So, what are vitamins exactly?

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It’s time for us to get serious about our health. With the introduction of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, people worldwide realize how important it is that our immune systems are strong and our bodies are prepared to handle whatever comes our way.

People also realize that having enough essential vitamins is one of the fastest ways to get healthier. Now more than ever, we have people asking us questions like ‘what are vitamins?’ and ‘how do vitamins function?’.

So, we’re going to take some time to get back to the basics. Let’s talk about the different types of vitamins, what they do, and the sources of vitamins so you can get healthier quickly.

What are vitamins?

Vitamins are organic (carbon-based) compounds that are vital to our survival. Although we often talk about vitamins and minerals as part of the same conversation, they are actually not the same. 

Minerals, like zinc, phosphorous, and iron, are found in rocks and soil, but we get vitamins by consuming plants and animals. 

Our bodies produce some vitamins (but often not enough), while our bodies do not produce minerals at all. 

Vitamins and minerals are both important to our health, so we need to make sure we get the right amount of each (or take a supplement to boost our levels).

Types of vitamins

Vitamin A

This includes retinol, retinal, retinyl esters, and retinoic acid. You can also look for foods with carotenoids such as beta carotene, which are converted to vitamin A. 

Why do I need it? A lot of people have heard that eating carrots improves our vision, which is proven to be true due to their high levels of vitamin A. 

However, fewer people know that carrots and other foods that are rich in vitamin A support a healthy immune system by fighting infection in our bodies and promoting a faster recovery time when we get sick. 

The vitamins function to clear bacteria and other pathogens from our bloodstream as well. Other benefits include the reduced risks of bone fractures, cancer, and skin conditions.

How much do I need? The recommended intake for an adult male is 900 micrograms per day or 700 micrograms for an adult woman. This is the equivalent of about one cup of cooked kale. 

To boost your intake, you can eat a slice of beef liver, which has about 6,400 micrograms of vitamin A – over 7 times the daily recommended amount! 

Another option would be a sweet potato, which has over twice the daily recommended intake.

What are the best sources of vitamin A? Additional foods that are great sources of vitamin A are liver, salmon, pumpkins, squash, and mangoes.

Vitamin D 

Vitamin D is also sometimes called calciferol, which includes ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Focus on this vitamin is important because so many people are vitamin D deficient, 

even though most are unaware. This is thought to be related to the change in our modern lifestyles, where we spend less than time in the sun than our ancestors (which may become a greater issue in our new age of social distancing).

Why do I need it? Vitamin D can protect us against certain bone disorders and even colon, prostate, pancreatic, and breast cancer. Additionally, this vitamin is essential for the health of our teeth, bones, and muscles.

How much do I need? Teens and adults are recommended to consume 15 micrograms of vitamin D (600 IU) per day. This is equivalent to half of a fillet of salmon or 2.5 packs of tuna.

What are the best sources of vitamin D? Mushrooms that were grown under ultraviolet lights are high in vitamin D2, while fatty fish like salmon and tuna are rich in vitamin D3. Additionally, eggs and cheese are sources of vitamin D.

Unfortunately, there aren’t as many foods that are high in vitamin D. So here are 3 additional ways for you to increase your intake:

  •   Look for foods that are fortified, or strengthened, with vitamin D. You will often see food labels noting that orange juice, whole milk, plan-based milk (such as almond or coconut), and breakfast cereals are fortified.
  •   Get out in the sun. Even if you just walk outside alone for a few minutes to get some fresh air, get some sun to increase your vitamin D intake. 
  •   If you believe you have a vitamin D deficiency, consult your doctor and find out whether you should take an over-the-counter supplement or a higher-impact prescription medication to increase your levels.

Vitamin E 

This vitamin, also called alpha-tocopherol, may be best known as a beauty aid due to its anti-aging benefits. These vitamins function as antioxidants by helping to prevent damage to cells and protect brain health. 

Why do I need it? Vitamin E slows the aging process and allows the cells in our bodies to live longer. It also helps to prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). 

Further, vitamin E helps to prevent sunburn, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, certain blood disorders, liver inflammation, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

How much do I need? Adults should consume 15 milligrams of vitamin E per day. This is the equivalent of about 2 ounces of almonds. 

What are the best sources of vitamin E? Nuts, seeds, and cooking oils are common sources of vitamin E. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts, sunflower oil, 

and almond oil each supply vitamin E into our diets. Additionally, salmon, turnip greens, crawfish, lobster, and avocado are important sources of vitamin E.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K might have the strangest name on the list – phylloquinone menadione. Like seriously – what? We’ll just stick with calling it vitamin K.

Why do I need it? This vitamin is important for bone and blood health. It helps to regulate the calcium levels in our blood, and it helps the blood clotting process to prevent excessive bleeding. 

How much do I need? It is recommended that adult women consume 90 micrograms of vitamin K per day, while adult men should consume 120 micrograms. 

