Our country is diverse in geographical and climatic conditions. So are the culture, food and eating habits. The availability of vegetables and other food stuff to suit the people living in a particular area are taken into account, in keeping with the need of the climatic conditions of that place. India is rich in its tradition and eating habits that suit each and every season providing a sensible balanced diet.
Human body consists of tissues and cells. These are built by the nutritional food elements found in the diet we consume. When these are absent in our diet, the body succumbs to diseases.
Adequate nutrition in the diet determines the ability of the body to resist the disease producing germs. Some germs destroy body tissues and others produce toxins. The toxins circulate in the blood and damage the organs. When these germs multiply, the toxins produced as a result are capable of damaging the nerves, heart and kidneys. Control of these germs is possible only if a high level of health is maintained.
Food is necessary to nourish our body and give energy for its activities. Both excess and inadequate quantities of food are harmful and result in several diseases. Hence a balanced diet consisting of the various food constituents needed for the development of the body is essential to maintain good health.
In conditions where there is a shortage in certain food constituents deficiency diseases are caused. These essential constituents are mostly vitamins, minerals and ever so often proteins, whose deficiency causes diseases.
If, on the other hand, these are consumed in excess, then what is known as nutritional disorders occur. For instance, large quantities of both vitamin A and Vitamin D are harmful. Vitamin D, if consumed in large quantities, upsets calcium metabolism.
Here we shall discuss some nutritional disorders and deficiency diseases and see how a balanced diet can help overcome such diseases.
Vitamins are the constituents of living tissues. Maintenance of health depends on the action of vitamins, even if they are found only in small quantities in our body.
No contribution towards energy is made by vitamins, but they facilitate the utilization of protein, fats, carbohydrates and minerals from food. Each vitamin plays a specific role in nutrition. One vitamin cannot replace the other, although its function may be interfered by the absence of the other. Vitamins aid the tissues in resisting infection. They influence the production of hormones and other secretions. It is also true that vitamins are capable and are of great help in preventing stress and the ill-effects of environmental pollution at times.
The result of the deficiency of vitamin is the same whatever be the degree of deprivation. If the deprivation is greater, the onset of symptoms is raid due to it. The lesser the deprivation, the slower the onset of symptoms.
Our daily intake of food includes substantial amounts of carbohydrates and fats. These two require vitamins to convert them in to energy. Vitamins of all groups, i.e. from A to K, are organic compounds that work as a team in regulating the metabolism (chemical changes) in our body. In a condition when one or more of these vitamins are found deficient, there is an interruption in the normal functioning of the internal organs of the body, resulting in deficiency diseases.
Supplementing vitamins in the form of pills or injections, is necessary in serious deficiencies for a quick recovery. But consumption of these synthetic vitamins, if prolonged for a reasonably long period, causes other problems. So it is advisable to cut short the pill treatment and resort to a balanced diet consisting of fresh and natural food even during serious illness.
We will not make this a serious and detailed study of vitamins but give a brief account of the most common deficiencies and the programme of handling them to prevent deficiencies.
Vitamin A, B, C and D
The most important and common vitamins we require are Vitamin A, B(of all groups from B1-B12 ) Vitamin C and D. Vitamin A,C and D are complementary in the process of absorption. For instance vitamin A and C are found in fruits and vegetables in the natural form. Fruits are the best source for supply of plenty of vitamin C. Yellow and dark green vegetables contain Vitamin A aplenty. When cooked, vitamin C is completely destroyed. Hence fruits are best taken raw for the vitamin C in them to get assimilated totally in our system. Vitamin C is essential for absorption of B12.
All vegetables cannot be taken raw. But it is good to know that vitamin A in vegetable is not destroyed by cooking and it is also true that a mild cooking releases a large amount of vitamin A. Vegetables contain an agent called Carotene, which gets converted into vitamin A in our body. Hence, a sensible cooking and eating habit will prevent any deficiency.
The importance of diet starts even before the birth of a child. An expectant mother must follow a diet which provides essential nutrients that are adequate for two individuals. Even modern physicians recommend avoiding highly seasoned and processed food and sweetened drinks during pregnancy and instead advise fresh natural food. The need for vitamins is great during pregnancy. There are seven food groups which, in proper balance, help the pregnant mother to deliver a very normal and healthy child having no deficiencies. They are protein food, whole grain, leafy green vegetables and yellow vegetables, fruits (citrus and others), dairy products and moderate oils and fats.
Vitamin A deficiencies can be termed mostly as childhood disorders. Children born to undernourished mothers, especially in poor section of the community, fall prey to this disease. But even children of well-to-do families are no exceptions. Sometimes, it continues into adulthood also.
