts straight. This is the first of a two-part series and it focuses on minerals.
Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) is probably best known for the fact that he recognised the role of oxygen in combustion and named both oxygen and hydrogen. Not a bad start!
But he also discovered that the building blocks of proteins, fats and carbohydrates consist of the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. His theories paved the way for future discoveries about the building blocks of cells. It was soon revealed that all organisms are built from the same six essential elemental ingredients: carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and sulfur (S).
Dietary minerals are the other chemical elements our bodies need, apart from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. The term “minerals” is misleading, and would be more meaningful if they were referred to as “ions” or “dietary ions”. People who have a well balanced diet will, in most cases, obtain all their minerals from what they eat. Minerals are often artificially added to some foods to make up for potential dietary shortages and subsequent health problems. The best example of this is iodized salt – iodine is added to prevent iodine deficiency, which even today affects about two billion people and causes mental retardation and thyroid gland problems. Iodine deficiency remains a serious public health problem in over half the planet.
Approximately 4% of the human body consists of these “minerals”. An adult of 75kg contains about 3kg of minerals. Because your body cannot make minerals, they must come from your diet. Minerals are therefore essential nutrients. At least 16 of them are considered crucial in our diet. They are all essential to life; without them you wouldn’t be able to function properly, grow or procreate.
The interesting thing is that while they are essential to life in minute quantities, all of these substances are toxic in large doses! This seemingly contradictory fact confuses a lot of people. Some research now suggests that trace amounts of arsenic are essential, too!
Minerals can be divided into two main categories, based on the amount that is needed by the body.
These are present in relatively large amounts in the body and are therefore required in fairly large amounts in the diet —more than 100 milligrams daily. Calcium is the most common and abundant mineral that accounts for approximately 2% of an adult body, so an average adult who weighs 75kg contains about 1.5kg of calcium.
Interestingly, calcium is closely linked to another macro-nutrient we don’t hear a lot about and that’s magnesium. It turns out that these two are almost yin and yang elements:
▪ Calcium exists mainly outside the cells, whereas almost all magnesium is found inside the cells;
▪ Calcium excites nerves; magnesium calms them down;
▪ Calcium with potassium makes muscles contract, but magnesium is necessary for muscles to relax;
▪ Calcium is necessary to the clotting reaction – essential for wound healing – but magnesium keeps the blood flowing freely and prevents abnormal thickening when clotting reactions would be dangerous.
Calcium is mostly found in the bones and gives them much of their hardness, whereas magnesium is found mainly in soft structures.
The balance of calcium and magnesium is very important and with so many women being told to take calcium to prevent osteoporosis, many may not have enough magnesium as a result. If you are taking additional calcium you might want to check with your health professional that your magnesium levels are not suffering.
Other macro-nutrients are sodium, potassium, phosphorus, chlorine (in the form of chloride ions) and sulphur.
Trace minerals are those that are required by the body in amounts of less than 100mg per day. Iodine is one of these. It’s probably because of it’s relative abundance in seawater that iodine came to play a key part in animal life. Interestingly it’s the heaviest element in the human body. (Well, the heaviest that’s supposed to be there, anyway!) But it accounts for a tiny fraction of us – only 0.0225 milligrams in your entire body. To put that another way, more than 40,000 people would only have a kilogram between them! Nevertheless it is absolutely essential because it enables the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones, essential to normal healthy growth.
The Key Minerals
Here is a list of the most critical chemical elements (“minerals”) needed by the body. Some authorities suggest there are more minerals, including vanadium, nickel, boron and arsenic, but that is not a widely held view at this point. The macro-nutrients are highlighted in bold italics.
Used to make hydrochloride acid in the stomach. Chloride is found in the fluid around all cells in the body
Chromium is important in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. Chromium stimulates fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis, which are important for brain function and other body processes. Chromium is also important in the metabolism of insulin.
Meat, liver, mushrooms and egg yolks
An essential component of Vitamin B12 This vitamin helps prevent anaemia, fatigue and depression.
Vitamin B12 can only be manufactured by bacteria and can only be found naturally in animal products, however, synthetic forms are widely available and added to many foods like cereals
Required for blood clotting, but also found in many enzymes. Used in the development of bone and connective tissue
Prawns, beans and peas, nuts. Also found in liver.
