Vitamins – The Function & Sources of These Essential Micronutrients
Vitamins are essential nutrients that are obtained from food, drink, sunlight (ultraviolet rays) and supplements. Even though they are only required in small doses, vitamins are vital for a number of roles in the body. This includes macronutrient conversion for energy, bone growth and repair, nerve and muscle function, red blood cell production and many more.
A vitamin is an organic compound and a vital nutrient that is essential for normal bodily function. There are 13 vitamins our body needs. Vitamins A, C, D, E, K and 8 types of B vitamin (Thiamine B1, Riboflavin B2, Niacin B3, Pantothenic Acid B5, Pyridoxine B6, Biotin B7, Folate B9 and Cyanocobalamin B12).
There are 2 Types of Vitamins:
Fat-Soluble Vitamins (A, D, E, K) are stored in fatty tissues and the liver. They are best absorbed with foods higher in fats. The body can use these vitamin stores for future use.
Water-Soluble Vitamins (B, C) are vitamins that dissolve in water. They are carried to the body’s tissues but the body cannot store them. These types of vitamins need to be consumed more regularly through diet or supplements.
Functions & Sources of Each Fat-Soluble Vitamin:
Vitamin A Function: improves vision in dark light, helps keep your skin healthy, boosts your immune system
Vitamin A Sources: oily fish, beef liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, sweet red pepper, spinach
Vitamin D Function: maintain and grow healthy bones and teeth, helps with calcium absorption, boosts immune system
Vitamin D Sources: eggs, oily fish, liver – vitamin D is best obtained from direct sunlight
Vitamin E Function: protects your body against free radicals, which causes damage to living cells and tissues
Vitamin E Sources: nuts (such as almonds), seeds (such as sunflower seeds), vegetable oils
Vitamin K Function: builds strong bones, plays a role in blood clotting, regulates calcium levels
Vitamin K Sources: most green vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli and spring greens
Functions & Sources of Each Water-Soluble Vitamin:
Vitamin C Function: helps keep cells and tissue healthy, helps the body absorb iron when you eat vitamin C and iron together
Vitamin C Sources: citrus fruits (such as orange and grapefruit), green and red peppers
Thiamine B1 Function: helps break down food for energy, helps the normal functioning of the heart, nervous system and muscles, helps maintain muscle tissue
Thiamine B1 Sources: meat (especially pork), fish, milk, whole grains, fortified cereals
Riboflavin B2 Function: helps break down food for energy, helps your body to absorb iron, helps with the production of red blood cells, boosts the immune system
Riboflavin B2 Sources: meat (especially beef and liver), fish, milk, eggs, oats, avocados, nuts (especially almonds)
Niacin B3 Function: helps break down food for energy, keeps your nervous and digestive systems optimal and healthy
Niacin B3 Sources: meat (especially beef, chicken and liver), fish (especially tuna and red salmon), nuts (especially peanuts), avocado
Pantothenic Acid B5 Function: helps break down food for energy
Pantothenic Acid B5 Sources: meat (especially animal organs like liver and kidney), fish (especially salmon and tuna), dairy, eggs, peanuts, green vegetables (like broccoli and peas)
Pyridoxine B6 Function: helps break down and release protein from food, produces haemoglobin in red blood cells
Pyridoxine B6 Sources: meat (especially liver, beef and chicken), fish, potatoes, nuts, pulses, spinach
Biotin B7 Function: helps break down food for energy
Biotin B7 Sources: meat (especially liver and kidney), fish, dairy (especially milk), eggs, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, spinach
Folate B9 Function: helps produce red blood cells, helps break down food for energy, improves brain health
Folate B9 Sources: beef liver, wild Atlantic salmon, eggs, green leafy vegetables (especially spinach and kale), chickpeas, most fruits
Cyanocobalamin B12 Function: boosts energy, helps produce red blood cells, helps keep a healthy nervous system, helps absorption of folate (B9), helps break down food for energy
Cyanocobalamin B12 Sources: meat (especially beef), fish, dairy (especially milk), eggs, fortified soy milk
B Vitamins are mostly obtained from animal products, especially vitamin B12. I would strongly recommend taking B12 and other B vitamin supplements if you are vegan.
Omega 3 – although omega 3 is not a vitamin or mineral, I have included it in this list because it is a very important fatty acid. It is an essential nutrient, meaning our body requires it but cannot make it so we need it from food. It is very common that people have a huge imbalance of omega 3 to omega 6. This figure is estimated to be around 18:1 when it should ideally be 2:1. This is why it is important to eat oily fish at least 3 times per week along with fish oil supplements.
Omega 3 Function: omega-3 fish oil is important for brain health and preventing and managing heart disease
Omega 3 Sources: the best sources are oily fish like salmon and mackerel and fish-oil capsules