When you’re young, taking your vitamins is fun — who didn’t love a Flintstones chewable vitamin? Vitamins are crucial for your development when you’re a child and remain essential to your overall health throughout your life. They keep your immune system functioning healthy and keep your body functioning properly.
For many, vitamin deficiency is a real problem. An estimated 2 billion people worldwide (primarily in developing countries) have some vitamin deficiency, which can lead to severe illness and even death in extreme cases. An Oregon State University report found that about 75% of the US population (aged 1 year or under) don’t consume the recommended intake of fruit, and more than 80% don’t consume the recommended intake of vegetables, which contributes to a vitamin deficiency and overall nutrient-poor diet. The report also pointed out how common it is for Americans to not get nearly enough vitamins from their food — requiring supplements to balance things out. While supplements are readily available for this reason, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that your body will benefit more from getting vitamins through food instead.
What are vitamins?
Vitamins are organic substances that your body needs to survive. Different vitamins serve different purposes — from boosting your immune system to keeping your bones strong. You’ll find vitamins most often in the food you eat, which is why a healthy balanced diet includes a variety of foods that you should eat in a day.
However, you can also take vitamin supplements if there are certain foods you don’t want to or can’t include in your diet or have a health concern that makes your vitamin levels lower. There are 13 essential vitamins that all human bodies need to stay healthy. Each one serves a different function and metabolizes differently. However, despite them all being different, each is important for your body’s growth and health.
The difference between vitamins and minerals
The quickest answer for the difference between vitamins and minerals is that vitamins are made by living things and minerals are found in the earth. Vitamins are essential to humans’ nutrition, but minerals aren’t always necessary. Vitamins are also organic, whereas minerals are not, which means vitamins can break down.
The difference between water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins
All vitamins are either water-soluble or fat-soluble, and this refers to how they’re broken down in your body once you ingest them. It also tells you how long they’ll last in your system once you’ve taken them.
Water-soluble vitamins are short-term vitamins that don’t stay in your body for long. When you ingest these, they break down quickly and your body absorbs what it needs (usually very little), and the rest is flushed out through your bodily waste. Water-soluble vitamins generally have to be taken more often because they don’t last long in your body.
These vitamins tend to be ones that your body only needs small amounts of at a time, which is why it’s not a problem to your health for them to break down so quickly. The B-vitamin family is all water-soluble, as well as vitamin C. These are your important water-soluble vitamins:
- Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, stay in your body for longer. Your body absorbs them with other fats you’re eating and the vitamins get stored in your body. Some fat-soluble vitamins will last in your body for months, allowing your body to use them slowly as needed. This is why these vitamins don’t need to be consumed quite as often or in large amounts — your body is hanging onto what it needs and not constantly flushing it back out.
There are four key fat-soluble vitamins that your body needs:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
The 13 essential vitamins your body needs to stay healthy
Vitamins help keep your body healthy and maintain normal bodily functions like keeping your bones strong and fighting off infections. These are the essential vitamins you need in your daily routine.
Why you need it: Vitamin A is known to support eye health, encourage production of white blood cells and regulate cell growth. Vitamin A also contributes to your immune health, which can help protect you from some diseases like certain cancers.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency may include poor eyesight, skin irritation, infections or infertility.
Good food sources: Leafy greens, tomatoes, liver, fish oil, milk, eggs, mango, orange and yellow vegetables
Why you need it: Vitamin C is most commonly used to fight off colds and infections. It’s also an antioxidant, which means it can help fight against free radicals, which can make you sick.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include dry skin, tiredness, weak immune system, joint pain and bloody gums. And while it’s uncommon, scurvy is also a symptom of vitamin C deficiency.
Good food sources: Citrus, cruciferous vegetables, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, white potatoes
Why you need it: Vitamin D contributes to building and maintaining your bones. This vitamin also reduces inflammation and infections.
Deficiency symptoms: Vitamin D deficiency symptoms include bone pain, tiredness, muscle cramps, and mood changes.
Good food sources: Egg yolks, dairy milk, salmon, tuna, beef liver
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include weak immune system, poor vision and muscle weakness.
Good food sources: Sunflower oil, almonds, peanuts, spinach, asparagus, mango, avocado
Why you need it: Vitamin K is important in helping your blood clot. It also contributes to building and strengthening your bones.
Deficiency symptoms: Vitamin K deficiency symptoms include an inability to clot blood, bleeding and osteoporosis.
Good food sources: Leafy greens, soybean oil, canola oil, fermented soy beans, cheese and eggs
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Why you need it: Thiamine is commonly used to treat nerve inflammation, and while it has other uses — like heart disease prevention and treating digestive issues — these have less research around them.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency include weight loss, muscle weakness and memory loss.
Good food sources: Pork, fish, beans, rice, yogurt, peas, lentils
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Why you need it: Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, helps the body maintain energy by breaking down protein, fats and carbohydrates. This vitamin also contributes to new cell growth.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin B2 deficiency include hair loss, sore throat, itchy eyes, anemia and cracked lips.
Good food sources: Yogurt, cheese, eggs, chicken breast, salmon, almonds, spinach
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Why you need it: Vitamin B3, or niacin, has antioxidant properties to help protect you from free radicals. It is also known to repair DNA and convert nutrients into energy your body can use.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin B3 deficiency include depression, headache, fatigue, memory loss, and hallucinations.
Good food sources: Red meat, fish, brown rice, nuts, seeds, legumes, bananas
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Why you need it: Vitamin B5 is an essential nutrient that helps your body metabolize fats, carbohydrates and proteins. It’s what your body uses to make coenzyme A, which is what it uses to break down the fatty acids.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin B5 deficiency include headache, nausea, restlessness, and muscle cramps.
Good sources: Beef, mushrooms, avocado, yogurt, potatoes, eggs, brown rice, oats, broccoli
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Why you need it: Vitamin B7 metabolizes carbohydrates, fat and protein in your body. It’s also been linked to strengthening your hair and nails, though the research on these uses is thin.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin B7 deficiency include brittle nails, thinning hair and scaly skin.
Good sources: Eggs, salmon, avocado, pork, sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, beef liver
Why you need it: Vitamin B6 has been known to help boost your immune system and encourage brain health. It also aids your body in breaking down carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency include depression, lowered immunity and confusion.
Good sources: Tuna, salmon, chickpeas, poultry, leafy greens, bananas, papayas
Why you need it: Vitamin B12 plays a key role in the development of your brain, creation of red blood cells and creating DNA. It’s also been linked to helping prevent heart disease.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include seizures, memory loss, fatigue, anemia and tingling in the hands and legs.
Good sources: Fish, liver, red meat, eggs, poultry, milk, cheese, yogurt
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Why you need it: Vitamin B9 is important in the production of red blood cells in your body. olic acid, the supplement form of vitamin B9, is important for pregnant women as it aids even more in creating blood cells in the fetus.
Deficiency symptoms: Symptoms of vitamin B9 deficiency include hair loss, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, anemia and pale skin
Good sources: Leafy greens, beans, fresh fruit, eggs, liver, seafood, peanuts
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.