A tolerant or mild deficiency of vitamin A has a tendency towards dryness of the skin, the skin becoming rough day by day. Extreme dryness of the skin sometimes results in peeling of the skin even in the palms.
When the deficiency is severe, the tissue of the body get damaged rendering one susceptible to severe infections of the mouth, respiratory organs, genitor-urinary tract and above all the most important sensory organ eyes. Vitamin A deficiency results in vision disorders such as night blindness and myopia[short sight]too. When the eyes are severely infected, a serious condition called Xerophthalmia (Xero denotes dryness) occurs, leading to total blindness. Discomforts like dryness, itching and inflammation manifest in the initial stages of this deficiency.
Vitamin A is found in animal products. But unless it is consumed with fat, proper absorption is not possible. This may result in toxicity. Whereas vitamin A, found in vegetables, is non-toxic and easily assimilated.
Where do we get vitamin A from: It is found in fresh green leafy vegetables, carrots, papaya, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, spinach, apricot, parsley, beans, cod liver oil, sea fish, milk and other dairy products, especially butter. Butter obtained from cow’s milk contains more of vitamin A and hence its yellow colour.
In daily diet, at least 50 to 100 grams of fresh green vegetables must be included. When raw green vegetables are not acceptable to one’s digestive system, the juice of carrot and spinach can be given. Regular intake of milk should be encouraged. One’s daily menu should comprise milk, butter, vegetables and fruits for providing sufficient vitamin A. Children should be encouraged to eat butter instead of ghee because Vitamin A is destroyed when butter is converted to ghee.
Vitamin D deficiency is caused in children between six to twenty months of age. A common disease caused
Vitamin D deficiency is caused in children between six to twenty months of age. A common disease caused by vitamin D deficiency is rickets-a type of skeletal deformity. Vitamin D is essential in building calcium and phosphorus which are the chief elements in the framework of the body. In this disease, the joints and bones become enlarged, abdomen protrudes, the level of phosphorus and calcium goes below normal in the blood and knock-knees, weak muscles, bow legs and lack of development at the end of long bones are seen. Delayed dentition, ridging of the teeth are other common symptoms. In adults, vitamin D deficiency causes gout and arthritis. It is very common during winter, especially when there is insufficient sunlight.
The source of vitamin D: Milk and eggyolk are good sources of vitamin D. The other sources are cabbage, apples, carrot, tomatoes, parsley and cod liver oil. The main source of vitamin D is obtained from sunlight.
Children suffering from vitamin D deficiency should be exposed to sun after massage with cod liver oil. Cod liver oil is also helpful in adults suffering from gout and arthritis caused by vitamin D deficiency. It is used as eye drops too. However, large doses of vitamin D causes nausea, stomach disorders such as diarrhea or constipation. A regular but balanced intake of vitamin A and D will help prevent disorders caused by their deficiency. Cod liver oil is helpful in disorders caused by their deficiency. Cod liver oil is helpful in disorders caused by the deficiency of both these vitamins.
Vitamin E & K
Some vitamins, like vitamin E and K, do not produce any serious illness on their own. There are disorders which cause these deficiencies instead. These vitamins normally do not become deficient because they are found in required quantity in the daily food that we take.
Vitamin E especially for women: The function of vitamin E is to aid the circulatory system of the blood. Vitamin E helps increase fertility, especially in women and prolongs aging. Though this deficiency does not produce disorders, it is needed in an increased dose when fat absorption is impaired. A severe deficiency is capable of causing women’s ailments, like irregular menses and other uterine abnormalities, abortion, etc. Infertility in both sexes, occasional high blood pressure, bleeding of nose gums, throat, kidney, bladder and bowels are other symptoms. However, unless the conditions are very serious, no additional dose of vitamin E is required if a balanced diet is taken.
Vitamin E is found in sprouted grains, especially wheat, vegetable oils, fruits, particularly apples, fresh vegetables like cabbage, carrot, parsley, peanut and tomato. A regular diet consisting of the above is more than sufficient to meet the need of vitamin E.
Another group, vitamin K, also does not produce any serious illness normally. The deficiency of this vitamin is uncommon, because it is found in abundance in most green leafy vegetables. It is needed in preventing haemorrhage and is useful in the clotting of blood. It requires bile for proper absorption though. If bile salts are obstructed from entering the intestines, vitamin K deficiency is caused.
