Vitamins Guide: What are the Main Vitamins Your Body Needs?

0
2353
vitamins guide

Welcome to Nutrishative’s vitamins guide!  If you’re searching for a basic understanding of what vitamins are and what vitamins do in your body, you have come to the perfect place!

Last Updated: June 24, 2019

What are Vitamins? 

Vitamins are naturally-occurring molecules found in food that have structural and hormonal functions in our body.

They are vital to your body’s health, but your body can’t make them itself.  Rather, you have to consume them in the foods you eat each day. 

The known vitamins are:

  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K
  • thiamin (vitamin B1)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • niacin (vitamin B3)
  • pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • vitamin B6
  • biotin (vitamin B7)
  • vitamin B12
  • folate  

More vitamins may exist.  But if they do, we don’t know about them yet.

Read More: Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables

What are the Two Classes of Vitamins?

The 13 known vitamins can be classified into two groups: water-soluble and fat-soluble.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are only really absorbed from your food if they are in your intestine at the same time as some form of fat.  They are transported in this fat from your food through your lymph to where your body needs them.

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your fat tissue.  This means that vitamin poses a high risk of toxicity, especially when you are taking supplements.  Your body can simply store them too well, allowing them to, potentially, build up to toxic levels.

Fat-soluble vitamins: vitamins A, D, E, and K

Water-Soluble Vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins do not need fat to be absorbed by your body.  Once absorbed, water-soluble vitamins travel via your bloodstream (often carried by specially made transport proteins) to where your body needs them.

Water-soluble vitamins are not stored.  Your body either immediately uses them or excretes them.  This makes overdosing with water-soluble vitamins essentially impossible.

Water-soluble vitamins: all the B vitamins and vitamin C

How Much of Each Vitamin Do I 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’s 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.

Nevertheless, the government guidelines offer a useful starting point for gauging whether or not you are getting enough of a given vitamin.  They are also useful for tracking which vitamins Americans, in general, struggle to get enough of.

For example, these guidelines allow researchers to create diagrams like Figure 1.  This bar diagram shows the percent of the population that do not meet the Estimated Adequate Requirement (EAR) for each vitamin (and for some essential minerals, which aren’t really important for us here).

Look at how many people fail to get enough vitamin D and vitamin E each day!  Well over 90%!

Such statistics can tip you off to vitamins that you likely need to be paying attention to in your own diet.

To look up specific RAEs for individual vitamins, please follow the links provided in Table 1.

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 Supplements

Ideally, you should get all the vitamins you need from whole, real foods.

Of course, that is not always entirely practical or possible.  There are times when supplementation may be necessary, either long or short-term.

For example, some people are born with genetic disorders that prevent their body from absorbing fat properly.  This, naturally, decreases their ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, putting them at high risk for deficiencies.  and therefore, supplementation would be beneficial.

Short-term illnesses, such as GI infections, or periods of extreme vitamin requirements, such as pregnancy or nursing, can also sometimes require vitamin supplements to make sure your body is getting all the vitamins it needs.

Unfortunately, supplementing with vitamins comes with a bit of risk.  The FDA does not regulate supplements.  This means that 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 or LabDoor before buying a supplement.  These independent companies test supplements and rank them by quality so that you can be sure you are buying the vitamin you are looking for.

Related Reading: Whole Foods vs. Supplements: A Nutritional Anthropologist’s Take

Vitamin Guide Chart: Health Benefits and Deficiency Symptoms

Okay, so you need to get adequate amounts of 13 vitamins each day because they are important for your health!

What, exactly do they do for your health?  And what, exactly, might you experience if you don’t get enough of a given vitamin?

I am so glad you asked!

Table 1 summarizes the role of each vitamin in your body and the symptoms you would experience if you were to develop a deficiency.

If any the deficiency symptoms ring alarm bells for you, speak to your doctor about tweaking your diet or taking a supplement.

