Vitamin Health for Seniors
What is vitamin A? How many vitamins do we need? What role do vitamins play in our body? If you can answer even one of these questions, you have a dramatically better grasp of vitamin health than the vast majority of the population!
For millennia we have consumed these micronutrients (i.e. required in only small quantities) without noticing that we were doing so. Centuries before vitamin C was identified, captains were aware that certain fresh fruits and vegetables could stave off scurvy. As late as the mid-20th century, the mechanism by which this was achieved was unknown. In the deep Antarctic night which shrouded the Discovery expedition, Edward Wilson saved the lives of Scott and Shackleton by identifying that, for some inexplicable reason, fresh seal meat was equally effective.
Our understanding of vitamins is now so expansive that a nutritionist will tell you that each of this article’s leading questions has the same answer: ‘it depends.’ There are at least seven different types of compound which could be described as ‘vitamin A’ before we even begin to investigate how much variation there might be within those subgroups. ‘Vitamin B’ seems even more complicated, representing a group of at least nine substantially different molecules which all have different functions within the body.
The question of what role vitamins actually play, then, might be a more illuminating way to approach the matter. This is, after all, how we discovered vitamins in the first place. Vitamin A even seems fairly straightforward, with subtypes including retinol, retinal and retinoic acid. These fairly explicit names conjure memories of the radar myth and perhaps the word ‘carotene’, reminding us that vitamin A is (admittedly in a fairly mysterious way) good for our eyesight. Unfortunately for the enquiring mind in search of answers, only retinal actually seems to fit the bill, being involved with the production of light-sensitive molecules required for vision. Retinol and retinoic acid, which can be synthesised from retinal, are more intimately associated with embryo development, stem-cells and skin repair. The matter isn’t exactly clarified by the number of papers which use the three terms interchangeably.
So perhaps the best approach is to take another step toward simplicity and the early days of vitamin research. The earlier definitions, which abounded before the discovery of individual vitamins, might be more helpful. These definitions bore down on the idea that micronutrients are those elements of food, found only in certain sources, which are collectively necessary for our bodies to function normally. This is certainly a more helpful way to look at the situation than trying to extricate and clarify the purpose of individual vitamins.
While this might seem a little reductive, in truth it’s a more holistic approach. The reason that so many ‘A’ vitamins, for example, are so vaguely differentiated in the research material is that they are so intimately and complexly interconnected. Most foodstuffs contain multiple vitamins which function together as groups, or rely upon organs and systems supported by other vitamins for their synthesis or delivery. What is needed for good vitamin health is a range of fresh, well-prepared foodstuffs composed with attention to the vitamin ratios our body works around. Supplements are really designed to treat malnutrition, not to maintain a healthy vitamin balance long-term.
Across our homes, we provide a carefully-planned and meticulously implemented nutrition programme designed to ensure that all of our residents find it easy to maintain excellent vitamin health. High quality, fresh, in-season ingredients meet sympathetic and professional cooking methods to produce healthy and enticing dishes which provide good, comprehensive nutrition and hydration. There’s no substitute for real expertise when it comes to cooking high-quality food, and the extensive input of MasterChef 2016 winner Jane Devonshire in developing our menus has been invaluable in ensuring that our mealtime offerings are as delicious as they are nutritionally valuable. Careful attention is paid to individual dietary requirements, to ensure that all our resident’s tastes and needs are met.
No matter how complicated or expansive the field of vitamin research may be, the matter of maintaining vitamin health remains relatively straightforward: good, fresh ingredients selected with care, cooked with skill and plated in perfect proportion will always be the key to good nutrition.
By Oscar Hawes, Signature Content Contributor