You might have not-so-fond memories of your mother telling you to eat your vitamins from childhood, but she was right! They are so important in supporting so many of your body’s essential functions.
As important as vitamins are for so many of our body’s functions, we cannot form most of them ourselves. So we have to eat them with our food. This is the reason why you should provide a balanced diet for your family. The name “vitamins” contains “vita” – life- so read on for more about these life-supporting supplements.
Fat-Soluble vs. Water-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamins can be either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Hence, they can dissolve in fatty or aqueous environments. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. We can only consume them in our intestines if we consume fat at the same time. For example, it is advisable to add some high-quality olive oil to vegetables. So you are able to absorb and use these vitamins better. Our bodies can store fat-soluble vitamins for some time, especially in the liver. If we ingest too many of them, they can accumulate in the body and have negative effects on our health.
Water-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, are excreted if there is an excess. This happens in the urine via the kidneys, so it’s pretty difficult to overdose on these. However, they have the disadvantage that we cannot store them for a longer period of time. So we are more or less dependent on a continuous supply of these substances.
Water-Soluble Vitamin All-Stars
Vitamin C Helps Us Heal
Vitamin C is involved in many important biochemical processes in our body. This vitamin also protects our body cells as an antioxidant. Vitamin C is as well necessary for the formation of collagen. This protein is present in the connective and supporting tissue of our body. In addition, the vitamin is involved in the regulation of the oxygen supply to the cells. It contributes to keeping the skin and gums healthy.
Vitamin C also plays an important role in wound healing. We also need vitamin C for the formation of bones and cartilage tissue. Especially in the high season of colds, we need ascorbic acid the most. Peppers, mangos, pineapple, oranges, lemons, green cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are all especially rich in this vitamin.
Biotin Ensures Beautiful Skin and Hair
Most of us know the vitamin Biotin for its effect on hair and skin. Fortunately, many foods contain it by nature. But biotin is also essential for the healthy growth of body cells. It also goes by the name vitamin H, because a deficiency of it has negative effects on the health of skin and hair. Biotin belongs to the B vitamins and performs various functions in the human body. This vitamin is particularly important for the healthy growth of the cells of skin tissue, blood, and male sex hormones. Biotin is a so-called coenzyme. Hence, it plays an important role in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. It also supports kidney and bone marrow function. Biotin is contained in many different foods, but often only in small amounts. Good sources of biotin are yeast, eggs (not raw!), sardines, nuts, liver, lentils, oat flakes, cauliflower, mushrooms, and soybeans.
Folic Acid Promotes a Healthy Pregnancy
Folic acid also belongs to the B vitamins. It is especially needed at an early stage in the development of the fetus. This is to prevent malformations of the central nervous system. The Office on Women’s Health (OWH) recommends taking 400 micrograms folic acid per day for all women. If you want to get pregnant or already are, the OWH advises you to take in 400 to 800 micrograms per day. You should take these in tablet form in addition to the normal diet. Folic acid serves as prophylaxis for neural tube defects. It is also found in green leafy vegetables such as lamb’s lettuce and spinach, liver, lentils, broccoli, and eggs.
More Water-Soluble Vitamins
Niacin is needed in the body to build coenzymes. Those are substances that are essential for certain enzyme reactions, like breaking down foods and boosting your energy metabolism. It is therefore important for all our body cells so they can obtain energy from the nutrients carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. In addition, niacin regulates the moisture content of our skin. It is also used for the formation of messenger substances in the brain. Animal and plant foods such as yeast, nuts, and milk contain this vitamin.
Pantothenic acid also belongs to the B vitamins. Like niacin, it is important for energy metabolism. Fatty acids, cell walls, cholesterol, hormones, antibodies, and blood need it to build themselves. It also promotes hair growth and keeps mucous membranes healthy. Pantothenic acid is found in almost all foods, but often only in small amounts. Yeast, liver, egg yolk, whole grain products, nuts, and seeds contain a particularly high amount of pantothenic acid. The vitamin is very sensitive to heat. Hence, you should also eat foods rich in pantothenic acid that are not heated, like unroasted, natural nuts.
Water-Soluble B Vitamins
Vitamin B1 Breaks Down Glucose
Some people still call vitamin B1 “Thiamine“. However, it plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism as a coenzyme. It is a component of an enzyme that breaks down glucose. This then serves our body cells as a source of energy. Especially nerves, muscles, and the brain need glucose. So they depend on a sufficient supply of vitamin B1. Whole grain products, wheat germ, legumes, and pork fillet are particularly rich in this vitamin.
Vitamin B2 Supports Your Energy Supply
Because of its yellow color, food producers often add vitamin B2 as a colorant. This vitamin is also important for the formation of coenzymes in energy metabolism. It is particularly important during pregnancy. This is due to its great importance for the growth and development of the embryo. This vitamin is contained mainly in dairy products, eggs, and meat. But also vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, contain vitamin B2. It is heat-stable and sensitive to light.
