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How many of you take a multivitamin or other kinds of supplements to ensure you are meeting your body’s needs for vitamins, minerals and other substances? My guess is a fair number – whether it is to improve bone health, fight a cold, get your dose of omega-3 fatty acids, raise your iron levels, improve your performance in your upcoming race….or any of the other countless claims you’ll find on the back of a supplement bottle.


Some of these claims are valid, supported by numerous scientific studies that have been published in reputable journals – others not so much. Will those B vitamins really give you energy, if they have no calories and you are already consuming enough from food? Are those daily mega doses of vitamin C really preventing you from getting a cold or are you just producing expensive urine? I’m not trying to knock supplements – they can be very useful (even essential) during pregnancy, for vegans and vegetarians, for calcium and iron supplementation in deficient individuals, and for all the people who do not have the time, energy or desire to think about what they are eating and whether or not they are meeting their dietary needs.

All I’m saying is that when it comes to supplements, it’s important to take what you read with a grain of salt and never think of supplementation as a substitute for certain foods (unless you do not eat that food in your diet). The goal should always be to meet your needs as much as you can through food because some things, like phytochemicals for example, can’t be bottled – well, they CAN but they won’t give you the same, or any, benefits. Obviously, if you do not eat certain things – such as animal products – you’ll probably benefit from taking supplements of certain vitamins that are predominantly found in animal sources, like some of the B vitamins. But if you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods, you can easily meet your needs through food alone.

In case you’re wondering why I’m writing about all this – I have my last midterm this afternoon for Nutrition & Health, covering protein, vitamins, water and minerals. As I mentioned at the end of last week’s post, I thought it might be helpful to do a quick rundown of the important vitamins and minerals to test your knowledge (and mine!) and perhaps introduce you to a few new pieces of information. I’m short on time so I’ll just review the vitamins today.


Vitamins are essential nutrients but differ from the macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat and protein) in that they are non-caloric and needed in very small amounts. Some vitamins are fat soluble – vitamins A, D, E and K – while others are water soluble – vitamin C and the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, B12, B6, biotin and pantothenic acid). What does this mean? Simply that some are stored in the liver and fatty tissues (fat soluble) and thus do not need to be consumed as frequently, while others (water soluble) are readily excreted by the body and thus need to be consumed on a more regular basis. This also means that toxicity is more of a concern with fat soluble than water soluble vitamins because they can build up in your tissues (particularly the liver) – but most often this only occurs from over supplementation or chronic consumption of fortified foods.

The Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Vitamin A is predominantly known for its role in vision, as severe deficiency of vitamin A results in permanent blindness. Other roles include maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, regulation of gene expression (protein synthesis), maintenance of the cornea (the transparent outer front part of the eye), skin and mucous membranes (things like our digestive and respiratory tracts), and it also supports immune function. The most active form of vitamin A in the body is retinol, which is found in animal sources such as fortified milk and other dairy, liver (the richest source, since vitamin A is stored in the liver) and eggs.

Surely at some stage you’ve been told that carrots are good for your eyesight – that’s because the precursor for vitamin A is beta-carotene, which is found in plant sources such as sweet potato, apricots, carrots, mango and other fruits and vegetables within this yellow to red to orange color. The body does not use this form as efficiently (12 micrograms of beta-carotene is the equivalent of 1 microgram of retinol), but they are still great sources of vitamin A and have been linked with reduced cancer risk, perhaps because of the phytochemicals they contain. Spinach and fortified cereals are additional sources of vitamin A.

Vitamin D plays an important role (along with calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body) in maintaining bone health during growth and throughout life. Vitamin D may also help prevent chronic disease development, but research is ongoing in this area.

Vitamin D is one of the few vitamins that we can make ourselves, with the help of UVB sunlight. Sunlight transforms a cholesterol compound in the skin (one of the reasons why it is important to have cholesterol in our body!) into a vitamin D precursor, which is then absorbed into the blood and sent to the liver and kidneys to be converted into the active form of vitamin D. However, the goal is to obtain vitamin D from food as well – good sources include fortified milk, egg yolks, enriched cereals and fish products (salmon, canned tuna and cod liver oil, for example).

Vitamin E is best known as a powerful antioxidant. It protects the body against damage by free radicals, or highly reactive oxygen molecules formed during normal cell metabolism. Good sources include vegetable oils (fresh, raw oils like canola oil are best, since vitamin E is destroyed by heat, food processing and oxidation), green leafy vegetables, seeds and nuts, wheat germ and whole grain foods (lightly processed).

Vitamin K‘s main function is to help activate proteins involved in blood clotting. It also plays a role in bone health in that it assists in the synthesis of bone proteins, which bind minerals (calcium and phosphate) to bone. Like with vitamin D, our body can create vitamin K (our intestinal bacteria or healthy gut flora does this) so we are able to meet our needs both from food and from within our own body. The only rich animal food source is liver, while the richest plant sources are dark leafy greens (1/2 cup of dark leafy greens exceeds our daily needs). Other sources include oils, fortified cereals and grains, cabbage, cauliflower, soybeans, milk and eggs.