Antibiotics, the causes for destruction: If oral antibiotics are used to correct the liver or intestines, the bacteria in the intestine is destroyed. It is this bacteria which synthesizes the natural vitamin K in our food. Destruction of this bacteria leads to deficiency of this vitamin within a very short period.
Deficiency can be found in some new-born infants and persons suffering from prolonged attack of jaundice, whose intestinal absorption of digested food is poor. To prevent this deficiency in an infant, the mother’s diet should contain plenty of vitamin K. If it is inadequate, vitamin K injections are normally given to the mother during the last two months of pregnancy.
There are other factors that cause vitamin K deficiency too. When gall stones obstruct the bile duct, bile salts cannot get into the intestine leading to poor absorption. And in prolonged diarrhea, changes in the intestinal contents decrease the amount of absorption.
Where is it derived from? The sources of vitamin K are sprouts, cauliflower, strawberries, potatoes, cabbage and husk of grains. It would be wise to include all these regularly in one’s daily meals.
Craving for sour things exists right from one’s childhood. Children relish raw tomatoes, gooseberries (anwla) and guavas, which are good sources of vitamin C. The need for this vitamin is felt more during winter because of its valuable contribution in helping fight respiratory and skin infections that are common during this season.
Vitamin C combats infections: The role of vitamin C is to help combat all respiratory diseases, like tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, pneumonia, malaria and common cold. It is also needed for the absorption of iron and , therefore, required in the treatment of anemia. It prevents viral and bacterial infections and strengthens weak blood vessels. The other important functions of this vitamin include healing of wounds and scars, aiding in protein metabolism and calcification of bones and teeth.
When this vitamin is deficient, a variety of diseases invade the human system inviting pyorrhea (pus formation in the sockets of the teeth and discharge of pus) and other infectious diseases.
When there is severe deficiency a serious disease named scurvy occurs. The symptoms of this disease are very deceptive and apt to confuse even experienced physicians at times. A severe type of anemia develops where in gums become inflamed and spongy and start bleeding. Inflammation of legs and thighs, weakening of muscles and bones, loosening of teeth, haemorrhage about the joints and beneath the skin and softening of the bones also occur. The haemorrhage causes severe pain akin to that of arthritis or rheumatism. There is also disproportionate weight loss.
Large doses of vitamin C through natural sources will improve the condition and correct this disorder in a short time. Smokers need considerably more vitamin C than usual to prevent deficiency. With extra vitamin C, in its natural form, smoking also gets reduced and finally stops altogether.
In proportion to the need or deficiency of the nutrients of the body, the demand for nutrition increases. This is a very natural phenomenon and if we fail to understand and ignore such demands we invite trouble
Where to find vitamin C?: Vitamin C is found in beans, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, tomatoes, spinach, lemons, turnips with leaves, gooseberry (richest source of vitamin C), guavas, orange, black currants, bananas, melons and strawberries. Gooseberries and guavas meet half the need of vitamin C between them.
But almost all sources of vitamin C including gooseberry, if taken fresh in its natural form (i.e. raw) will be more beneficial than any other vitamin C supplement. Vitamin C gets destroyed on cooking except in gooseberries.
What is this B Complex? It consists of several vitamins of which the most essential are B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12. Each one of these vitamins is connected with a specific nutritional problem.
We Shall not deal in detail about the chemical names of these, such as B1-thiamine, and B2- riboflavin, etc., but briefly see what their functions are, where their source is and what their deficiency can do to our body.
B1 helps the absorption of carbohydrates and is stored in the liver, heart, kidney and muscles. A severe deficiency of B1 results in degeneration of nerve trunks, giving rise to weakness in legs, giddiness and loss of appetite, wasting muscles and in severe cases even paralysis. This disorder is called Beri Beri which is the result of consuming polished rice in large quantities and too much refined starchy and sugary food. This deficiency sometimes causes heart trouble also.
The source of B1 is from unpolished rice, wheat, peanut with husk, sprouted wheat, gingelly seeds (til), fenugreek (methi), green leaf vegetables, yeast, potatoes, milk and other dairy products.
B2 helps in protein, carbohydrates and fat metabolism. B2 deficiency gives rise to skin diseases, ulcer of mouth and lips, dryness and cracking of the lips and its corners, nostrils, eye disorders, loss of weight and an unnatural red colour of the tongue. It is mostly found in milk, curd, buttermilk, cheese, eggs, fresh green vegetables, wheat and millet (bajra).
B3 also helps in digestive metabolism, severe deficiency of which causes a serious condition named pellagra. Symptoms of this are diarrhea, smooth red tongue, mental confusion, dizziness, skin eruptions and blisters. With a correct diet, the cure is usually complete. It is found in lemon, fully sprouted grains, dry fruits, potatoes, green vegetables, soyabean, beans, peas and peanuts.