This can easily be accomplished with a healthy diet. For instance, a serving of spinach has about 4 times the recommended daily recommended amount of vitamin K. 

What are the best sources of vitamin K? Vitamin K can be found in leafy green vegetables, like spinach and kale, as well as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, lean meat, and cereal. 

Water-soluble 

 

Water-soluble vitamins include all of the B vitamins, commonly known as B complex, as well as vitamin C. 

These vitamins are carried throughout the body but not stored, which means that the vitamins do not build up in your system like fat-soluble vitamins. Therefore, it is even more important to replenish these vitamins every day.

Vitamin B1

Sometimes called thiamine, this vitamin helps our bodies produce energy and it aids in cell reproduction. 

Why do I need it? Thiamine converts food into energy by breaking down carbs, which is super-important in helping our bodies stay slimmer and more fit. Research has also proven that vitamin B1 promotes healthy cognitive functions, prevents early cell death, 

and helps the heart pump blood more efficiently. It is also used in treatment for alcoholism. When we don’t have enough vitamin B1 in our systems, we could suffer from fatigue, irritability, and nausea.

How much do I need? Adult men should consume 1.2 milligrams of thiamine per day, while adult women should consume 1.1 milligrams. This is the equivalent of a 6-ounce lean pork chop or two 6-ounce salmon fillets.

What are the best sources of vitamin B1? Seafood, black beans, whole grains, sunflower seeds, oatmeal, and cereal are each a source of vitamin B1.

Vitamin B2 

Riboflavin is another name for vitamin B2. This is a vitamin that many people have heard of for one reason or another but few people really know what it is or what it does.

Why do I need it? Vitamin B2 aids in energy production, but it is most known for its positive impact on the musculoskeletal system, nervous system, and heart. It also helps to metabolize glucose to avoid diabetes, 

or help manage diabetes if you already have it. Other benefits include decreasing the risk of cataracts and reducing the frequency of migraines. 

How much do I need? The daily recommended allowance of riboflavin is 1.3 milligrams for an adult male or 1.1 milligrams for an adult female. 

You can get this much riboflavin simply by eating beef liver – just 3 ounces has almost three times the daily recommended allowance.

What are the best sources of vitamin B2? Lean meat, eggs, and milk are particularly high in vitamin B2. Additionally, eating bread, liver, or spinach is a good way to make sure you have enough riboflavin in your diet. 

However, it is recommended that you steam or microwave riboflavin-rich vegetables when possible, rather than boiling them, because these water-soluble foods lose a lot of their nutrients in water.

Vitamin B3 

Another name for vitamin B3 is niacin, which may be best known among those who are trying to control their cholesterol. You can also look for foods with tryptophan, which is an amino acid that the body converts to niacin.

Why do I need it? Niacin is what turns the food in our bodies into energy, and it helps us to have healthy skin, an efficient digestive system, and an effective nervous system. 

How much do I need? The daily recommended allowance for men is 16 milligrams, whereas women consume 14 milligrams per day. A healthy diet can easily include the recommended amount by eating a 3-ounce chicken breast with a cup of brown rice.

What are the best sources of vitamin B3? Perhaps the best source of niacin is a pan-fried, 3-ounce beef liver, which is about 15 milligrams of niacin, along with a slice of whole wheat bread, which has about 1.4 milligrams. 

You can also drink milk or eat tortillas and cereals to increase the niacin in your daily diet.

Vitamin B5

Also known as pantothenic acid or pantothenate, vitamin B5 is an essential nutrient.  It is widely available, found in almost all foods, so few people have a deficiency. 

However, deficiencies are critical, so it is still important to make sure we have enough in our diets.

Why do I need it? This vitamin creates red blood cells that carry oxygen to the body’s tissues to ensure we don’t develop anemia.  

It also helps us maintain a healthy digestive system, produce sex hormones, promote healthy hair, and manage our stress. 

How much do I need? Adult men and women should consume at least 5 milligrams of vitamin B5 per day. This is equal to about a half a cup of sunflower seeds or a cup of shitake mushrooms. 

What are the best sources of vitamin B5? A boiled, 3-ounce beef liver has about 8.3 milligrams of vitamin B5, which is considerably more than the daily adequate intake. 

Other foods with vitamin B5 are raw avocadoes, potatoes, tuna, and fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin B6 

This vitamin is comprised of various compounds, but the most common of those compounds is called pyridoxine. However, most people refer to the vitamin group collectively as vitamin B6.

Why do I need it? This vitamin has a wide variety of benefits, including promoting healthy brain function, managing symptoms of depression, boosting our blood supply, reducing the risk of heart disease, and treating nausea.

How much do I need? The daily recommended dietary allowance for vitamin B6 is between 1.3 and 1.7 milligrams for an adult male or between 1.3 and 1.5 milligrams for an adult female. 

