There’s no other way to say it: Our bodies are complex machines. They need lots of different nutrients to function properly, many of which our bodies cannot produce on their own. So we need to get them in decent daily doses through what we eat and drink. Vitamins serve a diverse range of purposes in our bodies. Let’s break down the A to K of vitamins.
Vitamin A seems like a logical place to start. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin that’s essential for our organs to function properly, and also supports vision, immune and reproductive systems. Beta carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A, which is why this vitamin can be found in good doses in sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, and carrots (ever seen a rabbit with glasses?). The most common source of the active form of vitamin A fortified dairy products. The recommended daily intake by the 700-900 micrograms. A medium sweet potato is all you need to get there. One thing to note is that vitamin A supplements are not advised. This vitamin can be toxic in high doses so best to stick with food sources—especially fruit and veggie ones.
The B vitamins are a set of water-soluble vitamins that help the body extract energy from food, and aid the formation of red blood cells. They are generally divided up into a few subsections. Vitamin B1 (a.k.a. thiamin) helps our bodies extract energy from the food we eat, and is found naturally in many foods, including whole grains, pork and fish, legumes, seeds and nuts. Vitamin B6 aids in macronutrient metabolism, and is essential during pregnancy and early childhood for the brain and immune system. It’s found in poultry and fish, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and non-citrus fruits. Vitamin B12 helps prevent anemia, and support nerve and blood cells, and create DNA, so that’s pretty important. It’s found in beef clams, fish, meat, eggs, and fortified cereals. Vegans and people with inadequate stomach acid—which is pretty much anyone over 50 or anyone who is taking acid-blocking medications—should take a B12 supplement or be mindful of including B12 fortified foods in their menu.
We all know vitamin C, but did you know that most animals other than humans can produce it on their own? It’s an antioxidant, and helps the body produce collagen which helps heal wounds. We get it from citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, plus bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries and tomatoes. Most people need 75 to 90 mg a day, which is easy to do if you’re eating fruits and veggies. A half cup of broccoli brings you to 50 mg. One more vitamin C-rich fruit or veg and you’re over the line.
A fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, vitamin D is important for bone health, muscle movement, and to help our nerves tell the body what to do. It also helps prevent osteoporosis. Because not many foods provide it naturally, many of us get vitamin D from fortified sources, such as milk, orange juice, cereals and yogurt, but you have to check the label to make sure it’s there. We can also create vitamin D when we’re exposed to sunlight, but you want to monitor how much sun you get because of the risk of skin cancer. In most cases, it’s better to get vitamins and minerals from real food, but this is the one exception. Most people could benefit from taking 1,000 IUs a day. Check with your healthcare professional for an individual recommendation.
Several common foods naturally have vitamin E, which helps support the immune system and acts as an antioxidant. Vegetable oils, such as sunflower and safflower oils, are considered prime sources and Almonds, sunflower seeds and wheat germ top the list. You’ll get plenty of vitamin E by using salad dressings containing these vegetable oils and topping your greens with crunchy nuts or seeds.
Vitamin K is vital for healthy bones, and helps the blood clot to prevent excessive bleeding. We get it in leafy green veggies such as kale, collards, spinach and romaine, plus pumpkin, pine nuts, and soy beans. Though vitamin K deficiency is not a common occurrence, those who are affected by it may experience bruising and bleeding. People on blood thinners need to make sure they’re getting a similar amount of vitamin K each day.
Do you know the A, B, C, D, E, Ks of vitamins? Let us know how well you know them in the comments and on Twitter @luvoinc.