vitamins guide

This vitamins guide discusses both vitamins in supplements as well as vitamins in real, natural food.  Vital to the body’s health, vitamins must be consumed through the diet in the form of nutrient-rich foods, such as powerhouse fruits and vegetables and whole grains, or through multivitamin supplements.

Read More: Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables

Vitamins are naturally-occurring molecules found in food that have structural and hormonal functions in our body.  The known vitamins are: vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate/folic acid).  More vitamins may exist.  We just don’t know about them yet.

Water-Soluble vs Fat-Soluble

There are two different types of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in fat droplets that travel through the lymph system. Fat-soluble vitamins poses a high risk for toxicity, especially when you are taking supplements.  This is because they can accumulate in the body and are excreted at a pretty slow rate.

One of the main reasons that we need to consume fat in the diet is so we can absorb and store these fat-soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, are not stored.  Your body immediately uses them or excretes.  Due to water-soluble vitamins being easily flushed out of your body, the risk of overdose is quite lo.

  • Fat-soluble: Vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Water-soluble: B Vitamins and Vitamin C

Guide to Vitamins: How Much Do You Need?

Depending on who you ask, nutrient requirements can vary.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) provides nutrient-rich food and drink recommendations for Americans with the goal to promote overall health, prevent chronic disease, and help people maintain a healthy weight.  These guidelines are based on the average American so they do not perfectly align with each individual needs.  Additionally, nutrition throughout one’s lifespan changes based on age, sex, activity level, and disease states so it is important to note that nutrition is individualized.

An analysis by The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2007 to 2010, found people in the United States had usual vitamin intakes from all food sources (excluding supplements).

Figure 1 has the Estimated Adequate Requirement (EAR) for certain vitamins.  The figure shows the percent of the sample population that fall below the EAR for each specified vitamin as defined by the DGA. Included in the DGA, the EAR is a value that is estimated to meet the nutrient requirement of half the healthy individuals in a specific age and gender group.

The top five most commonly under-consumed vitamins include Vitamin D (94%), E (89%), Magnesium (52%), Calcium (44%), and A (43%).  It is likely these vitamins are under consumed due to poor eating patterns like consuming excess sodium, saturated fat, refined grains, added sugars, and, in general, fewer nutrient-dense foods than suggested.

Figure 1: The Percent of the Population Falling Below the EAR for Micronutrients

A Guide to Vitamins

Source: What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2010

Pros and Cons of Vitamin Supplementation

Vitamins are essential for health and therefore supplementation may be necessary given the individual.  For example, if a person has a genetic disorder that prevents their body from absorbing fat properly, they may become deficient in fat-soluble vitamins and therefore, supplementation would be beneficial.

Edward Giovannucci from Harvard School of Public Health researches the impact of Vitamin D on our body.  Professor Giovannucci’s research suggests supplementing with vitamin D reduces the risk of cancer, bone fractures, and Multiple Sclerosis.  However, supplementing vitamins is not always necessary and should be used with caution.  The FDA does not regulate supplements.  So, a supplement can claim it contains vitamins even if it doesn’t.  It is best to do research on sites from testing companies like consumerlabs.com or labdoor.com before buying a supplement.  These companies test supplements and rank them by their quality.

Vitamins Guide Chart

Listed below you will find the vitamin, the role the vitamin plays in the body and natural remedies of vitamins as rated by scientific evidence through Natural Medicines Brand Evidence-based Rating (NMBER).  Due to vitamins being associated with fighting diseases, supplemental use of vitamins is quite common; therefore, the NMBER rating system is a research-based reference guide for effective supplementation.

Table 1 below summarizes potential benefits of fighting health complications through both food and nutrient supplementation.  Keep in mind that the natural remedy listed below are only those with a grade of “A” meaning there is strong evidence to support the remedy; in contrast, a grade of “F” has very weak scientific evidence. More remedies may exist but with less supporting evidence.  We researched the highest quality vitamin supplements and provided a link to each in the table below.

Disclosure – The table below includes affiliate links. We earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through that link. With or without an affiliate program, we still highly recommend these high-quality vitamin supplements based on our research. However, supplements should never replace a nutrient rich diet. Thank you for the support, but feel free not to use the links.

Table 1: Vitamins functions in the body and their remedies 
Vitamin Function in the Body Natural Remedy through supplementation
Vitamin A

(retinol)

Cell growth, cell and tissue differentiation, vision, development, overall function of the immune system, and survival. Acne, anemia, acute promyelocytic leukemia (cancer of blood and bone marrow, treatment), sunburn, dry eyes and eye disorders
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
Growth and repair of tissues, collagen formation, helps absorb iron, and acts as an antioxidant. Scurvy
Vitamin D

Helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, both critical for building bone. Kidney Disease, Osteomalacia (bone softening in adults), Rickets (bone weakening in children), Thyroid complications
Vitamin E

Antioxidant function, immune function, cell signaling, regulation of gene expression, and metabolism. Vitamin E Deficiency is rare
Vitamin K
Helping protect bone strength and blood clotting. Supplemental doses may be harmful
Vitamin B1

(Thiamin)

Many body functions, including nervous system and muscle function, the flow of electrolytes in and out of nerve and muscle cells, digestion, and carbohydrate metabolism. Metabolic Diseases associated with genetic disorders
Vitamin B2

(Riboflavin)

Functions as an antioxidant and helps deliver oxygen to cells. Needed in small amounts; deficiencies are rare
Vitamin B3

(Niacin)

