Vitamins allow your body to grow and develop. They also play important roles in bodily functions such as metabolism, immunity, and digestion. There are 13 essential vitamins, including vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, and B vitamins, such as riboflavin and folate. Eating a balanced diet is the best way to meet your vitamin needs. You may require dietary supplements if you can’t meet your needs through food alone. Seek guidance from your doctor or dietitian before taking supplements.
Vitamins are vital for good health but are needed in much smaller amounts than macro-nutrients, like carbs and fats. They’re important for many daily bodily functions, such as cell reproduction and growth, but most importantly for the energy processing in cells.
Key points about vitamins
- Many people can meet their daily vitamin needs by eating a range of food from the 4 main food groups.
- That means most people do not need to take supplements.
- Vitamin B12 is contained only in foods of animal origin, which means vegans and vegetarians must watch out for low B12 levels.
Where do vitamins come from?
Food provides most vitamins, so they are classed as ‘essential’. Vitamins are team players they help other nutrients work better, eg, vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium, vitamin C is needed to absorb iron, and B vitamins work together in cells.
Because only vitamins A, E, and B12 are stored to any significant extent in your body, a regular intake of most vitamins is important. You can easily meet your daily vitamin needs by eating a range of food from the 4 main food groups:
- vegetables and fruits
- grain foods
- milk and milk products
A group of foods consisting of legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry, and/or red meat with the fat removed.
Vitamins are divided into 2 groups.
- Fat-soluble vitamins
- Water-soluble vitamins
Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. These can be stored in your fat cells for later breakdown and used when needed. For this reason, these vitamins can build up to toxic levels if you eat them in larger amounts than your body needs. In extreme cases, this can cause death. This means you should only supplement with these vitamins on the advice of your healthcare provider.
Vitamin A has many important functions in your body:
- It strengthens your immune system.
- It’s essential for your vision.
- It supports reproductive functions.
- Vitamin A promotes cell growth and the maintenance of your organs.
Sources of Vitamin A
There are two types of vitamin A. One comes from animal products, and the other from plant products. Vitamin A from plants requires a bit more work from your body, so you need to eat plenty of veggies to get enough vitamin A.
Major sources of vitamin A include
- Some fish
- Fortified grains
You need vitamin D for strong bones, muscles, and overall health. You can get it from sunlight and what you eat. If you don’t get enough of it, you may get aches, cramps, and muscle pain, and your bones may become soft and break more easily.
About 5% of adults in deficient in vitamin D. A further 27% are below the recommended blood level of vitamin D. People with darker skin, who spend less time outside, or who have health conditions that make it hard to absorb nutrients are more at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
It is a collection of eight fat-soluble compounds, four of which are tocotrienols and tocopherols. Nerve issues can result from vitamin E deficiency, which is uncommon and typically results from an underlying difficulty digesting dietary fat rather than from a vitamin E-deficient diet.
Vitamin E works together with
- the mineral selenium
- a wide variety of plant foods
Phylloquinone and menaquinone are needed to make prothrombin, which is necessary for blood clotting. Vitamin A works together to keep teeth and bones healthy.
It refers to structurally similar, fat-soluble vitamers found in foods and marketed as dietary supplements. The human body requires vitamin K for post-synthesis modification of certain proteins required for blood coagulation or for controlling calcium binding in bones and other tissues.
Vitamin K can be obtained from
- our own gut bacteria
- eating wholegrain cereals
- leafy green veggies
- Vege oils
- green tea
- fortified milk such as Anlene
Its supplements (and foods fortified with vitamin K) can be dangerous for people taking blood thinning agents, like warfarin or aspirin, which will not work as effectively.
The water-soluble vitamins include Vitamin C and B complex (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folate, and cobalamin).
Vitamins B and C are found in many foods, especially vegetables and fruits, dairy, meat, legumes, peas, liver, eggs, and fortified grains and cereals. In addition to serving as cofactors in biochemical reactions, the vitamin B complex is vital for normal body growth and development, healthy skin, the proper function of nerves and the heart, and red blood cell formation. The lack of water-soluble vitamins is rare in North America, though it can present in alcohol use disorder, malabsorption syndromes, strict veganism, and malnourished states.
The important water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and the collection of B vitamins, including:
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B4 (pantothenic acid)
- B6 (pyridoxine)
- B7 (biotin)
- B9 (folic acid or folate)
- B12 (cobalamin)
There’s a reason vitamin C is the go-to vitamin when you get sick. It plays an important role in your body.
Some of the functions include
- It’s an antioxidant that protects your cells from damage.
- It makes collagen, a powerful protein that helps wounds heal by providing the structure for your muscles, bones, and skin.
- It helps your body absorb iron from the fruits and veggies you eat.
- It supports your immune system to protect you from disease.
The best foods to eat are
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
Each B vitamin plays a small role in the larger scheme of all the B vitamins. As a group, B vitamins help fuel your body. They create the energy your body needs to get through the day.
One way the B vitamins do this is by promoting the formation of red blood cells. This helps deliver oxygen around your body and ensures every part is working.
Foods high in B vitamins include
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens