Want a better body? Pay attention to the vitamins in the foods you eat. Along with vitamins, a good diet needs carbohydrates, fats, minerals, protein and water. Eating a variety of foods helps insure we get the necessary nutrients.

Want a better body? Pay attention to the vitamins in the foods you eat.

“Vitamins produce energy and support the immune system to fight off germs and bacteria. It’s very important to get adequate amounts in our bodies to be healthy,” said Christina Rollins, a registered dietitian with Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill.

Along with vitamins, a good diet needs carbohydrates, fats, minerals, protein and water. Eating a variety of foods helps insure we get the necessary nutrients.

Rollins recommends obtaining vitamins via foods rather than supplements.

“Vitamin pills aren’t necessarily regulated. And they’re missing the phytonutrients in foods that help fight disease. By taking a pill, you’re missing some of the good stuff phytonutrients provide,” Rollins said.

Phytonutrients are organic components of plants that promote health, such as the red, orange and yellow pigments in fruits and vegetables called carotenoids.

Here are vitamins to look for:

-- Vitamin A: An important developmental building block, vitamin A plays a key role in vision, white blood cell production, tissue maintenance and wound healing. Good food sources include green leafy vegetables and orange vegetables, such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and squash, as well as yellow fruits such as peaches and cantaloupe.

-- Vitamin B-6: This is needed to metabolize amino acids and glycogen. It also contributes to a normal nervous system, hormone and red blood cell function. It’s fairly abundant in the diet and can be found in foods such as meat, poultry, bananas, fish, fortified cereal grains and cooked spinach.

-- Vitamin B-12: Red blood cell formation and healthy nervous system function is handled by B-12. It also helps maintain healthy red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to the body and support energy levels. Vegetarians need to be sure they get enough B-12 because this vitamin is found mainly in animal products like chicken, beef, seafood, milk and eggs.

-- Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin): A basic building block for normal growth and development, B-2 is needed for energy production and also supports antioxidant activity throughout the body. It is found in a variety of foods, such as fortified cereals, milk, eggs, cooked salmon, beef, spinach and broccoli.

-- Vitamin C: As the body’s main water-soluble antioxidant, vitamin C has been found to fight against free radicals (organic molecules responsible for aging, tissue damage and possibly some diseases). It is a building block for collagen (connective tissue), supports healthy immune function, and it is essential for synthesizing compounds involved in the energy-producing pathways of the body. Citrus fruits and juices are good sources.

-- Vitamin D: It plays a key role in the proper absorption of calcium for strong bones and teeth, and some research suggests vitamin D may support colon, breast, prostate, ovarian, heart and colorectal health. It’s needed to help muscles move, for healthy nerve function and for a healthy immune system. In addition to fortified foods, such as yogurt, cereals, milk and orange juice, exposure to sunlight provides vitamin D.

-- Vitamin E: This is a fat-soluble nutrient that protects the heart and helps guard body tissues from free radical attack. It’s found in nuts and vegetable oils.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says, generally, we get too many calories from solid fats, added sugars and refined grains. These replace nutrient-dense foods and beverages and make it difficult for us to get the vitamins and nutrients our bodies need.

“A healthy, balanced diet is rich in fruits and vegetables with a variety of colors,” Rollins said. “Color indicates different kinds of vitamins. Fill up half your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with grains and a quarter with protein.”

Recipes are from “Eating Well in Season” by Jessie Price (2009, The Countryman Press).

Bold Winter Greens Salad

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

3 to 4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

12 cups chopped mixed bitter salad greens, such as chicory, radicchio and escarole

3 large hard-cooked eggs

Place garlic in large salad bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice and vinegar; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in anchovies to taste. Whisk in oil in a slow steady stream until well combined.

Add salad greens; toss. Shred 3 egg whites and 1 egg yolk through the large holes of a box grater (reserve remaining yolks for another use or discard). Sprinkle salad with the grated egg.

Makes 10 servings, about 1 ¼ cups each.

Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash

3 acorn squash (3/4 to 1 pound each)

5 ounces bulk turkey sausage

1 small onion, chopped

½ medium red bell pepper, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed

½ teaspoon salt

Several dashes hot red pepper sauce, to taste

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

Cut squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and discard seeds. Place squash cut-side down on prepared baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a large skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in garlic, chili powder and cumin; cook 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, beans, salt and hot sauce, scraping up any browned bits. Cover, reduce, heat and simmer until tomatoes are broken down, 10 to 12 minutes.

When the squash are tender, reduce oven temperature to 325. Fill squash halves with turkey mixture. Top with cheese. Place on baking sheet and bake until filling is heated through and cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Kathryn Rem can be reached at kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.