Functions in sex and stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands and other parts of the body; helps improve circulation, and has been shown to suppress inflammation. High Cholesterol, Pollegra
Vitamin B5

(Pantothenic Acid)

Aids the digestive tract, helps break down carbs. They are needed in only small amounts and are usually available in the foods that you eat
Vitamin B7

(Biotin)

Necessary for forming fatty acids and glucose, which are used as fuels by the body; also helps in the metabolism of amino acids and carbohydrates. They are needed in only small amounts and are usually available in the foods that you eat
Vitamin B6

Helps make several neurotransmitters, needed for normal brain development and function, and helps the body make the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, and melatonin. Anemia, Preventing adverse effects in people taking cycloserine
B12

(cobalamin)

Maintains healthy nerve cells, and helps in the production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material. Megaloblastic anemia
Vitamin B9

(Folate: naturally-occurring in foods, Folic acid: supplements)

Aids production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material, and is especially important when cells and tissues are growing rapidly, such as in infancy, childhood, and pregnancy; also works closely with vitamin B12 to help make red blood cells and help iron work properly in the body. Anemia, Heart Disease, Prevention of pregnancy complications (birth defects)9

Source: https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/nmber.aspx

Foods Rich in Vitamins

Sources of Food comes from the University Of Maryland, School of Medicine Medical Reference Guide Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide

Vitamin A

Beef, calf, chicken liver, eggs, fish liver oils, dairy products including whole milk, whole milk yogurt, whole milk cottage cheese, and butter.

Vitamin C

Oranges, green peppers, watermelon, papaya, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberries, kiwi, mango, broccoli, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and citrus juices.  Raw and cooked leafy greens (turnip greens, spinach), red and green peppers, canned and fresh tomatoes, potatoes, winter squash, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries.

Riboflavin

Brewer’s yeast, almonds, organ meats, whole grains, wheat germ, wild rice, mushrooms, soybeans, milk, yogurt, eggs, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach.

Vitamin D

Cod liver, fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, herring, and eggs.

Vitamin K

Beef liver, green tea, turnip greens, broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, asparagus, and dark green lettuce.

Thiamin

Beef, brewer’s yeast, legumes (beans, lentils), milk, nuts, oats, oranges, pork, rice, seeds, wheat, whole-grain cereals, and yeast.

Vitamin E

Liver, eggs, nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts), sunflower seeds, dark green leafy vegetables (including spinach and kale), cereal grains, beets, collards, sweet potatoes, avocado, asparagus, and yams.

Pantothenic acid

Brewer’s yeast, corn, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, avocado, legumes, lentils, egg yolks, beef organ meats, turkey, duck, chicken, milk, split peas, peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, whole-grain breads and cereals, lobster, wheat germ, and salmon.

Niacin

Beets, brewer’s yeast, beef liver, beef kidney, fish, salmon, swordfish,una, sunflower seeds, and peanuts.

Biotin

Brewer’s yeast, cooked eggs (especially egg yolks), sardines, nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts) and nut butters, soybeans, other legumes (beans, blackeye peas), whole grains, cauliflower, bananas, and mushrooms.

B6

Chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, shrimp, beef liver, milk, cheese, lentils, beans, spinach, carrots, brown rice, bran, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, bananas, and whole grain flour.

B12

Fish, shellfish, dairy products, organ meats (liver and kidney), eggs, beef, and pork.

Folate

Cereals, baked goods, leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, lettuce), okra, asparagus, fruits (bananas, melons, lemons), legumes, yeast, mushrooms, organ meat (beef liver, kidney), orange juice, and tomato juice.

Vitamin Optimization in Foods

Designing diet patterns including a wide variety nutrient-rich foods will provide you with the vitamins to maintain or improve overall health.  Colorful foods like fruits and vegetables are not only full of vitamins but are cheaper than supplements.  For instance, one serving of spinach contains 8 different vitamins and kale contains 9 vitamins, whereas a banana has 3 out of the 13 vitamins.  Eggs, on the other hand, provide a variety of B vitamins which help us keep our energy up.

A good source of protein rich in vitamins is soybeans containing 5 vitamins.  This is not an complete list of vitamins in each food.  More vitamins may be present in foods but in much smaller amounts.

The best way to understand the vitamin content in foods is to compare the amount of vitamins in a serving to the Daily Value (DV).

Lastly, just because a food label claims it contains an array of vitamins, it does not guarantee that the vitamins present are rich sources.  To understand more about reading a food label, the American Heart Association provides a straight-forward explanation.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Vitamins?

When the body becomes deficient in a vitamin, deficiencies can manifest themselves in physical ailments. For instance, weak nails can indicate a Vitamin B deficiency; however, physical signs are not always accurate and not always seen.  Some deficiencies remain hidden and will have no signs but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned.  Vitamins help our immune system functioning and play a role in antioxidant function which, in turn, keeps us healthy by fighting diseases.  If you are confused about being deficient, it is best to have bloodwork done before starting a supplement regimen.

Take-Home Message

Vitamins are critical to manning overall health, fighting diseases, and maintaining a healthy weight.  It is best to consume a wide variety of real foods rather than relying on supplements alone to satisfy nutrient requirements.  Nutrient-dense foods that have a high ratio of vitamins to energy density are your best sources.  Therefore, fruits and vegetables offer a variety of vitamins and overall health benefits to best fuel your body.  If you are unsure you are meeting your individual requirements, contact your doctor.  After all, being proactive is the first step to better health!

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