This article has been medically approved by Pharmacist Sumaiya Patel - GPhC Reg No: 2215078
You should be eating a balanced and varied diet to ensure you are getting all the essential vitamins you need, but have you ever questioned how vitamins actually work and why our bodies need them? Read our article for more information on vitamins and why we need our daily recommended vitamins.
Where Do I Find Vitamins?
Vitamins come in two forms - fat-soluble and water-soluble. We get fat-soluble vitamins mostly from fatty foods such as butter and oily fish. Our bodies are able to store these vitamins for future use. Water-soluble vitamins (including all the B vitamins) are found in fruits, vegetables and grains. We need to ensure we get enough of these daily, as the body is unable to store any excess.
Why Do I Need Vitamins?
A shortage of any one vitamin is likely to cause ill-health. Old-fashioned-sounding disorders such as beriberi, rickets, and scurvy are all the result of vitamin deficiencies. Although these disorders sound old-fashioned, everyone is still at risk of developing them if essential vitamins are missed out of the diet.
Vitamins are needed for a whole host of functions inside the body, including normal cell function, growth, and development. This is why they are so important.
What Vitamins do I need?
The 13 essential vitamins needed for the body to function properly are:
Vitamin A (also known as Retinol) has several important functions within the body. These functions include helping your immune system to work properly, helping vision in dim lighting, and keeping skin and the lining of some parts of the body (such as the nose) healthy. Good sources of Vitamin A include cheese, eggs, oily fish, fortified low-fat spread, milk, yogurt, liver, and liver products such as pate.You can get Vitamin A by including good sources of beta-carotene in your diet. Your body changes beta-carotene into Vitamin A. Good sources of beta-carotene are yellow, red and green vegetables such as spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers, and yellow fruit such as mango, papaya and apricots.
Vitamin C is essential as it helps to keep our cells healthy and is known to be a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants block some of the damage caused by free radicals (harmful cells in the body that can cause cancer). Vitamin C is found in oranges and orange juice and in many other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin D is dubbed the 'sunshine Vitamin' because, unlike other vitamins, we get most of our intake from sunlight rather than from our diets. Although it can be found in a small number of foods including: egg yolks, red meat, fortified foods, liver, and oily fish, most of our Vitamin D comes from natural sunlight. Our bodies absorb the sunlight and process this to make Vitamin D.From late March/early April to the end of September most people should be able to get all their required Vitamin D from sunlight, but this is not the case between October and March.
Vitamin E helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, and strengthen the body's natural immune system. Good sources include plant oils, nuts and seed, and wheatgerm.
Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting, which means it helps wounds heal properly. Without Vitamin K we would carry on bleeding even if after a minor injury. Vitamin K is given to newborn babies immediately after birth, either by injection or by mouth. This helps prevent a rare bleeding disorder called Haemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, and cereal grains. Small amounts can also be found in meat and dairy foods.
Vitamin B1 (also called Thiamin) helps to break down and release energy from food and keep the nervous system healthy. Vitamin B1 is found in many foods, including peas, fresh and dried fruit, eggs, wholegrain breads, some fortified breakfast cereals, and liver.
Vitamin B2 (also called Riboflavin) helps to release energy from food, and keeps skin, eyes, and nervous system healthy. Good sources of Vitamin B2 include milk, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, oats, cooked beef, mushrooms, plain fat free yogurt, and rice. UV light can destroy Vitamin B2, so these foods should be kept out of sunlight.
Vitamin B3 (also called Niacin) helps to release energy from the food we eat, and keeps the nervous system and skin healthy. There are two types of Vitamin B3: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. Both are found in foods including meat, fish, what flour, eggs, and milk.
Pantothenic acid is used by the body to convert food into fuel for energy. Vitamin B5 also has some additional functions such as helping with the manufacture of red blood cells and some hormones.
Pantothenic acid is found in most vegetables, including: broccoli, members of the cabbage family, white and sweet potatoes, and whole-grain cereals. It can also be found in mushrooms, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, meats, poultry, dairy products, and eggs.
Biotin assists the body in converting carbohydrates into fuel and helps to metabolise fats and proteins.
The top 10 foods that contain Biotin are egg yolks, legumes, nuts and seeds, liver, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, bananas, broccoli, yeast, and avocadoes.
Vitamin B6 (also called Pyridoxine) helps the body to use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates in food, and form haemoglobin (the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen). Vitamin B6 is found in a wide range of foods, including pork, poultry, fish, bread, wholegrain cereals, eggs, vegetables, soya beans, peanuts, milk, potatoes, and some fortified breakfast cereal.
Vitamin B12 is involved in making red blood cells, keeping the nervous system healthy, releasing energy from food, and using folic acid. Sources of Vitamin B12 include meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs, and some fortified breakfast cereals.
Folate is a B vitamin found in many foods. The manmade form for Folate is Folic Acid. Folic Acid is often associated with pregnancy as expectant mums will be advised to take folic acid supplements during pregnancy. This is because folic acid can help to reduce the risk of central neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in unborn babies. But folic acid is not just for new mums. It is essential in helping the body form healthy red blood cells. Small amounts of Folate can be found in many foods, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, liver (but this should not be consumed during pregnancy), leafy green vegetables, peas, chickpeas, and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.