We hear about vitamins all the time. The word is an everyday part of our food vernacular. We certainly know we need them! How much do you actually know about these cheeky little micronutrients though?
Here’s your own personal cheat sheet; your fast track to making sure you are getting everything you need and are giving yourself the best chance to optimal health.
DO YOU KNOW: What vitamins are?
We have only discovered the existence of vitamins in the last 100 years. They are basically organic compounds or micro-nutrients that contain vital enzymes that create complex chemical reactions, ultimately resulting in the release of energy and essential bodily functions.
BONUS FACT: The word "vitamin" is composed of two parts: "vital" (which means essential) and "amine" (an organic compound derived from ammonia)because it was previously thought that this compound was amine in its nature.
DO YOU KNOW: Why we need them?
Science has identified more than 50 essential nutrients needed by the human body to perform at optimal levels. “Essential nutrients” means the body cannot produce any of these nutrients on its own, thus they must be obtained from food sources or dietary supplementation. If a person is deficient in any of these essential nutrients, the result is dysfunction and disease. Complete absence results in death.
DO YOU KNOW: The 13 vitamins your body needs (and their scientific names!)
|THE GENERIC NAME||THE SCIENTIFIC NAME|
|D||Ergocalciferol D2, cholecalciferol D3|
DO YOU KNOW: There are 2 types of vitamin?
Vitamins can be divided into 2 types: Water soluble and fat soluble. Here is everything you need to know about them:
|Water Soluble||Fat Soluble|
|Types||All of the Vitamin B group, Vitamin C||Vitamins A, D, E, K|
|Solubility||Soluble in water, easy to dissolve in the body||Soluble in fat, absorbed in the lymph and transported through blood|
|Absorption||Dissolves in water||Along with lipids|
|Storage||No storage (excrete through urine)||Store in liver|
|Deficiency||Symptoms manifest rapidly as no storage||Symptoms manifest when the store is depleted|
|Possibility of over-dosage||Unlikely as excess will normally be excreted. This doesn’t mean excessive intake is safe.||Can get too much easily as it is stored in the liver and the dosage will build up. Overdose can potentially be dangerous.|
|Sensitivity||Sensitive to light and heat. May be depleted by cooking or sunlight.||More stable. Heat such as from cooking will not deplete a fat soluble vitamin, but they are light sensitive.|
DO YOU KNOW: What each vitamin does?
|A||An antioxidant. Helps regulate your immune system and form and maintain healthy teeth, skin and tissue. Produces the pigments in the retina of the eye, and promotes good vision.|
|B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin)||These work together as a complex. They help convert food into energy and are needed for healthy skin, hair, muscles, and the brain.|
|B5 (pantothenic acid)||Converts food into glucose which is used to produce energy by breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
It synthesises cholesterol and forms red blood cells, as well as sex- and stress-related hormones.
|B6 (pyridoxine)||Lowers homocysteine levels and may reduce the risk of heart disease. Plays key roles in sleep, appetite, and mood regulation. Helps make red blood cells and influences cognitive abilities and immune function.|
|B9 (Folate)||Helps to produce and maintain new cells, (important for pregnant women). Also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. Additionally, folate is what your body uses to make red blood cells and is vital in preventing anemia.|
|B12 (cobalamin)||Helps strengthen hair, nails and skin and to maintain a healthy digestive system. Reduces fatigue and regulates our central nervous system, minimising stress.|
|C||Helps fight colds. Needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. Helps with the structural part of blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. An antioxidant which helps repair and regenerate collagen, essential for healthy skin.|
|D||Known by most as the sunshine vitamin. Needed to maintain levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. It is also linked to the normal function of the immune system, healthy inflammatory response and the maintenance of normal muscle function.|
|E||Involved in immune function and is an antioxidant. Can help protect your skin from free radical damage.|
|K||Facilitates blood clotting for injuries. Also ensures calcium gets to the bones and blood and helps prevent calcification from occurring in the arteries and soft tissues.|
- Many vitamins perform similar functions, for example, both vitamins A and C promote healthy skin. Many of the “B” vitamins help your metabolism function properly and help with red blood cell production.
- Some body functions require specific vitamins. For example, vitamin D is essential in helping the body absorb and maintain the proper levels of calcium.
- Another bodily process for which you need a specific vitamin is blood coagulation, which requires vitamin K. Thankfully, deficiency in vitamin K is very rare because bacteria in the intestines produce about 75% of the Vitamin K your body needs.
DO YOU KNOW: Where to get your vitamins?
|Vitamin||Plant source||Animal source|
|A||Red chilis, red peppers, apricots, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, spinach
Note: Beta carotene can easily be converted to vitamin A as needed. (Sources of beta carotene: sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, squash, spinach, mangoes, turnip greens)
|Beef, liver, white fish
|B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin)||Brewer’s yeast, wheatgerm, rice, pinenuts, peanuts, soybeans, brazil nuts, red beans, millet||Pork, liver, lamb|
|B5 (pantothenic acid)||Brewer’s yeast, peanuts, mushrooms, soybeans, blue cheese, pecans, oatmeal, buckwheat||Liver, lobster, eggs, chicken
|B6 (pyridoxine)||Brewer’s yeast, sunflower seeds, wheatgerm, soybean, walnuts, lentils, lima beans, buckwheat||Tuna, beef, chicken, salmon, trout, mackerel|
|B9 (folate)||Brewer’s yeast, rice germ, soy, kidney beans, mung beans, asparagus, lentils, walnuts, spinach||Liver, beef|
|B12 (cobalamin)||Cheese (all kinds)||Liver, clams, lamb, beef, sardines, oysters, egg, salmon, tuna|
|C||Red chilis, guava, kale, parsley, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, strawberries, papaya, spinach, oranges||Oysters, liver|
|D||Sunflower seeds, mushrooms, cheese||Sardine, salmon, tuna, shrimp, eggs|
|E||Wheatgerm oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, sesame oil, peanuts, corn, olive oil, soybean oil||Egg, lamb|
|K||Turnips, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, spinach, asparagus, cheese||Liver, pork, beef, dairy|
DO YOU KNOW: Is food enough?
The answer is - it depends.
The mantra is ‘food first, supplement to fill in the gaps’. There will be times during your life that you need to adapt your diet to suit your changing needs. For example, if you become pregnant or simply as you get older. Likewise if you decide to become vegetarian or vegan you may have to rethink your diet to make sure you get all the nutrients you need.
So, did you know your vits? Hopefully you do now!
- Harvard Health Publication, Listing Vitamins, http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/listing_of_vitamins, June 2009
- Dr Tamer Shaban, Natural News, Your Guide to Essential Vitamins and Minerals, http://www.naturalnews.com/023182_vitamins_natural_deficiency.html#, May 2008
- Nutri Fact , http://www.nutri-facts.org/eng/vitamins/vitamins/introduction/
- Nutritent Content of Foods, Ruth Kendon ND, 3rd edition, 2006
- Henry Osiecki, The Nutrient Bible, sixth edition, 2004