Vitamins 101: Understanding Their Role in Your Health and Well-Being

all about vitamins

There’s a fine line between getting enough vitamins and staying healthy and getting too much and having these beneficial compounds end up causing more harm than good. Fortunately, evidence shows that consuming too many vitamins isn’t a problem for most Americans. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. Studies show that up to 94.3% of the U.S. population suffers from at least one vitamin or mineral deficiency. This is quite alarming considering vitamins are imperative for keeping the body running properly; even one deficiency can throw your entire system off. So, it’s time to sharpen up on your vitamin knowledge. In this article, we provide you with everything you need to know about all of the vitamins, the purpose they serve and simple ways to ensure you’re consuming the best amount for optimal health and wellness.

Types of Vitamins and Their Purpose

Vitamins are absolutely essential for keeping your body functioning properly. They have many different jobs, all of which work in conjunction to keep you healthy – and alive. Yes, they’re that important. For example, some vitamins help your body resist infection or to heal wounds, while others assist with converting food into energy, repairing cells or ensuring your blood clots properly. Together, they perform hundreds of different roles.

The types of vitamins are separated into two categories: water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins

When a vitamin is “water-soluble”, this means that it gets absorbed directly into the bloodstream as the food you consume (or supplement you take) gets broken down. Anything your body doesn’t need gets disposed of through the urine. These types of vitamins circulate easily through the body, so they don’t last long and need to be replenished fairly frequently. 

The most important water-soluble vitamins are the different types of vitamin B and vitamin C. 

B Vitamins and Their Roles

B vitamins are often talked about as a group, and that’s because they work together to serve a larger purpose: to fuel your body. However, each B vitamin has its own individual role that allows this to happen. For example, almost all of the B vitamins help get energy from the food you consume, but B1, B2, B3, B4, and B7 also engage in energy production to produce energy.  Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 also help metabolize the amino acids from food to assist with building proteins and cells.

Here’s a closer look at the small roles each B vitamin has:

  • B1 (thiamin)
  • B2 (riboflavin)
  • B3 (Niacin)
  • B4 (Panthohenic Acid)
  • B6 (Pyridoxine)
  • B7 (Biotin)
  • B9 (Folic Acid)
  • B12 (Cobalamin)

Vitamin C and Its Role

If there’s one vitamin most of us know about, it’s vitamin C. After all, it’s a go-to vitamin for many of us when we feel a sniffle or flu bug coming on because it has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of many different common illnesses. However, vitamin C does much more than simply nipping a cold in the bud, such as:

  • Protects cells from damage
  • Produces collagen for your bones, skin and muscles to heal wounds
  • Supports blood vessel walls
  • Helps the body absorb iron
  • Supports the immune system
  • Forms a strong foundation for teeth and bones

Fat-soluble vitamins

A fat-soluble vitamin is one that gets absorbed with the fats from the foods you consume. They enter the bloodstream through your intestinal wall and often need a protein to act as its carrier. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins also get stored in the liver and the body’s fat tissue for up to 6 months. Your body naturally releases them as needed. For this reason, they don’t need to be replenished frequently, as water-soluble vitamins do. In fact, you can get the doses you need in weeks or months’ time, rather than daily.

The fat-soluble vitamins are:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

Together, fat-soluble vitamins help keep your eyes, skin, gastrointestinal tract and nervous system healthy and working properly. For example, vitamins A, D and K aid bone formation to build bones, vitamin A keeps your cells healthy and protects your eyesight, vitamin E helps absorb and store vitamin A while also acting as an antioxidant to protect your body against damage. However, they also serve many additional purposes, such as:

  • Vitamin A: an essential vitamin for cell division, reproduction, immunity, vision and growth
  • Vitamin D: assists the body with absorbing calcium and phosphorus for building bones, assists with controlling infections, and reduces inflammation and cancer cell growth.
  • Vitamin E: protects cells from free radicals, keeps the immune system strong, protects against viruses and bacteria, and promotes proper blood clotting.
  • Vitamin K: helps make the necessary proteins for proper blood clotting, heart health, and bone formation.

