Vitamins are good for us, right? That’s the conventional wisdom, but what exactly do these different vitamins do, and where can you get them from? Here’s a rundown of some of the main vitamins out there.
Vitamin A – Required for several important bodily functions, including the development and maintenance of healthy skin, teeth, and skin, and contributing to the health of the eyes. There are two different types of vitamin A; preformed vitamin A (known as retinol) and pro-vitamin A. They are found in animal products (meat, fish, poultry, and dairy) and fruits and vegetables respectively. However the former sources are high in saturated fat in cholesterol, making fruits and vegetables a much healthier source of vitamin A.
B vitamins – The eight vitamins that make up the vitamin B complex all play different roles in keeping our bodies running, however they all work together to help convert the carbohydrates in food into fuel. With the exception of Vitamin C, the vitamin B complex is a grouping of all the water-soluble (not stored in fat) vitamins known. Being water-soluble, they are eliminated in urine, and that means that a continuous supply is required in the diet. All eight are considered essential vitamins.
B1 – Also known as Thiamine, B1 is used in the creation of healthy new cells and the breaking down of simple carbohydrates. It can be found in whole grains, peanuts, and spinach (among others).
B2 – Also known as Riboflavin, B2 is an antioxidant, meaning that it fights free radicles, which are particles in the body that can cause damage to cells. It’s also important in red blood cell production, and the transportation of oxygen through the body. It can be found in almonds, dairy products such as milk and yoghurt, eggs and spinach (among others).
B3 – Also known as Niacin, this vitamin’s main purpose is boosting HDL cholesterol (that’s the good kind). The more HDL cholesterol you have, the less bad cholesterol will be present in your blood. You can get it from red meat, milk, eggs, and green vegetables.
B5 – Also known as Pantothenic Acid, this vitamin can be found in just about every food group (albeit in small amounts). It is used to break down carbs and fats for fuel, and also plays a role in the production of sex and stress-related hormones such as testosterone. Larger amounts of it can be found in avocados, yoghurt, eggs, and meat.
B6 – Also known as Pyridoxine, B6 is used to regulate levels of amino acids associated with heart disease. It also helps to produce serotonin, melatonin, and norepinephrine, all related to mood and sleep patterns. Get this vitamin from poultry, lentils, cheese, and lentils.
B7 – Known more commonly as Biotin, B7 is also known as the beauty vitamin due to its role in maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails. It also plays a role in controlling high blood glucose levels. It can be found in barley, yeast, pork, poultry, and nuts.
B9 – Better known in its synthetic form, folic acid, B9 is suggested to help keep depression at bay and prevent memory loss. This vitamin is also important for pregnant women, as it supports the growth of the baby and prevents neurological birth defects. You can get it in its natural form from dark leafy greens, asparagus, salmon, and milk.
B12 – Also known as Cobalamin, B12 works with B9 to produce red blood cells and makes it possible for iron to create hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein. It’s only found in animal products, which could pose an issue for vegetarians or vegans, however supplements are available.
Vitamin C – Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant, and the only water-soluble vitamin not found in the vitamin B complex. It is an essential vitamin, being needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. This includes the making of skin and blood vessels among others, the healing of wounds, and the repairing and maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth. The body is unable to produce vitamin C, and being a water-soluble vitamin, it isn’t stored by the body either. This means that it’s crucial to include many different sources of vitamin C in your diet. While all fruits and vegetables include some amount of vitamin C, some good sources include: citrus fruits, mangos, pineapples, strawberries and several other berries, broccoli, capsicum, spinach (and other leafy greens), and tomatoes.
Vitamin D – Required for the absorption of calcium and subsequently the strengthening of bones and teeth, vitamin D is unique in being the only essential vitamin that can be synthesised using UV radiation from the sun. That being said, small amounts of vitamin D can be found in fish and eggs among other things, but these small amounts are not enough for the average person, who only gets five to 10 percent of their vitamin D from food. Fifteen minutes of sun exposure three times a week will let your body create all the vitamin D it needs.
Vitamin E – Existing in ten different forms, vitamin E is an antioxidant, vital in protecting the cells and tissue from free radicals and harmful substances. It is also known to prevent cancer, and cardiovascular and heart disease. It can be found in vegetable oils such as sunflower and almond oil, and is also found in nuts, seeds, spinach and other leafy greens.
Vitamin K – Vitamin K is actually a group of compounds, the most important of which are vitamins K1 and K2. As a whole, its main role is helping the blood to clot, preventing uncontrollable bleeding. It may also work towards maintaining strong bones in the elderly. Vitamin K is best obtained from green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and green leaf lettuces. Smaller amounts can be found in vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, and even smaller amounts can be obtained from fish, meat, and eggs.