The Water Soluble Vitamins

Vitamin C is probably most well known for its role in supposedly fighting the common cold, in addition to preventing scurvy (which I believe we all learned about in grade school??). With regards to the latter, vitamin C maintains the connective tissues in the body, playing a critical role in the formation and maintenance of collagen (which is why without vitamin C, we see symptoms including bleeding gums and loose teeth, which indicate collagen breakdown – at least I remember reading about that when learning about scurvy many many years ago…). Vitamin C supports immune system function and protects against infection, and some research has shown that it may decrease the duration and severity of symptoms, but it hasn’t actually been shown that it prevents a cold. So when you pop those vitamin C pills, there’s probably more of a placebo effect going on, as well as a weak antihistamine effect if you’re taking large doses. Lastly, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant – in particular, it protects iron from oxidation in the intestine (and helps us absorb more iron from certain foods if eaten in the same meal) and helps conserve vitamin E, another antioxidant.

The best sources of vitamin C are fresh fruits and vegetables, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers and broccoli. Since it is water soluble and breaks down easily, try to cut your fruits and veggies right before you plan to eat them. Also be sure not to overcook your vegetables or steam them directly in water – use a steamer (or even the microwave) or blanch your veggies to retain their nutritional value.

The B Vitamins are a group of vitamins that play important roles in the metabolism of energy yielding nutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins), protein synthesis and cell synthesis, among other things. These are the vitamins that often require supplementation, particularly folate for pregnant women and B12 for vegetarians/vegans.

Thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), biotin and pantothenic acid all help release energy that is stored in the macronutrients – the first three in particular play important roles in energy metabolism, and are all found in fortified grain products. The latter two are usually not of great concern in terms of deficiency, as most people meet their required needs.

Thiamin is also found in moderate amounts in most nutritious food sources, including legumes, potato, lean pork chop and sunflower seeds, for instance. Riboflavin is present in dairy products (this is why milk is packaged in cartons rather than glass – because riboflavin is destroyed by light), eggs, and some meat and vegetable products. Niacin appears in many protein foods, including dairy, eggs and poultry, and it can also be converted within the body from one of our essential amino acids. Thus, if you are consuming enough protein, you are most likely meeting your niacin needs.

Folate is crucial in the synthesis of new cells (helps create DNA) and in normal protein metabolism, while vitamin B12 helps to maintain the sheaths that surround and protect our nerve fibers. Both vitamins work as a team to make red blood cells, and depend on one another for activation. Folate is usually taken as a supplement in the form of folic acid, which is more readily absorbed than folate, by pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects. Enriched grains are a good source of folate – this is actually why our grains are enriched! The defects occur in the first days or weeks of pregnancy, so it’s important for women to ensure they are meeting their folate needs before they get pregnant. Other food sources include green leafy vegetables, avocado, legumes and seeds. B12 is only found in foods of animal origin, so if you do not consume animal products, this is where a supplement is very useful.

Lastly, vitamin B6 plays an important role in protein metabolism, and helps to make hemoglobin for red blood cells (which is what carries the oxygen in our blood) and maintain blood glucose levels, among other things. It also helps with the conversion of the essential amino acid tryptophan to niacin – another example of how the B vitamins work together and depend upon one another. Animal proteins are the best source of B6, but you can also find it in beans, legumes, and any soy-based products.

And that concludes the vitamins! I probably lost your attention by now, but if not, hopefully you learned something. 🙂 Now it’s time to go test my knowledge – last midterm of the semester!

But first – a big shout out to all the Boston marathoners out there, including Kristy (Run the Long Road). Good luck with the heat today – stay safe and have an awesome race everyone!

As much as I’m bummed not to be running Boston today, I guess it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t make the cut during registration. I’ve never run in this type of heat! Then again, I’d take Boston in any weather! 🙂 Really hoping I get lucky in Chicago and get a nice cool day!

Happy Passover and Easter! Looks like a gorgeous day out there – perfect for a run, bike ride or even just a nice walk. I plan to do the latter with a friend this afternoon as a study break, since I ran in Central Park yesterday (6.75M) and am still trying to keep my mileage low this week. It’ll be nice to get some exercise – I don’t know about you, but I had an amazing, VERY indulgent Thanksgiving style dinner last night and need to burn some of it off!