B6 deficiencies occur in infants and very young children who are fed with formulas where milk or cereal is over processed resulting in the depletion of the vitamin. Children get attacks of convulsion due to this. Cow’s milk and breast milk contain this vitamin in adequate quantity. In grown-ups this deficiency causes loss of appetite, anemia and insomnia. B6 is found in sprouted grains(especially wheat), soyabean and milk products.
B12 is necessary to form and mature the red blood cells. It is also required for the maintenance of nervous tissues. It performs several metabolic functions and its deficiency causes severe anemia resulting in degeneration of the nervous system and the spine.
B12 is found mostly in dairy products, and sprouted grains. The whole range of B complex Vitamin function together in our body and taking only one B vitamin will create a deficiency in other B vitamins. All these are readily available in our daily diet and a balanced diet will suffice to prevent any deficiency.
Only when there is severe deficiency and when special occasions and reasons warrant, extra doses of these vitamins are recommended and that too not for prolonged duration.
Vitamin C and B complex are water soluble and cannot be stored much in our body. Increased elimination of water by kidneys will flush vitamins and minerals from our body. So a daily supply is necessary in our food. Synthetic B Complex taken moderately when additional dose is indicated, will suffice because human body will simply excrete the unused vitamin, turning the urine to bright yellow colour. This sometimes creates confusion and fear of having contracted some disease connected with urinary organs.
The human body resembles a factory where the function of manufacturing chemicals, minerals, vitamins and enzymes is being carried out tirelessly. Next to vitamins, mineral salts are capable of aiding in maintenance of perfect health and preventing disorders.
Mineral salts are more than 15 in number but the most commonly understood four minerals and problems arising out of their deficiencies are of importance. They are Calcium, Iron, Phosphorus and Potassium.
Minerals help maintain the alkaline level in the body to balance the reaction of acidic food we consume. When the intake of acidic food exceeds limit, a deficiency in these minerals results in acidity giving rise to various disorders.
A person’s intake of minerals generally exceeds the need of the body. So unlike vitamin supplements, mineral supplements are necessary only in exceptional circumstances. Some of these salts are present in relatively large quantities, while only traces of others are found, but which still is more than adequate.
Calcium and iron
Bones are the storehouses of calcium. A small amount of calcium is also found in the blood of normal functions of coagulation of blood and movements of the muscles. When the blood level falls below normal, calcium is withdrawn from the bones. Calcium requires vitamin D for absorption. Its need is mostly during childhood for proper growth. Pregnant women need extra calcium to aid the development of bones in the unborn child.
Calcium deficiency is common among children. It results in the under-development of the bones in children and rigidity of joints and bone pains in adults. Calcium is found in milk, wheat, lime, cabbage, cottage cheese (paneer). Etc.
Iron is essential for haemoglobin in red cells. However it is needed only in very small amounts as the body recycles it. Iron deficiency occurs only during abnormal conditions of blood loss, severe anemia, hook worm infection and during child bearing years in women. Iron is obtained in spinach, eggyolk, lettuce, strawberries, pears, black berries, black currants, raisins (kishmish), apple, sprouted grains, apricots and peaches.
Next to calcium, phosphorus is essential for bones and teeth. Its deficiency causes the same disorders as the deficiency of calcium and vitamin D, that is , under –development of bones and teeth. It is found in Bengal gram (chana), peas, soyabean etc.
Potassium aids all other mineral salts in the function of chemical activities. It maintains the fluid balance and helps in normal functioning of the muscles and nerves. It is very essential for red cells. Anemia, diabetic acidity, intake of too many drugs, kidney disorders and adrenal tumor are some of the conditions which cause potassium deficiency.
It is found in all sprouted grains, fruits and vegetables, such as gourds (especially louki and karela), potatoes, tomatoes etc.
In conclusion, we know now that green leafy vegetables contain vitamins A,B,C,E and K, iron, iodine and other valuable minerals.
If a person includes raw and fresh vegetables and fruits regularly in his diet, deficiency of any type will not occur because the high contents of acids that tasty food create requires alkaline matter to balance. And when fresh fruits and vegetables are excluded from the diet, all sorts of deficiencies set in.
Fruits, particularly citrus, are rich in vitamin C and are instant sources of energy. Wholemeal grains contain Vitamin B, E and K. Pulses, such as peas, soyabeans, etc., provide potassium, vitamin B, iron and other minerals. All these must be included moderately in our daily meals to avoid any deficiency.