Our bodies are pretty high maintenance machines and without the proper care there are numerous health problems that can arise, this is why you need to know how to take care of yours. Among many other substances, vitamins are very important to our health and you need to know what they are, why you need them, what they do and how you get them.
What is a vitamin?
A vitamin is a naturally occurring compound that every living organism (with the exception of some plants) needs to ingest or produce to survive and ensure healthy function and growth. We get vitamins from the foods we eat because our bodies do not produce their own.
Why do we need vitamins?
The vitamins that we need all interact with our cell enzymes to regulate essential bodily functions. They are imperative for numerous metabolic processes, to release energy from nutrients and in building and maintaining bones, teeth, skin and blood among many other body tissues. Without the correct balance of vitamins we can form illnesses like Rickets or Night-blindness.
What are the types of vitamin and what do they do?
There are 13 types of vitamins that can be found in both the food we eat and drinks we drink. Each vitamin has a specific purpose. The two categories of vitamins are fat-soluble and water soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins are ones that can be stored in our bodies (in the liver and fatty tissues). Because of this they only need to be taken 2-3 times a week.
Vitamin A – can be found in oranges, carrots, pumpkin, squash, spinach, liver, leafy vegetables and milk etc. Vitamin A is needed for growth and normal tissue development, normal immune function and in several parts of our eyes. Without enough vitamin A (vitamin deficiency) we can get Keratomalacia and blindness, skin damage and frequent severe infections. We need around 900 µg (micrograms – one millionth (1×10−6) of a gram) a day.
Vitamin D – is found in fish, eggs, liver, and mushrooms. We need vitamin D to regulate calcium and phosphate in our bodies, by adjusting gut absorption, and bone stores. Vitamin D ensures healthy bones and teeth and, without it, we can get Rickets and Osteomalacia. We need 10 µg of vitamin D per day.
Vitamin E – many fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds have this vitamin. It is important as a fat-soluble antioxidant, to protect cell membranes. It is also needed for proper immune function. Deficiency is uncommon but low levels may lead to heart disease. We need 15.0 mg a day to stay healthy.
Vitamin K – is in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, egg yolks and liver. It is needed for normal blood clotting (healing wounds) and in the growth and development of our bones and kidneys. Deficiency is almost unheard of. We need 120 µg a day.
Water-soluble vitamins – are not stored in our bodies, so foods containing water-soluble vitamins must be eaten daily, ideally in every meal.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – is in all fresh foods and vegetables. It is used in the production of collagen, which we need for healthy skin, hair, gums, teeth and blood vessels etc. A vitamin C deficiency can result in Scurvy. We need 90.0 mg a day.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) – is present in pork, oatmeal, brown rice, vegetables, potatoes, liver and eggs. It is important in processing carbohydrates to produce energy, processing fat and alcohol and proper nerve function. Deficiency can cause permanent brain damage and memory loss (Korsakoff’s psychosis) and damage to eye movements. We need 1.2 mg a day.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – is in milk, eggs, nuts, liver, fish, meat and green leafy vegetables. It plays roles in the growth of production of red blood cells, skin and eyes. Deficiency is virtually unknown. 1.3 mg a day is great.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – is present in fish and meats (especially liver). Other useful sources are nuts, eggs and dairy products. It plays a role in processing cholesterol, essential for cardiovascular health. Deficiency is very rare. We need 16.0 mg per day.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – is in meat, broccoli and avocados. It is important in our metabolic processes, especially in the production of energy in cells. Deficiency is very rare. We need 5.0 mg a day.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – is in meat, vegetables, tree nuts, bananas. We need this vitamin because it plays a role in the processing of proteins, fats and carbohydrates to produce energy, and in cell division, for example to make red blood cells. Deficiency is virtually unknown. We need 1.3–1.7 mg a day.
Vitamin H (Biotin) – is in raw egg yolk, liver, peanuts, certain vegetables. Needed for cell growth and maintaining healthy bone, nerves and sweat gland. Deficiency is virtually unknown. We need 30.0 µg a day.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid) – is in leafy vegetables, pasta, bread, cereal and liver. Folic acid is needed in producing new cells; it is particularly important in infancy and pregnancy and prevents neural tube defects. It is also important for making normal blood cells. Deficiency is common in unbalanced diets and can cause anaemia, low white blood cell counts and infections. We need 400 µg a day.
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) – it is found in most animal products (e.g. meat, liver, fish, eggs and milk) and some yeasts and seaweed. It is important for cell division, red blood cell production and also for proper functioning of nerves. Deficiency, although mostly not dietary related, can result in anaemia. We need 2.4 µg a day.
How do I get these vitamins?
Eating a healthy and balanced diet will ensure that you receive all the vitamins you need to stay strong and healthy.
What about vitamin supplements?
Vitamin supplements don’t deliver the same nutrients that a healthy diet can. Many health care professionals advise against taking supplements because
1. They’re a waste of money, and
2. The fat-soluble vitamins can build up in liver and cause toxicity. You should only take supplements if your health care professional tells you to.