Table 1: The Functions of Vitamins and Deficiency Symptoms 

Vitamin

Functions Supported in Body

Deficiency Symptoms

Vitamin A

cell growth

cell and tissue differentiation

vision

immune system function

poor vision

blindness

frequent infections

Vitamin C

growth and repair of tissues

collagen formation

iron absorption

antioxidant function

fatigue

swollen gums

bleeding gums

tooth loss

broken blood vessels in skin

bruising

joint pain

poor wound healing

thickening skin

corkscrew hairs

Vitamin D

calcium absorption

phosphorus balance

bone protection

metabolic and hormonal regulation

rickets

osteoporosis

Vitamin E

antioxidant systems

immune responses

cell signaling

gene regulation

metabolic regulation

poor feeling in hands/feet

muscle weakness

poor vision

frequent infections

Vitamin K

bone health

blood clotting regulation

excessive bleeding

osteoporosis

Vitamin B1

nervous system function

muscle contractions and health

digestion

use of carbohydrates for energy

weight loss

poor appetite

short-term memory loss

muscle weakness

poor feeling in hands/feet

Vitamin B2

antioxidant systems

liver oxygenation

metabolism

thyroid problems

rash

swelling in throat/mouth

swollen, cracked lips

rash at the corners of mouth

sore throat

red, itchy eyes

Vitamin B3

hormone balance regulation

circulation

inflammation regulation

brown/sunburn-like rash

bright red tongue

vomiting

constipation

diarrhea

depression

fatigue

paranoia

hallucinations

poor memory

loss of appetite

Vitamin B5

carbohydrate metabolism

numbness in hands/feet

burning feeling in hands/feet

headache

fatigue

irritability

restlessness

trouble sleeping

loss of appetite

Biotin

blood sugar regulation

amino acid metabolism

carbohydrate metabolism

hair loss

scaly rash around mouth/eyes

red eyes

brittle nails

seizures

fatigue

depression

poor feeling in hands/feet

Vitamin B6

neurotransmitter production

sleep regulation

anemia

scaly rash on lips

cracked lips

swollen tongue

depression

confusion

frequent infections

Folate

DNA production

RNA production

new cell production

anemia

weakness

fatigue

confusion/trouble focusing

racing heart

mouth ulcers

weak nails/hair

Vitamin B12

nerve cell development

nerve cell communication

DNA production

RNA production

anemia

fatigue

weight loss

weakness

loss of appetite

constipation

numbness in hands/feet

tingling in hands/feet

poor balance

depression

confusion/trouble focusing

 

Foods Rich in Vitamins

Here are the foods that offer the highest doses of each of the vitamins (Source: National Institutes of Health. See links in Table 1.)

Vitamin A

  • beef
  • calf
  • chicken liver
  • eggs
  • fish liver oils
  • dairy products including whole milk
  • whole milk yogurt
  • whole milk cottage cheese
  • butter

Vitamin D

  • cod liver
  • fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, herring)
  • eggs

Vitamin K

  • beef liver
  • green tea
  • turnip greens
  • broccoli
  • kale
  • spinach
  • cabbage
  • asparagus
  • dark leafy greens

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
  • yams

Vitamin C

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

Vitamin B1

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

Vitamin B2

  • brewer’s yeast
  • almonds
  • organ meats
  • whole grains
  • wheat germ
  • wild rice
  • mushrooms
  • soybeans
  • milk
  • yogurt
  • eggs
  • broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • spinach

Vitamin B3

  • beets
  • brewer’s yeast
  • beef liver
  • beef kidney
  • fish
  • salmon
  • swordfish
  • tuna
  • sunflower seeds
  • peanuts

Vitamin B5

  • 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 bread
  • lobster
  • wheat germ
  • salmon

Biotin

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

Vitamin B6

  • chicken
  • turkey
  • tuna
  • salmon
  • shrimp
  • beef liver
  • milk
  • cheese
  • lentils
  • beans
  • spinach
  • carrots
  • brown rice
  • bran
  • sunflower seeds
  • wheat germ
  • bananas
  • whole grain flour

Vitamin B12

  • fish
  • shellfish
  • dairy products
  • organ meats (liver and kidney)
  • eggs
  • beef
  • 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
  • tomato juice

Creating a Vitamin-Rich Diet

The best way to ensure you are getting enough vitamins in your diet is to eat a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods.  Colorful foods, like fruits and vegetables, are chock-full of multiple vitamins.

For instance, one serving of spinach contains large doses 8 different vitamins, kale contains 9, and bananas have 3 out of the 13 vitamins.

Keep an eye on nutrition labels and opt for foods that have double-digit doses (% RDA) of vitamins. To understand more about reading a food label, the American Heart Association provides a straight-forward explanation that can help you.

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.

There are three vitamins critical to the body’s production of energy and many of us don’t get enough of them through our daily diets. Find out about them here: The 3 Best Vitamins to Boost Energy

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here