Posted: October 2021 | Last medically reviewed on October 2021
(6 Minute Read)
Eating a nutrient-rich, well balanced diet at every stage of life is the best way to ensure we are getting the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals needed for overall health. This involves consuming a variety of foods with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, a variety of proteins (i.e. lean meats and poultry, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds) and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides guidelines that detail how people can improve overall eating patterns to meet nutritional needs, promote health and prevent chronic disease.
Vitamins are a group of essential nutrients produced by plants or animals. Vitamin D is produced by the body. All other vitamins must be obtained from our diet. Vitamins are necessary to keep the body healthy and allow it to function properly. Having too little of any one vitamin may increase the risk of developing specific health problems.
There are 13 essential vitamins which are grouped into two categories:
Fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D, E, and K) - Leftover or excess quantities of these vitamins are stored in our fat tissues and liver as a reserve to be used at a later time.
Water-soluble vitamins (Vitamin C and all of the B vitamins) - Leftover or excess quantities of these vitamins are flushed out through our urine, so they must be consumed on a regular basis to ensure our bodies do not become deficient. Vitamin B12 is the only exception, this vitamin can be stored in the liver for years.
Each of these essential vitamins, either alone or in combination, carry out beneficial tasks in our body.
Vitamin A - Helps form and maintain healthy teeth, bone, skin, and soft tissues. It helps the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs work properly and also plays a role in vision, reproduction, cell function and the immune system.*
Dietary sources include: Beef liver and other organ meats; some types of fish, such as salmon; green leafy vegetables and other green, orange, and yellow vegetables like broccoli, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers, carrots and squash; fruits, dairy products, and fortified breakfast cereals.
B Vitamins - There are 8 main B vitamins which are involved in the body’s production of cellular energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The B vitamins are not a direct energy source; however, they function primarily as coenzymes or catalysts in the reactions that transfer the food we eat into energy. B vitamins, such as in a B complex supplement, may be part of a supplement regimen to support healthy energy metabolism.* Listed below are some additional functions of the individual B vitamins:
Dietary sources include: Whole grains and fortified bread, cereal, pasta, and rice; meat (especially pork) and fish; legumes, seeds, and nuts.
Riboflavin (B2) –Essential for growth, development and function of cells in the body. It is also important for brain function and healthy skin and hair.*
Dietary sources include: Eggs, organ meats, lean meats, low-fat milk, green vegetables, and fortified cereals, bread, and grain products.
Dietary sources include: Animal foods, such as poultry, beef, pork, and fish; some types of nuts, legumes, and grains; and enriched and fortified breads and cereals.
Pantothenic Acid (B5) – Assists in the production of hormones, neurotransmitters and hemoglobin. In addition, it helps to make and break down lipids (fats).*
Dietary sources include: Beef, poultry, seafood, and organ meats; eggs and milk; vegetables such as mushrooms, avocados, potatoes, and broccoli; whole grains, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and chickpeas.
Pyridoxine (B6) - Helps make red blood cells and supports brain and immune function. It is also involved in multiple enzyme reactions involved in metabolism as well as brain development during pregnancy and infancy.*
Dietary sources include: Poultry, fish, and organ meats; potatoes and other starchy vegetables; and non-citrus fruits.
Biotin (B7) – Important in the production of hormones and cholesterol. May help to support healthy bones, skin, nails and hair.*
Dietary sources include: Meat, fish, eggs, and organ meats; seeds, nuts and certain vegetables such as sweet potatoes, spinach, and broccoli.
Folate (B9) - Works in conjunction with vitamin B12 to help form red blood cells. It is vital for making DNA (the genetic material in all of our cells), which controls tissue growth and cell function. When taken in early pregnancy, it helps to prevent brain and spine birth defects in infants. In fact, child-bearing aged women who could become pregnant should take this supplement since they may not know they have conceived during the first weeks of pregnancy.
Dietary sources include: Beef liver; vegetables (especially asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and mustard greens), fruits and fruit juices; nuts, beans, and peas. Many foods are now fortified with folate in the form of folic acid.
Cobalamin (B12) – Helps to make red blood cells and DNA, maintain the central nervous system, and is important in metabolism.*
Dietary sources include: Beef liver and clams; fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products; some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts and other food products that are fortified with vitamin B12.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) - An antioxidant that helps protect our cells from damaging substances called free radicals. It helps support the immune system, maintain healthy tissues, improves iron absorption in the body, and contributes to collagen production, wound healing and bone formation.*
Dietary sources include: Citrus fruits and their juices, kiwi, strawberries, and cantaloupe; vegetables such as broccoli, red and green peppers, baked potatoes and tomatoes; and some foods and beverages that are fortified with vitamin C.
Vitamin D – Also called the “sunshine vitamin” because it is made by the body when skin is exposed to the sun. Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium, maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorus, and is essential for bone health. It also helps to support the immune system and muscle and nerve function.*
Dietary sources include: Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel; beef liver, cheese, mushrooms and egg yolks. Almost all of the U.S. milk supply is fortified with vitamin D, as are many of the plant-based alternatives (i.e. soy milk, almond milk, oat milk). Some breakfast cereals and some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and soy beverages are also fortified with Vitamin D.
Vitamin E – Also known as alpha-tocopherol, is an antioxidant that helps protect our cells from damaging substances called free radicals. It helps the body form red blood cells and utilize vitamin K. Vitamin E may also play a role in anti-inflammatory processes and immune system support.*
Dietary sources include: Vegetable oils, corn and soybean oils; nuts and seeds; green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli; some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, margarines and spreads are fortified with vitamin E.
Vitamin K - Important for blood clotting and bone health.* It can interact with the blood thinner warfarin, so it is important for those taking warfarin to have a consistent amount of vitamin K in their diet each day. Too much vitamin K can decrease the effect of warfarin, while too much can increase the risk of bleeding.
Dietary sources include: Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and lettuce; vegetable oils; some fruits, such as blueberries and figs; and meat, cheese, eggs, and soybeans.
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for each vitamin reflects the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of most healthy people. Recommended intakes vary by age and sex. Additional factors, such as pregnancy or breastfeeding, are also important considerations.
By following a healthy diet, one can obtain all essential nutrients from food sources. Some people, such as those adhering to a more restrictive diet (vegan/vegetarian), older adults, or those who do not eat a variety of foods may require a supplement to fill nutritional gaps. Always check with a healthcare provider before adding any supplement to your diet or current medication regimen. If a supplement is recommended, do not take more than 100% of the RDA unless otherwise instructed by your physician.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.