Thanks to the health-conscious culture, we are now better informed about vitamins and minerals as essential nutrients our bodies need. Do you know what each vitamin does? And which vitamins do you need the most for your body type?
But first, what exactly are vitamins?
Vitamins are essential organic compounds that are needed in small quantities to sustain life. There are 13 known vitamin types, and a deficiency in any of them could lead to your body functioning improperly, causing ailments and other complications.
Although vitamins may also be derived from supplements, they are best sourced from food. Because the human body either does not produce sufficiently or sometimes does not produce any at all.
Some foods are higher in antioxidants than others. Antioxidants are found in certain foods and may prevent some of the damage caused by free radicals by neutralizing them. These include the nutrient antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and E, and the minerals copper, zinc, and selenium.
For those of us who aren’t experts in diets and nutrition, the letters and numbers that explain the strength and benefits of vitamins may seem daunting.
Here’s an exhaustive list of what each letter denotes and the food source of the respective vitamins.
1. Vitamin A (Retinoid and Carotene)
Vitamin A is essential for growth and development, cell recognition, immune function, vision, and reproduction. It also helps in the proper functioning of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other vital organs. Vitamin A deficiency may cause night-blindness and keratomalacia, an eye disorder that results in a dry cornea.
- Essential for vision
- Foods rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin may protect against cataracts.
- It keeps tissues and skin healthy.
- Carotenoids act as antioxidants.
- Plays a vital role in the immune system and in bone growth
- Diets rich in the carotenoids alpha-carotene and lycopene may lower lung cancer risk.
For Retinoids: You can get from beef liver, eggs, shrimp, fish, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, fortified milk, and butter.
For Beta Carotene: You can get it from mangoes, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, squash, and spinach.
2. Vitamin B
Vitamin B converts food into energy. It enables the body to use carbohydrates as energy. There are several types of vitamin B.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
It is essential for glucose metabolism and plays a key role in the proper functioning of the muscles, nerves, and heart. Vitamin B1 deficiency commonly leads to beriberi, which features problems with the peripheral nerves and wasting.
Most nutritious foods have some thiamin. Some good sources are pork chops, ham, brown rice, whole grain, soymilk, nuts, and pulses. Fruits and vegetables like cauliflower, oranges, potatoes, watermelon, asparagus, and kale are good sources of vitamin B1.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
We need it for healthy skin, hair, blood, and the brain. Vitamin B2 deficiency may cause ariboflavinosis, characterized by sores on the mouth.
Some good food sources are dairy products, meats, green leafy vegetables, whole and enriched grains, and cereals.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
It is essential for healthy skin, blood cells, the brain, and the nervous system. Vitamin B3 deficiency may cause symptoms of diarrhea, dermatitis, and mental disturbance.
Niacin is made naturally in food and can also be produced by your body. Some good food sources are meat, poultry, fish (tuna, salmon), fortified and whole grains, milk, eggs, avocados, dates, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, nuts, peanut butter, legumes, mushrooms, and brewer’s yeast.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
It helps make lipids (fats), neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, and hemoglobin. Vitamin B5 deficiency may cause a paresthesia-a tingling sensation of “pins and needles”-and other neurological symptoms.
We can find pantothenic acid in a wide variety of nutritious foods, including chicken, fish ovaries, egg yolks, whole grains, and some vegetables like broccoli, mushrooms, avocados, and tomatoes.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
This may reduce the risk of heart disease and help make red blood cells. It also plays a key role in sleep, appetite, and moods. It influences cognitive abilities and immune function. Vitamin B6 deficiency may cause anemia and damage to parts of the nervous system other than the brain and spinal cord.
Some good food sources are meat, fish, poultry, legumes, tofu, and other soy products, potatoes, and non-citrus fruits such as bananas and watermelons.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
It helps make and break down some fatty acids. It is essential for healthy bones and hair. Biotin deficiency may cause dermatitis or enteritis, or inflammation of the intestine.
Some good food sources are whole grains, organ meats, egg yolks, soybeans, and fish.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
New cell creation depends on it. It helps prevent brain and spine birth defects when taken early in pregnancy. It may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Some sources of good food that contain folic acid are fortified grains and cereals, baker’s yeast, sunflower seeds, asparagus, okra, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, legumes like black-eyed peas and chickpeas, orange juice, and tomato juice.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
This helps make new cells and break down some fatty acids and amino acids. It protects nerve cells and boosts their normal growth. It also helps make red blood cells and DNA. Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause megaloblastic anemia, a condition where the bone marrow produces unusually large, abnormal, and immature red blood cells.
Some good food sources are meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, dairy products, fortified cereals, and fortified soymilk.
3. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Vitamin C is a vital nutrient for good health. It helps form and maintain skin, bones, and blood vessels. And also helps make collagen-a connective tissue that entwines wounds together and fortifies the blood vessel walls. It also acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing unstable molecules that can damage cells. It supports and strengthens the immune system.
Vitamin C may lower the risk of some cancers, including those of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and breast. Deficiency in Vitamin C may cause megaloblastic anemia.
- It improves skin elasticity.
- It helps produce collagen, a vital component of fibrous tissues.
- Heals wound faster.
- Better able to fight off infections.
- Prevent acute respiratory infections.
Some good food sources are fruits and fruit juices (especially citrus), Kakadu plum, camu fruit, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, and Brussels sprouts.
4. Vitamin D (Calciferol)
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, which strengthens bones. Vitamin D supplements can reduce the number of non-spinal fractures.
Vitamin D deficiency may cause rickets and osteomalacia, or softening of the bones.
- Maintains the health of bones and teeth
- Supports the health of the immune system, brain, and nervous system
- Regulate insulin levels and aid diabetes management
- Supports lung function and cardiovascular health
- Influence the expression of genes involved in cancer development
Some good food sources of vitamin D are fortified milk or margarine, eggs, beef liver, fortified cereals, mushrooms, and fatty fish.
5. Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
It protects vitamin A and certain lipids from damage. Experiments have shown that diets rich in vitamin E help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Though Vitamin E deficiency is uncommon, it may sometimes cause hemolytic anemia in newborns, a condition where blood cells get destroyed and removed prematurely from the blood.
- Improves blood circulation
- Protects from free radicals
The best-known Vitamin E-rich food is the mighty almond. Adding to the list of good sources includes vegetable oils, salad dressings, and margarine made with vegetable oils, wheat germ, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
6. Vitamin K (Phylloquinone)
Vitamin K refers to a group of fat-soluble vitamins (K1, K2) that play a vital role in blood clotting, regulating blood calcium levels, and bone metabolism. Although Vitamin K deficiency is uncommon, in severe cases, it may increase clotting time, leading to hemorrhage and excessive bleeding.
- Supports the maintenance of strong bones
- Improves bone density
- Decreases the risk of fractures
- May help lower blood pressure level by preventing mineralization
Some good food sources are cabbage, liver, eggs, milk, avocado, kiwi fruit, spinach, broccoli, sprouts, kale, collards, parsley, and other green vegetables.
Although your need for a particular vitamin may depend on your body type and the deficiencies you suffer, focusing on your overall diet is the best way to get enough nutrients for good health. Ideally, vitamins should be sourced from a balanced and varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
However, fortified foods and supplements may be more appropriate in some cases than in normal conditions. A dietician or a nutritionist may recommend vitamin supplements for people with certain conditions, especially pregnancy, or for those on a restricted diet.
If your vitamin intake exceeds the stated maximum dose, you may end up having more health problems than earlier. Some vitamin supplements can interact with the medications you take, so it is advisable to consult a healthcare provider before using supplements.