For example, you can meet your daily allowance by eating a cup of canned chickpeas and ground beef patty.

What are the best sources of vitamin B6? Sources of pyridoxine include turkey, spaghetti sauce, raisins, rice, and cottage cheese.

Vitamin B7 

Also called biotin and vitamin H, this vitamin receives a lot of attention as part of the beauty industry because it thickens hair, clears skin, and strengthens nails. But this vitamin is so much more than a beauty enhancer.

Why do I need it? Biotin helps to stabilize our blood sugar and it promotes healthy brain function, which are both critical to our survival. 

Additionally, it promotes cell growth, which helps to fight cancer, and it helps to rebuild tissue internally and externally – not just our skin.

How much do I need? The adequate intake for an adult is 30 micrograms per day, which is the equivalent of about 3 eggs.

What are the best sources of vitamin B7? Canned tuna, almonds, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pork chops, and salmon each contain biotin to contribute our daily intake amount.

Vitamin B9

Folate, folic acid, and folacin are additional names for this important vitamin. It’s most widely known as important for a healthy pregnancy, but there are so many other benefits from getting the proper amount of vitamin B9 in our bodies.   

Why do I need it? Folate is used to produce both white and red blood cells in bone marrow, and it also is used in the production of DNA and RNA for our cells. It helps to convert carbs so we will have the energy to keep moving 

(and so our food doesn’t turn to fat within our bodies). This vitamin is very helpful in combination with vitamin B12 to boost our immune system and reduce fatigue.

How much do I need? The recommended dietary allowance for teens and adults is 400 micrograms per day. This is equivalent to 1.5 cups of boiled spinach or 6 ounces of braised beef liver.

What are the best sources of vitamin B9? Additional sources of folate include Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, asparagus, spaghetti, and bread.

Vitamin B12

Cobalamins, or vitamin B12, exists in many forms, including within the mineral cobalt. In our bodies, this vitamin functions to support the nervous system and a healthy metabolism. 

Why do I need it? Vitamin B12 helps to develop red blood cells, prevent anemia, and support bone health. It also works wonders to improve our moods and address symptoms of depression. Further, it helps boost our energy, reduce the risk of vision problems, and improve memory.

How much do I need? Individuals aged 14 and older should consume at least 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day. The good news is there are many ways to get this much vitamin B12 in your diet. 

For instance, 3 ounces of cooked clams has 84.1 micrograms of vitamin B12, which is a whopping 3,504% of the daily recommended dietary allowance.  

What are the best sources of vitamin B12? For most vitamins, you need servings of healthy foods in multiple meals per day to meet your daily allowance. However, with vitamin B12 just one serving of many common foods can meet your dietary needs for the day. 

For example, a cooked 3-ounce sockeye salmon, can of tuna, cooked 3-ounce beef liver, or a serving of fortified nutritional yeasts can satisfy your daily goals.

Tip: Combine with folate (vitamin B9). These two B vitamins work together for more efficient cell replication, which can help us fight cancer and repair injuries to the body. It helps us heal more quickly, which makes our bodies stronger and less vulnerable. 

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, plays an important role in our immune system, which is why so many households recognize the benefits of taking vitamin C to fight off the common cold and other viruses. 

However, there are many other benefits in addition to a strong immune system.

Why do I need it? One of the biggest questions today is whether high doses of vitamin C will cure coronavirus. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to indicate that vitamin C is an effective treatment to prevent or treat coronavirus – studies are still underway. 

However, it is proven to build the immune system in general and it helps heal wounds, promote cardiovascular health, improve eye health, and prevent cancer.

How much do I need? Adults males should consume 90 milligrams of vitamin C, while an adult female should consume 75 milligrams. Just one glass of orange juice exceeds the recommended daily allowance.

What are the best sources of vitamin C? Additional sources of vitamin C include strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, and kiwi. 

Combine vitamin C with iron to increase iron absorption, such as by adding tomatoes or a lemon vinaigrette to your spinach salad.

Other: Choline

Choline technically isn’t a vitamin or a mineral, but it is mentioned because it is essential to human life. It is organic, water-soluble, and most closely associated with the vitamin B complex. 

Choline supports healthy liver function, brain development, cell development, and metabolism.  You can find choline in beets, spinach, eggs, and wheat.

Time for Action

As you can see, vitamins function to support virtually every major process within our bodies. We literally cannot survive without them. 

It’s not a good idea to try to consume too many vitamins in a short period of time, as this can have negative consequences. However, when our bodies don’t produce enough of a certain vitamin, it is imperative that you change your diet to make sure your intake is sufficient. 

Healthy eating is hard, especially when you’re on-the-go. Sometimes life doesn’t allow us the time to make our favorite 5-course, vitamin-filled meal. Those are the times that vitamin supplements can easily be worked into your daily routine. 

This can make your body stronger and better able to fight off illnesses, or better able to handle the illnesses if you get sick. It could save your life.

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