The main building block of thyroid hormones T3 & T4 important to growth and development
Found in iodine-enriched table salt because our diets don’t usually contain enough iodine and deficiency can be serious
The essential part of haemoglobin in blood. Facilitates the transport of oxygen around the body
Haem iron: Liver, kidneys, meats;Non-haem iron: oysters, the yolks of eggs, nuts and lentils
Stimulates enzyme activity in cells
Citrus fruits, green vegetables
Activates many important enzymes, including the development of sex hormones and the formation of proteins
Cereals, vegetables, fruit and nuts
Important to enzyme building and the metabolism of fatty acids
Brown rice, garlic, spinach
Occurs as phosphates and found in DNA & RNA. Also involved in protein and fat metabolism
Meat fish and poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds and cereals
Works with sodium, see below
Tomatoes, bananas, green leaf vegetables, nuts, citrus fruits, fish
Works with vitamin E to protect cells from damage because it makes antioxidant enzymes. It has been shown to counteract the toxicity of heavy metals (lead mercury, cadmium etc)
Found in all protein foods
Important in the formation of tendons and ligaments
Root vegetables and whole grains
Works with potassium to regulate pressure within and between cells and to control the body’s water balance
Fish, bacon, crustaceans, table salt
Over 200 enzymes rely on zinc to enable them to catalyse chemical reactions in the body
All meats, fish, wheat germ and vegetables
We hope you found this article useful. Please feel free to comment or ask us any questions below.
Moving to solid foods opens up an entirely new world of taste and texture for your baby. But how do we introduce foods and why is there some sort of “order” of what to introduce when? In this edition of our blog we’ll take a look at those two issues.
What baby food should I start with?
Obviously babies start on solid foods before they get a set a teeth to chew with! Sometime around four months is usual. But with no teeth, the choice of foods comes down not only to what can be digested easily by a delicate stomach only used to milk, but what can be easily “gummed”!
It’s for that reason that children usually start on baby rice, milled flakes of rice mixed with formula or water, that add a little texture for the first time, don’t really need any chewing and don’t present any difficulty in swallowing.
Introducing foods to baby
When you’re introducing new foods, it is often recommended to only introduce one new food at a time and to feed that food for four days, along with others already in the repetoire. That way, if your baby has a reaction, you can be pretty sure what it is a reaction to. Altough allergic reactions can occrur within an hour, it is possible for them to take a few days to appear, so this simple rule is quite useful. You might also want to introduce a new food in the morning or at lunchtime, that way if you do see a reaction it’s a lot easier to get help (rather than at night!)
The Australian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents recommend that a rice-based infant cereal is a good food to start with, as above. Make sure your infant cereal is fortified with iron, as your baby’s stores of iron begin to run low at about 6 months of age. Bellamy’s rice cereal is.
Once rice cereal is tolerated and enjoyed, vegetables and fruit can be offered. Vegetables such as potato, pumpkin, carrot and zucchini, and fruits such as stewed apple and pear, are commonly offered first. Introduce new foods one at a time and wait a couple of days before trying another new food. This will make it easier to isolate any foods that may cause a reaction.
The Royal Children’s Hospital at Westmead, NSW advises that meat and chicken can be introduced from around 7 months. Oat- and wheat-based cereals can also be introduced from 7 to 8 months, as can rice, pasta and toast.
Cooked egg can be introduced around 10 months. It is often recommended that children with a family history of allergy should delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods (such as egg, peanuts, nuts, wheat, milk and fish). However, recent studies suggest that avoiding allergenic foods does not reduce allergies, and may even be linked with an increased risk of allergies. If there is a known family history of allergy, consult your doctor before.
So, the things to start with are usually pureed fruits and vegetables. Apple, pear, babana, carrot and sweet potato are good. But note, while sweet potato is good, ordinary potato is not good. Due to their lower level of important nutrients and a high amount of starchy carbohydrates, it would be best to keep white potatoes out of baby’s diet until 9-10 months of age.
You’ll notice that these foods are quite intentionally bland and they have little texture. Note however that milk will still be playing a major part in providing nutrition.
