Take your vitamins! Was never a common phrase bellowed in my household when I was a little girl. One main reason was that my parents were not really advocates or opponents of vitamins and minerals, they were just humble and hardworking people trying to ensure that we did not go to bed hungry. As such, our daily cuisine comprised of common Jamaican foods such as yam, green banana, pumpkin, sweet potato as well as rice, chicken and its near cousin – chicken back, white flour dumplings and other such niceties. Now, as an adult, while not neglecting “all foods childhood,” I am of a different mindset. Thus, I purposefully try to ensure that I am eating foods that will provide my body with the necessary vitamins and minerals it needs so as to remain healthy and strong. Let’s look at some of the essential vitamins we should intake on a daily basis? What does these nutrients do to our body’s and how we can ensure that our body’s are replenished on a daily basis.
Universally, thirteen (13) substances or groups of substances are recognized as vitamins. These vitamins are divided into two main categories – water-soluble and fat-soluble. Nine (9) vitamins comprises the group of water-soluble vitamins and four (4), the fat-soluble grouping. The nine (9) water-soluble vitamins are Thiamin (vitamin B1), Riboflavin (vitamin B2), Niacin (vitamin B3), Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), Pyridoxine (vitamin B6), Biotin (vitamin B7), Folate (vitamin B9), Cobalamin (vitamin B12) and Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C). On the other hand, the fat-soluble vitamins are – Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K.
Water-soluble vitamins and benefits
Water-soluble vitamins are so named because they are ‘soluble’ in water and as such, travel directly to our bloodstream after absorption. In addition, because water-soluble vitamins are not dependent on us eating ‘fat’ to aid in absorption, about 90% to 100% of these vitamins are absorbed during the digestive process. Further, these vitamins are less stable in heat, than its fat-soluble counterparts and will lose some or most of its nutrient properties in the cooking process. When we consume foods that contain these vitamins, our body takes what it needs and the excess is then excreted through our urine. Therefore, we have to ensure that we replenish these vitamins on a daily basis so that our bodies can function optimally.
Water-soluble vitamins include – Thiamin (B1), Ribloflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6), Biotin (B7), Folate (B9), Cobalamin (B12) and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C). Thiamin (B1) is essential for converting carbohydrate nutrients into energy so that the body can utilize it. It is also vital for heart and muscle health as well as for the proper functioning of the nervous system. In addition to converting carbohydrates into energy, Ribloflavin (B2) is also essential for maintaining healthy skin, hair and the brain. It is also essential for producing red blood cells. Niacin (B3) or nicotine acid as it is known in the world of science, works with Thiamin and Ribloflavin to turn carbohydrate nutrients into energy so as to provide fuel for the body. Niacin also helps to maintain healthy skin and brain and is important for nerve function.
Pantothenic acid (B5) also helps to convert our food into energy. It also helps to make neurotransmitters and hemoglobin. On the other hand, Pyridoxine (B6) is critical for the normal functioning of the brain and nerve. Biotin (B7) apart from helping to convert food into energy like Ribloflavin and Thiamin, Biotin is critical for synthesizing glucose and maintaining healthy bones and hair. Folate (B9) helps the body to make red blood cells as well as lowering homocysteine levels like Pyridoxine. Folate is also critical for women of child-bearing age as it helps to combat birth defects, especially when taken in the early stages of pregnancy (Greenberg et. al (2011). Cobalamin (B12) is vital for cell maintenance and the making of red blood cells. Like Folate (B9), Cobalamin (B12) also helps in lowering homocysteine levels. Last, but certainly not least is the infamous Ascorbic acid or (Vitamin C). This vitamin is essential for the growth, repair and development of the body’s tissue. It is also critical for the formation of collagen, hence its widespread use in many cosmetic products geared at keeping wrinkles at bay. Vitamin C is also considered an antioxidant which has the ability to strengthen the body’s resistance to infections as well as helping the body to absorb the mineral – Iron.