Recommended Vitamin Doses for Men and Women

Trying to keep track of what the different vitamins do and how much you need to keep your body healthy and functioning properly can seem like a daunting task. However, it’s absolutely imperative to understand the recommended amounts of each vitamin, as getting too much or too little can lead to some serious health complications.

Here is a look at the recommended amounts for men and women over the age of 19. Keep in mind, the recommended dietary allowance may increase or decrease depending on a variety of factors, such as pregnancy.

Vitamin requirements for women aged 19+:

  • Vitamin A: 700 mcg/day
  • B1 (thiamin): 1.1 mg/day
  • B2 (riboflavin): 1.1 mg/day
  • B3 (niacin): 14 mg/day
  • B5 (panthothenic acid): 5 mg/day
  • B6: 1.3 mg/day (1.5 mg/day for women over 51)
  • B7 (biotin): 30 mcg/day
  • B9 (folic acid): 400 mcg/day
  • B12: 2.4 mcg
  • Vitamin C: 75 mg/day
  • Vitamin D: 15 mcg/day (20 mcg/day for women over 70)
  • Vitamin E: 15 mg/day
  • Vitamin K: 90 mg

Vitamin requirements for men aged 19+:

  • Vitamin A: 900 mcg/day
  • B1 (thiamin): 1.2 mg/day
  • B2 (riboflavin): 1.3 mg/day
  • B3 (niacin): 16 mg/day
  • B5 (panthothenic acid): 5 mg/day
  • B6: 2 mg/day
  • B7 (biotin): 30 mcg/day
  • B9 (Folic Acid): 400 mcg/day
  • B12: 2.4 mcg/day
  • Vitamin C: 90 mg/day
  • Vitamin D: 15 mcg/day (20 mcg/day for men over 70)
  • Vitamin E: 15 mg/day
  • Vitamin K: 120 mg/day

Simple Ways to Increase Your Vitamin Intake

Now that we understand the importance of each vitamin and what purpose it serves in your overall health, it’s time to start increasing your intake where needed. Eating a healthy diet has always been and remains to be the best way to get satisfactory amounts of all of the vitamins (and minerals). However, there are several circumstances that can make it difficult to get all of the vitamins you need, whether it’s due to dietary restrictions or allergies, or simply personal preference. The good news: there are many other options! Let’s take look at simple ways you can increase your vitamin intake:

  • Take a multivitamin
  • Include more fruits and vegetables in your meals
  • Aim to have a colorful plate of food for each meal
  • Know the top food sources
    • Vitamin A: Beef, eggs, shrimp, fish, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, mangoes and spinach
    • B1: ham, watermelon, acorn squash and soymilk
    • B2: milk, cheese, yogurt, whole grains and cereals
    • B3: meat, poultry, whole grains, fish, mushrooms and potatoes
    • B5: chicken, broccoli, avocados, mushrooms and whole grains
    • B6: meat, fish, poultry, tofu, bananas and legumes
    • B7: whole grains, soybeans, fish and eggs
    • B9: asparagus, spinach, legumes, broccoli and orange juice
    • B12: Meat, poultry, fish, cheese, milk, cereals
    • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, broccoli, bell peppers, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes and Brussel sprouts
    • Vitamin D: fortified milk, cereals and fatty fish
    • Vitamin E: leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts and vegetable oils
    • Vitamin K: Eggs, cabbage, milk, spinach, kale and broccoli
  • Try new recipes – expand your palette
  • Start cooking more and eating out less
  • Cut up your fruits and vegetables to free up the nutrients more easily
  • Store fruits and vegetables properly to maintain nutrition value
  • Eat more fresh, locally grown foods to maximize vitamin and mineral content
  • Know which vitamins are heat sensitive
    • Heat breaks down vitamins B1, B5, B9 and vitamin C
  • Strategically pair your foods for maximum nutrient absorption
    • Eat fat-soluble vitamins with dietary fats
    • Pair vitamin C with iron

Not getting enough vitamins or too many vitamins can have serious consequences for your health. With the information and tips in this article, you can make some simple adjustments to the way you source, prep, cook and enjoy your foods to ensure maximum nutritional content is absorbed with every bite.

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