As your child gets older the texture of food is getting more defined as we move from pureed to mashed. Texture is the key progression here, rather than flavour. If it’s not small or smooth enough for your child to swallow, don’t give it to them. Note also that there are still no spicy foods in the list at this point! Even pepper needs to be introduced later – and it’s an acquired taste like all spices.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents advise that reduced fat milk is not suitable for children below 2 years of age. For children below the age of 2 years, milk fat is an important source of energy, certain vitamins and important types of fat. The fat content of milk becomes less important as children grow older because other foods are eaten that contribute these vitamins and fats to their diet.
Yogurt can be offered when your baby is around 8 months old. Cheese can also be introduced at around 8 months, as suggested above. Choose the regular fat varieties. Cheese can be grated over vegetables or used in a cheese sauce with meat. It serves as a great nutritious snack once your baby can manage eating foods with his or her hands. Also try melting some cheese on toast or make some cheese muffins.
So, that should get you started. At the end of this article we have produced a chart that you can print off. It’s a reference from 4 months to 5 years.
The chart below shows when you can safely introduce foods to your baby’s diet. With the notable exceptions of whole milk, gluten and nuts, from a nutritional point of view most foods are appropriate for children once they have been weaned. Watch the texture!
From 4 months
From 6-7 months
From 9-10 months
From 1 year
Baby riceAppleCarrotSweet potatoParsnip
Baby porridgeFoods containing gluten e.g. pasta, wheat and oat cerealsCheeseButterYoghurt
strawberries, raspberries, blueberries
Fish deboned! (except shellfish)Well-cooked eggsBeans and pulsesSmooth peanut butter and other nuts, so long as there is no family history of nut or seed allergies
In this blog we thought we’d have a look at what’s in baby formula and how it got to be that way. It’s also interesting to see where some food products originated and how they have changed over time, partly as a result of science and partly as a result of cultural changes. Obviously, baby formula is an important one to look at because not only does it touch most families at some point but also because there is a huge variety available in Australia and it can be hard to choose one with which you’re comfortable.
At the outset let me say that this is not a story to promote baby formula over breast milk. At Bellamy’s Organic we believe that breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby, if you can and if you want to.
Throughout history mothers who could not feed their babies, or who were in a position in society where it was fashionable not to, used what were termed “wet nurses”. These were women who had had children of their own and continued to “wet nurse” the children of others. Perhaps the most famous of these was The Nurse in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. The nurse was actually Juliet’s wet nurse! The prevalence of wet nursing decreased in the 19th century and was replaced by feeding babies mixtures that were based on animal milk. Feeding itself was a bit of a problem and although bottles with hard spouts go back thousands of years, it was not until Elijah Pratt invented the rubber nipple in 1845 that things got a bit easier! The practical soft teat we know today didn’t make an appearance until the 1900s.
First, some little-known stuff about the background of baby formula! In 1867 Justus von Liebig, one of the great German chemists of his time, developed the first commercial baby formula. (He also invented the beef extract that become trademarked as “Oxo” and the yeast extract that became “Marmite”). By around 1900 complex mixture formulas recommended that parents mix cow’s milk, water, cream, and sugar or honey in specific ratios to achieve the nutritional balance believed at that time to approximate human milk, reformulated in such a way as to accommodate the believed digestive capability of the infant!
In the 1920s evaporated milk appeared. By the late 1930s, the use of evaporated milk mixtures in the United States surpassed all commercial formulas, and by 1950 over half of all babies in the United States were reared on such mixtures! But by the 1970s these had pretty much disappeared. Thankfully!
Nutritionists continued to analyse breast milk in an attempt to develop baby formulas that more closely matched it.
Since the early 1970s, industrial countries have witnessed an increase in breastfeeding newborns and infants to 6 months of age. This upswing in breastfeeding has been accompanied by the later introduction of other foods (such as cow’s milk). This has resulted in an increase in breastfeeding and the use of infant formula between the ages of 3–12 months.
Today’s Australian Standard defines an infant formula as: “a breast milk substitute for infants which satisfies the nutritional requirements of infants aged up to four to six months”.
