Vitamins are essential for physical, mental and emotional health. Insufficient vitamin intake can lead to vitamin deficiency and serious health conditions. In most cases, adequate vitamins can be obtained from a healthy diet. There are two main kinds of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored by the body and kept in reserve for later. Water-soluble vitamins are expelled from the body in urine, which makes regular intake essential.
Vitamin A, also known as retinol, retinal and retinoic acid, is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant. Vitamin A is essential for the formation of red blood cells, maintaining healthy sight, particularly night vision, and strengthening the immune system. It is also important for the maintenance of healthy epithelial cells, which line vulnerable parts of the human body, such as the lungs and digestive tract. Vitamin A deficiency can eventually lead to blindness.
Vitamin A can be found in eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, butter, liver, and oily fish. It can also be made by the body from beta-carotene, most commonly found in carrots and leafy dark green vegetables. In large quantities, vitamin A can be toxic, and excessive consumption has been linked to birth defects. Pregnant women are advised to limit the intake of liver and other foods rich in vitamin A. Prolonged excessive intake has also been linked to an increased risk of bone fractures in later life.
Vitamin B, or vitamin B complex, is made up of several different vitamins, each of which is important for maintaining good health and a healthy nervous system. The B vitamins are water soluble and easily expelled from the body in urine, which makes regular intake essential.
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, can be obtained from fresh fruit, dried fruit, eggs, milk, cheese, bread, pork, peas, and fortified breakfast cereals. Deficiency can lead to beriberi, a disease affecting the nervous system.
Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is found in eggs, rice, mushrooms, dairy products, and fortified breakfast cereals. Deficiency causes sensitivity to light and cracks, sores, ulcers and inflammation around the mouth, lips, and tongue.
Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, is present in pork, beef, chicken, eggs, milk, and flour. Niacin helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels and protect against heart disease. Deficiency can lead to a potentially fatal condition called pellagra.
Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is found in chicken, beef, liver, eggs, whole grains, potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, and fortified breakfast cereals. Deficiency is rare but can lead to paresthesia.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is found in pork, chicken, liver, cod, bread, rice, oatmeal, eggs, peanuts, potatoes, vegetables, and fortified breakfast cereals. Deficiency can lead to anemia, headaches, and problems with the skin and muscles. Increased intake of vitamin B6 is sometimes recommended for women suffering from premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS.
Vitamin B9, also known as folate or folic acid, is found in broccoli, brown rice, bananas, potatoes, chickpeas, yeast extract, spinach, peas, and fortified breakfast cereals. Extra intake is usually recommended when planning to conceive and during the first few months of pregnancy, as vitamin B9 deficiency has been linked to birth defects.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is essential for maintaining healthy nerves. It can be obtained from eating liver, meat, salmon, cod, eggs, dairy products, and fortified breakfast cereals. As vitamin B12 is usually gained from animal products, vegans may need to take B12 supplements to avoid deficiency.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin and antioxidant found in a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables. Vitamin C is needed for the production of collagen, which is essential for healthy skin, bone, tendons and other human tissue. Vitamin C is also essential for a healthy immune system and the proper absorption of iron. Vitamin C deficiency can lead to serious health problems, including scurvy. While scurvy is now much less common than it used to be, it is still a serious condition that can easily be prevented by eating foods containing vitamin C.
Foods high in vitamin C include red peppers, citrus fruit, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, parsley, sprouts, and kiwi fruit. Vitamin C is easily destroyed during the cooking process and, therefore, it is best to eat these foods raw or lightly cooked.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that most people can gain from natural sunlight. Vitamin D is essential for creating and maintaining healthy bone structure. Without vitamin D, the human body is unable to absorb calcium or deposit calcium in the bones. In children, insufficient vitamin D intake prevents bones from developing properly. To combat this, many breakfasts cereals and foods designed specifically for children are fortified with vitamin D.
Fortunately, most people can gain adequate amounts of vitamin D from daily exposure to sunlight, as the human body is able to make vitamin D underneath the skin when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light. As vitamin D is fat soluble, it can also be stored in the body, meaning that most people store enough vitamin D during the summer to last for the rest of the year. However, vegetarians, vegans and those who spend little time outdoors may need to gain a little extra vitamin D from their food. Foods containing vitamin D include eggs, liver, oily fish and bread.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that is essential for maintaining healthy blood cells, lungs, heart, brain and cell membranes. There are several different forms of vitamin E, most commonly known as tocopherols and tocotrienols. Vitamin E deficiency can lead to serious health problems, including retinopathy and an impaired immune system.
Vitamin E can be found in plant oils, such as olive oil and corn oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, mangoes, and many leafy green vegetables. Vitamin E is also sometimes used externally to treat common skin complaints, usually by snapping open vitamin E capsules and applying the oil directly to the skin.
Vitamin H, also known as biotin, is considered to be part of the vitamin B complex. Deficiency is uncommon but symptoms include hair loss and depression. Biotin can be found in meat, liver, eggs and dried fruit.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for blood clotting and wound healing. Most people gain enough vitamin K from a regular healthy diet. However, vitamin K deficiency is a serious, sometimes fatal, condition that affects a small percentage of newborn babies. To combat this, new mothers may be offered vitamin K injections or oral supplements for their babies. Vitamin K can be found in leafy green vegetables, cereals, and vegetable oils.
Aside from the main vitamins listed above, there are also many other nutrients that your body needs in order to function. The best way to ensure a healthy body and mind is to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein, and clean water.