Maintaining good health requires a steady consumption of the right foods to receive nutrients for proper functioning. Vitamins are essential compounds that help the body normalize cell function, growth, and development, making them a key source for wholesome diets.
There are 13 essential vitamins for proper functioning. These vitamins can be grouped into two main categories:
- Fat-soluble vitamins: vitamins that are absorbed more easily in the presence of dietary fat and stored in the body’s fatty tissue;
- Water-soluble vitamins: vitamins that dissolve in bodily fluids and kept in a small reserve, creating a need for regular consumption to avoid shortages.
Between them all, these essential vitamins can boost the immune system, strengthen bones, boost injury recovery, improve eyesight, and more.
Promoting healthy vision and skin, Vitamin A enables the heart, kidneys, lungs, and other vital organs to function. It also plays a role in bone and teeth growth as well as enhances the reproductive process to lower the risk of cystic fibrosis in premature infants. Some of the best sources of Vitamin A are milk, cheese, butter, carrots, and apricots.
Absorbed through calcium in the body and naturally through sunlight, Vitamin D helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, which builds stronger bones for growth and development. Additionally, it can reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. While Vitamin D can be absorbed through sunlight, many people do not get enough of it due to a small amount of Vitamin D-rich foods (milk, cheese, and fatty fish), long hours working indoors, and living in northern climates. Deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to health risks such as brittle bones and osteoporosis.
To neutralize unstable molecules that can damage cells, Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant to improve blood flow and protect the body and immune system from bacteria and other infections. Though it is believed to help fight against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, Vitamin E does not prevent wrinkles or slow the aging process. A wide variety of food that carry high levels of this vitamin include vegetable oils, green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and avocados.
Scientists are currently studying the correlation between Vitamin K and the reduced risk of coronary heart disease and osteoporosis. Adding to this possible benefit, Vitamin K also enhances bone health and activates proteins and calcium for blood clotting. Without proper Vitamin K consumption, the body is susceptible to bruising and bleeding problems. To combat this, collards, kale, spinach, cabbage, and broccoli are all great sources of Vitamin K.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
Converting food into energy, thiamin is needed for healthy skin, hair, muscles, and nerve function. By preventing complications in these areas, thiamin reduces the risk of diseases such as beriberi, a disorder that causes problems with the peripheral nerves and wasting. Most people receive around half their thiamin intake from foods that carry it naturally (brown rice, ham, watermelons, and pork chops).
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Riboflavin is a necessary vitamin for healthy skin, hair, blood, and brain health as it breaks down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to produce energy. It also plays a role in the development and function of the skin and lining of the digestive tract. Some nutritious foods with high levels of riboflavin include eggs, yogurt, leafy green vegetables, and cereals.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Lowering “bad” cholesterol, niacin has shown the ability to reduce the chances of heart disease. With this lower cholesterol, the body is able to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, which are health risks that can cause even worse damage to the body. In addition, the brain needs niacin to prevent itself from brain fog and psychiatric symptoms that can lead to schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. Food sources of niacin include chicken, tuna, brown rice, peanuts, and mushrooms.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Pantothenic acid plays a key role among the B vitamins as it can create red blood cells, synthesize cholesterol, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and process other vitamins (mainly riboflavin). In fact, pantothenic comes from the Greek word “pantou,” meaning “everywhere,” which makes sense when you look at all of the sources to obtain Vitamin B5 (pork, salmon, lentils, avocados, and tomatoes).
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Lowering homocysteine levels, pyridoxine converts tryptophan to niacin and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps with sleep, appetite, and mood, to reduce the risk of heart disease. Though it creates red blood cells and enhance cognitive abilities, pyridoxine is a vitamin that is commonly low in people’s diets. Adding fish, poultry, potatoes, bananas, and watermelons to your diet is a simple way to combat this deficiency.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Produced naturally in your intestinal tract, biotin is an imperative nutrient because, without it, the body is unable to naturally process and break down the foods it consumes. Increasing the amount of absorbed protein, carbohydrates, and fat from food, biotin keeps bones strong and helps your hair stay healthy. Though it is rare to be deficient in biotin, it can still occur, causing depression, nausea, and loss of hair. Biotin can be found in whole grains, organ meats, soybeans, and egg yolks.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Folic acid is vital for creating new red blood cells and DNA. Suggested to be taken regularly by all women of child-bearing age, folic acid can prevent brain and spine birth defects when taken early during pregnancy. Besides the fact that folic acid lowers the risk of birth defects (and the risk of colon cancer and heart disease), many people do not receive enough of it in their diets, leading to body tissue not receiving enough oxygen. Eating spinach, asparagus, legumes, chickpeas, and okra can offset low levels of folic acid.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
As the only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored in the liver for several years, Vitamin B12 assists the body by creating new red blood cells and building healthy nerve function. By breaking down fatty acids and amino acids, Vitamin B12 protects nerve cells and can lower the risk of heart disease. Some people, notably older adults and people who are vegan or vegetarian, are deficient in Vitamin B12, which can lead to harmful neurological consequences such as memory loss, dementia, and depression. To avoid this, add poultry, fish, cheese, eggs, and fortified cereals to your diet; but, for vegan and vegetarian diets, there are also supplements you can take.
Evidence shows that Vitamin C, the vitamin notoriously known for its ability to help prevent and reduce common cold symptoms, is not as effective to this belief. However, this does not mean that it is not as important as the other essential vitamins. Creating serotonin and norepinephrine, Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to protect the body from free radicals and boost the immune system. It is also needed to create collagen, a connective tissue that stitches up wounds. Additionally, Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, which is crucial for carrying oxygen to your blood cells. Foods rich in Vitamin C include fruit juices, oranges, potatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, and brussels sprouts.
With everyone having different daily routines, careers, and fitness levels, our bodies may require different levels of these essential vitamins to function properly. Receiving adequate consumption of these vitamins is important to remain healthy and increase your body’s performance.