Vitamin B6 Boosts Metabolism
Vitamin B6 is also important for the formation of certain coenzymes, which are essential in energy metabolism, especially in protein metabolism. It is necessary to build muscles and for cell division. So it’s especially important to get enough Vitamin B6 during pregnancy. One can find it in almost all animal and plant foods. The best suppliers include bananas, nuts, meat, and yeast. Deficiency symptoms are rather rare in the industrialized nations since most foods already contain the vitamin.
Vitamin B12 Protects Brain and Blood Health
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is the generic name for four substances which each contain the chemical element cobalt. It is important for blood formation and protects the nerves. Vitamin B12 is essential for the formation of red blood cells (hematopoiesis). It is also involved in the formation of the so-called myelin layer, which protects our nerve fibers. It keeps certain cells intact, which protect our brain from damage. Vitamin B12 is also necessary for the formation of DNA, the seat of genetic information. If left untreated, a lack of vitamin B12 leads to anemia.
The water-soluble vitamin occurs almost exclusively in animal foods such as meat, fish, and eggs. Particularly rich in this vitamin are innards such as liver, heart, and kidneys. Animals and humans can store relatively high amounts of vitamin B12 in the liver.
Vitamin D Ensures Strong Bones and Teeth
Vitamin D is particularly abundant in fatty sea fish, like salmon, so they should ideally be on the menu one or two times a week. It improves the absorption of calcium from the intestines and stores it in the bones and teeth, so it’s essential for strong bones. It also assists in thyroid function and nutrient metabolism.
We also find the fat-soluble vitamin in dairy products, eggs, mushrooms, butter, and margarine. People also call Vitamin D the sun vitamin because we can produce it ourselves in the skin under the influence of sunlight. Regular outdoor exposure ensures the production of this essential vitamin.
Vitamin A Promotes Good Vision
Vitamin A occurs exclusively in animal foods. Like all fat-soluble vitamins, the liver stores excess vitamin A and releases it into the blood as the body needs it. So you’ll find big doses of Vitamin A in beef, veal, butter, fish, and liver. It is a component of the rod cells of the retina and essential for twilight vision.
Vitamin A keeps the skin and mucous membranes healthy and plays a role in the defense against pathogens. Carotenoids such as beta-carotene are converted into about 15 percent of vitamin A in the intestine. We can find them in plants like carrots, spinach, or kale. Carotenoids can also protect our cells from oxidative damage. In order to be able to absorb fat-soluble vitamins from the intestine into the blood, some fat must be contained in the food.
Vitamin E Protects Our Cells
Vitamin E is a summarizing term for a total of eight substances. They differ in their chemical structure and effectiveness but perform the same functions in the human body. The best known is alpha-tocopherol. It belongs to the group of antioxidants and makes harmful free radicals harmless. Free radicals are aggressive oxygen compounds that occur everywhere. UV radiation and smoking can cause them. Vitamin E protects our cell membranes from free radicals. It protects the unsaturated fatty acids stored in the cell membranes and thus our cells from damage by free radicals. If we ingest additional carotenoids and vitamin C together with vitamin E, our cells get an extra protective boost.
You can consume Vitamin E in many plant-based foods, especially cold-pressed oils. Many types of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and kernels also contain vitamin E.
Vitamin K Helps Our Blood
Vitamin K is a large group of fat-soluble vitamins that are particularly important for blood clotting. As a component of coagulation factors (the body’s own proteins), they ensure that we do not bleed to death after an injury, but that the blood coagulates and the bleeding stops. The formation of the bone protein osteocalcin also needs vitamin K. This is of great importance for bone metabolism. Other tissues, such as the muscles, also need the fat-soluble vitamin K to maintain their health. In newborns, doctors use vitamin K to prevent life-threatening cerebral hemorrhages. We absorb vitamin K via color-intensive vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach, red cabbage, and carrots.
Nutritional Vitamin Supplements Cannot Replace a Balanced Diet
“Food supplements are not a substitute for a balanced and varied diet and a healthy lifestyle.” You can read this or something similar on every package of vitamin pills and other supplements. We find lots of vitamins in fruits and vegetables as well as in animal foods. Every food has its own special and unique composition of valuable ingredients, which can complement each other in their effect. Therefore, a dietary supplement with vitamins can never replace a balanced diet with fresh food. But it is not only herbal foods that provide us with vitamins. Animal foods such as meat, fish, and eggs also provide us with vital substances. So those who eat a vegan diet and do not consume animal foods should take in certain vitamins such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D via fortified foods or dietary supplements so they can prevent deficiency symptoms.
Vitamins Pack a Powerful Punch
Which vitamins are important? The answer is quite simple: Each of these 13 vitamins is important and we need all of them for the smooth running of numerous bodily functions – each in its own way. However, we only need very small amounts of vitamins that are in the micrograms or milligrams range. So whether you consume them through foods or extra supplements, there are plenty of great ways to take your vitamins!