This past week has been incredibly intense, with my second physiology midterm on Thursday and other work I needed to catch up on, so I’m grateful I was able to take some time “off” this weekend to do normal things like food shopping, emails, laundry and cleaning my apartment, as well as socializing with other students in my department, relaxing in front of the TV and celebrating Passover with my relatives. I even made it to the gym (once)! After so many weeks of looking like a zombie in sweats or exercise gear, it felt good to put on real (clean!) clothes and make myself look presentable. I obviously had to take a photo before I went to Passover dinner as proof that I do actually have long hair and look like a normal person on occasion! 🙂

My latest update on the coaching front is that I finally got around to writing my bio for Physical Equilibrium, to post on their website now that I am part of their team. I had fun writing it – it was a great way to procrastinate studying for physio – and think it came out quite well. Their marketing guy made a few edits, including adding links to certain things – I find it hilarious that he linked my Master’s degree in “Oboe Performance” to the wikipedia entry for an oboe. Fair enough – if I had a nickel for every time someone asked what an oboe is…Here’s the link to my bio – click on Claire at the bottom of the list of trainers and coaches.

In my Food Science lab this past week, we focused on soups, stocks and sauces. I didn’t get around to doing the sauces, which is unfortunate since I have never actually made a sauce, but I did have a great time with the soups. Soups are great because they are filling, relatively cheap, you can make a huge batch and freeze portions for later, and generally speaking, they’re easy to make and quite healthy. This class reminded me that I really need to start making soups more regularly!

Each group was tasked with making an assigned recipe in our cooking lab manual (ours was carrot dill), and then with improvising a soup from a big box of ingredients. At the end, after our usual presentation and tasting, we would choose a winner from the improvised soups. It was great practice for our final exam in early May, which essentially involves our teacher handing each of us a pile of ingredients and asking us to improvise a meal. Nothing but the ingredients, your knife and other kitchen tools are allowed. I’m actually bit nervous…!

Anyway, it was a warm day and I saw a bunch of tomatoes, so I immediately thought – gazpacho! It was a bit of a cop out compared to some of the more complicated vegetable soups that other groups created – gazpacho isn’t that hard to make and obviously involves zero cooking – but I am a huge fan of gazpacho and it gave me an opportunity to practice my knife skills, since I like my gazpacho nice and chunky. That’s why it kind of looks like a bowl of salsa, but it was delicious and very colorful. We didn’t win (a carrot apple soup did – it was pretty spectacular) but we were highly ranked, and our carrot dill soup was well received too.


In case you’re interested, here is a slightly amended recipe for the carrot dill soup. It’s pretty simple and quite healthy – we used water as the base of the soup because we didn’t have any stock handy, and it tasted fine, but I definitely would use vegetable or chicken stock instead to give it more depth of flavor. If you’re not a huge fan of dill, you can also try using fresh ginger.

As for the gazpacho, we used around 6-8 tomatoes, 4 garlic cloves, red and green pepper (we didn’t have any cucumber), one carrot, one red onion, mint, cilantro, lime, olive oil, salt and pepper, and apple as garnish. We took most of the tomatoes and threw them into the food processor with two raw garlic cloves (the other two we chopped and sauteed in olive oil, and later put back into the food processor). The remaining tomato we chopped and set aside to add into the serving bowl, along with the carrot and bell peppers (which I finely diced), to add texture. We chopped up some fresh mint and cilantro, and set aside with the other veg. We chopped the red onions, placed them in a separate bowl and submerged them in red wine vinegar for about 15 minutes – this is a trick I learned from our previous week’s feta quinoa salad recipe. The vinegar takes away the bitterness of the onion and makes them quite tangy – normally I hate raw onion but prepared this way, I love it! They turn a nice pink color too. Once the onion was ready, we drained most of the vinegar and added half of the onion to the food processor (being careful not to over-process). We emptied the contents of the food processor into a large bowl, adding the other half of the onions, all the other vegetables, juice of one lime, the fresh herbs, some olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. We chilled it in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then finished it off with a bit more olive oil and diced apple garnish on top. Delicious and colorful!

In my last two Nutrition & Health lectures, we have been discussing vitamins and minerals. Our assignment for this week was to record what we eat for two days and do a very detailed analysis of our food intake to see if we are meeting all of our DRIs (daily recommended intakes). It has been a very time consuming but eye opening exercise – for instance, when I calculated the average intakes for both days, I discovered that I only consumed 53% of my DRI for Vitamin E, and 80% of my DRI for iron. Everything else was at least 100%, in some cases even 400%, purely from food (I usually do not take supplements). I certainly don’t think I am deficient – obviously the foods I eat vary from day to day, and thus my intake of vitamins and minerals vary – but it was really interesting to calculate the percentages.

I think many of you could benefit from doing something similar – perhaps not as in depth, but how many of you actually know how much of each vitamin and mineral you should be consuming, and how much you actually are consuming? Are you familiar with the best FOOD sources (since we always emphasize getting nutrients from food, not supplements) for various vitamins and minerals? I’m guessing the answer is no for at least some on the list. So, stay tuned for my next post – Vitamins & Minerals 101. So many people pop pills rather than focusing on real food – and in the process, can be doing more harm than good.

That’s all for today. Time to head to the library and dive back into the books!

Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

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