What Are Vitamins and Why Do I Need Them?

What Are Vitamins and Why Do I Need Them?

Vitamins are organic substances present in minute amounts in natural foodstuffs and are essential to normal metabolism. When there are insufficient amounts in one’s diet it can lead to a number of diseases.

There are two basic groups of vitamins… fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored within the fat tissues of our bodies and in the liver. They are easier to store than water-soluble vitamins and some can actually stay in the body as reserves for several days.

Water-soluble vitamins are unable to be stored in the body for very long; and are soon expelled through urine. Thus water-soluble vitamins need to be replaced more frequently than fat-soluble ones.

Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. Vitamins C and all the B vitamins are water-soluble.

Whereas vitamins are organic substances (made by plants or animals), minerals are inorganic elements that come from the soil and water and are absorbed by plants or eaten by animals.

Your body needs larger amounts of some minerals more than others, such as calcium, to stay healthy. Other minerals like chromium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc are called trace minerals because you only need very small amounts of them each day.

Vitamins and what they do…

Vitamin A

Chemical names: Retinol, Retinal and Beta Carotene.

Vitamin A is fat-soluble. Deficiency may cause Night-Blindness or Keratomalacia (an eye disorder that affects the cornea)

Good food sources: carrots, broccoli, sweet potato, butter, kale, spinach, pumpkin, collard greens, cheese, egg, apricot, cantaloupe melon, milk, liver and cod liver oil.

Vitamin B1

Chemical name: Thiamine

Vitamin B1 is water-soluble. Deficiency may cause Beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (impaired vision & memory due to severe B1 deficiency as a result of extreme alcohol abuse).

Good food sources: yeast, cereal & whole grains, sunflower seeds, brown rice, asparagus, cauliflower, kale, potatoes, pork, liver and eggs.

Vitamin B2

Chemical name: Riboflavin

Vitamin B2 is water-soluble. Deficiency may cause Ariboflavinosis (weakened liver function).

Good food sources: asparagus, bananas, chard, okra, persimmons, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, meat, eggs, fish and green beans.

Vitamin B3

Chemical name: Niacin (Niacinamide)

Vitamin B3 is water-soluble. Deficiency may cause Pellagra (classically described as “The four D’s” Pellagra is a very serious disease that starts with chronic diarrhea; then dermatitis, followed by dementia and if left untreated, death within four or five years).

Good food sources: liver, heart, kidney, chicken, beef, fish (tuna, salmon), milk, eggs, avocados, dates, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, nuts, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms and brewer’s yeast.

Vitamin B5

Chemical name: Pantothenic Acid

Vitamin B5 is water-soluble. Deficiency may cause Paresthesia (symptoms include frequent sensations of tingling or numbness of one’s skin; more generally known as feeling “pins and needles” or of a limb “falling asleep”).

Good food sources: meats, whole grains, broccoli, avocados and fish.

Vitamin B6

Chemical names: Pyridoxine, Pyridoxamine or Pyridoxal

Vitamin B6 is water-soluble. Deficiency may cause Anemia (shortage of red blood cells and hemoglobin); Peripheral Neuropathy (damage to the nervous system).

Good food sources: meats, bananas, whole grains, vegetables and nuts.

Note that powdered or “dried milk” loses about half of its B6. Foods subjected to freezing and canning will also lose substantial B6 content.

Vitamin B7

Chemical name: Biotin

Vitamin B7 is water-soluble. Deficiency may cause Dermatitis (mild to severe skin disorders) and/or Enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine resulting in cramps, diarrhea and fever).

Good food sources: egg yolk, liver and some green vegetables.

Vitamin B9

Chemical names: Folic Acid, Folinic Acid

Vitamin B9 is water-soluble. Deficiency among pregnant women has been linked to birth defects

Good food sources: leafy vegetables, legumes, liver, baker’s yeast, grain products and sunflower seeds. Several fruits have moderate amounts of B9.

Vitamin B12

Chemical names: Cyanocobalamin, hydroxyl-cobalamin, methyl-cobalamin

Vitamin B12 is water-soluble. Deficiency may cause Megaloblastic Anemia (an anemia resulting from inhibition of DNA synthesis in red blood cell production).

Good food sources: fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and dairy products. Some fortified cereals and soy products, as well as fortified nutritional yeast.

Vitamin C

Chemical names: Ascorbic Acid

Vitamin C is water-soluble. Deficiency may cause Megaloblastic Anemia (same as Vitamin B12 deficiency)

Good food sources: fruit and vegetables. Liver also has vitamin C.

Vitamin D

Chemical names: Ergocalciferol, Cholecalciferol

Vitamin D is fat-soluble. Deficiency may cause Osteomalacia (weakening disease of the bones often leading to fractures and deformity; related to Rickets).

Good food sources – fatty fish (salmon), eggs, beef liver and mushrooms. Also note that Vitamin D is produced in the skin after exposure to ultraviolet B light from the sun or artificial sources.

Vitamin E

Chemical names: Tocopherols, tocotrienols

Vitamin E is fat soluble. Vitamin E deficiency is uncommon; though it may cause anemia due to oxidative damage to red blood cells and impairment of the immune system.

Good food sources: kiwi fruit, almonds, avocado, eggs, milk, nuts, leafy green vegetables, unheated vegetable oils, wheat germ and whole grains.

Vitamin K

Chemical names: Phylloquinone, Menaquinones

Vitamin K is fat-soluble. Deficiency may cause Bleeding Diathesis (lack of normal blood coagulation and impaired wound healing).

Good food sources: leafy green vegetables, avocado, kiwi fruit. Also note that even though Parsley is mostly used as a garnish in restaurants, it contains a very high amount of vitamin K.

The Bottom Line…

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s not always possible to eat a balanced, healthy meal; thus it’s really important to make sure you use a quality multi-vitamin and other food supplements to maintain your energy, strength and good health.