Formulas have come a long way. A modern formula, like Bellamy’s Organic Step 1 Infant Formula, is designed to be as close to breast milk as is practical. It’s made from certified organic cows milk. Protein in milk consists of two major classes: whey and casein. The main protein in cow’s milk is casein, so cow’s milk is casein-dominant and it has a whey-to-casein ratio of 20:80. Human milk is whey-dominant, with a whey-to-casein ratio of 60:40. As result, Bellamy’s Organic Step 1 is also whey-dominant so that babies can digest it more easily. It’s blended with essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals so you can be sure you are offering your baby the best nutrition in accordance with world-class Australian Food guidelines and standards.
Specifically, we include vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B3, calcium pantothenate which is a form of vitamin B5, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D3, vitamin E (natural), folic acid, vitamin K1, d-biotin and sodium ascorbate which is an antioxidant.
These vitamins are essential nutrients for small growing bodies and help keep your child healthy. At Bellamy’s we do not add ingredients “to be different” or to create a “marketing fad”. We’re about giving your baby or toddler a pure start to life. That’s why we’re organic.
Obviously the most important thing about baby formula is that it must provide all the nutrition that a baby needs, but it also needs to be as “pure” as it can be.
Organic baby products, just like organic food in general, are a good choice when you want a natural product that hasn’t been produced with harmful chemicals. But it’s even more important that babies get an organic, pure start to life, without harmful toxins in their diets.
Organic baby products are particularly important, because there is evidence to indicate a significantly increased risk to the sound development of babies and toddlers, where they have been exposed to pesticides and other toxins in their food.
Mothers know that a healthy diet is vital for a healthy body. The vitamins and minerals found in fresh vegetables, fruit and milk build strong muscles and bones. What some mothers might not realize, however, is that some foods feed the brain. Because these foods improve brain function, concentration and memory, they promote early learning and childhood development.
Many of the foods that feed the brain are valuable because they provide a lasting source of energy. This steady source of fuel allows a child to perform better at school than foods that provide temporary bursts of energy which are followed by a crash. Other foods are composed of vitamins and minerals that do everything from forming memory stem cells to producing neurotransmitters.
Foods high in protein, whole grains and fibre provide your child’s brain with steady fuel without crashing. This is because they are digested slowly. Foods that are high in antioxidants improve memory, thinking skills and protect the brain. Foods that contain omega 3 fatty acids, like cold water ocean fish, are thought to literally build up your brain. Choline (found in eggs) and omega 3 fatty acids aid in concentration and improved brain activity.
Children’s brains are built differently depending on what they are fed when they are rapidly growing. Healthy brains are about 60 percent structural fat (not like the flabby fat found elsewhere in the body). As the brain grows, it selects building blocks from among the fatty acids available in what the child eats. The most prevalent structural fat in the brain is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), one of the omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is also a major structural component of the retina of the eye. A large number of studies have suggested that low DHA levels are associated with problems with intelligence, vision, and behavior.
What are healthy meals?
DHA is the most prevalent long chain fatty acid in human breast milk, which suggests that it’s intended for babies to consume a lot of it. Studies have shown that babies who do not have DHA in their diets have significantly less of it in their brains than those who have. My point here is, as we have said before, that growing children quite literally are what they eat. When you think about this, you begin to feel differently about “junk” food and about what we call “Mindful Eating”.
Start your child’s day off right by giving them some whole-grain oatmeal. This will provide them with lasting energy. Improve their memory by adding a glass of orange juice. This contains vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that will improve their brain function. Add an egg, which contains choline to aid her memory. For lunch, try some chicken and a glass of milk. This contains an amino acid that produces the neurotransmitters that will help them remain alert. An afternoon snack of omega 3-fortified yogurt and some apple slices will continue to build their brain power. For dinner some iron-rich foods, such as a small lean steak, grilled, or fresh spinach in a mixed salad are really good.
Foods to avoid
Feeding the brain is not just about choosing the right foods. It’s also about limiting a child’s exposure to the chemicals that are used to preserve foods, as well as artificial flavors and colors. According to the US Center of Ecoliteracy, the consumption of preservatives, artificial colors and artificial flavors is linked to poor behavior in children as young as 3. Wholesome, naturally grown foods are best for children. Certified organic foods don’t contain any chemicals or artificial fertilisers, of course.