Fat-soluble vitamins and benefits
On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins are not soluble in water or our blood, and require what is called ‘specific carrier proteins’ to transport them through our bodies. Fat-soluble vitamins are first absorbed in our lymphatic system and then into the blood. Further, these vitamins require ‘fat’ to aid in the absorption process in the small intestine. Therefore, anything that interrupts fat absorption will directly affect how much of these vitamins our bodies absorbs. As a result, about 40% to 92% of fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed under optimal conditions. A most important point to note is that fat-soluble vitamins can be consumed in large amounts. However, unlike water-soluble vitamins, excess is not excreted in the urine, but is stored in the liver or fatty tissues until our bodies need them. In so doing, large excesses can cause toxicity, especially substances like vitamin A and D which may lead to health issues.
Fat-Soluble vitamins include – Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K. Vitamin A performs many crucial functions in the body. These include maintenance of the immune system, eye health as well as for overall growth and development. One of the major role of Vitamin D is to regulate the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. It is also essential for bone health. Unlike other nutrients, Vitamin D forms in the skin upon exposure to sunlight. As such, some persons more than others may have to get the required intake via supplement due to lack of sun exposure whether it from medical conditions (bed-ridden) or those living in subtropical regions (Nair, R. and Maseeh, A (2012). Another crucial fat-soluble vitamin is that of Vitamin E. This vitamin helps to maintain healthy red blood cells, cell membranes as well as helping to prevent the oxidation of Vitamin A and fatty acids. As such, vitamin E neutralizes free radicals and is considered a potent antioxidant. Finally, Vitamin K is necessary for the clotting of the blood (coagulation). It is also necessary for bone metabolism and regulating the body’s blood calcium levels.
Here is a summary of the list of vitamins, their benefits, food sources as well as the recommended daily allowances.
Vitamins: Water – Soluble
Vitamins: Fat- Soluble
The recommended daily allowances are quoted as “at least” as in some cases more or less may be required depending on an individual’s health situation. Further, children, especially babies and toddlers would require far less than the daily allowances outlined. Also, remember that too much vitamin A can cause toxicity in the body. So, consume foods, especially supplements wisely.
Let’s Sum It Up!
Our foods are packed with nutrients, substances that provide our bodies with many wonderful benefits including energy production, the building and repairing of tissues, boosting of the immune system as well as providing the necessary conditions for continuous growth and development. One such type of nutrient is vitamins. Vitamins are divided into two (2) broad groups – ‘water-soluble’ and ‘fat-soluble.’ Water-soluble vitamins, which comprises all our all our B-vitamins as well as vitamin C are those set of nutrients that can be dissolved in water and are not generally stored in the body. On the other hand, ‘fat- soluble’ vitamins are those set of nutrients which are only soluble in fats or lipids (the scientific term), and are usually stored in the body for use when needed.
In addition, water soluble vitamins, such as Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2) and Folate (B9) can be found in foods such as spinach, broccoli and beets, while fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D and Vitamin K are abundant in foods such as sweet potato, salmon and collard greens. However, how do we ensure that we are getting these nutrients on a daily basis? Well, one sure way is to consume a lot of fruits and vegetables at major meal times as well as when snacking. I know, it is easier said than done, right? Good things are often viewed as such. Nonetheless, we can make it a routine, a part of our healthy lifestyle.
We can remove the monotony from the routine by exploring other ways of consuming our vegetables and fruits. Therefore, instead of trying to eat an entire plate of fruits or vegetables, why not turn it into a smoothie, or jazz up that salad with your favourite condiments. However, be careful not to use condiments that are way too sweet or salty or those with questionable or chemically laden ingredients, as that would simply ruin your hard work and efforts. So, whatever or however you decide to get these nutrients into your diets, do so, and stick with it and eventually, you will develop a habit of eating healthy, even if your ‘mom’ never bellowed it.
Now that you have a bit more knowledge on vitamins, why not catch up your knowledge of minerals, both macro and micro, how beneficial they are to our health and foods to find them. Here is the article:
You can also grab your free Vitamin and Mineral Guide Ebooks by clicking the links below.
- Bender, D.A. (2003). Nutritional biochemistry of the vitamins. Cambridge.
- Combs, G.G. (2012). The vitamins, 4th edn. Academic Press.
- Dietitians of Canada (2013). Functions and food sources of some common vitamins.
- Greenberg, J.A., Bell, S.J., Guan, Y. & Yu, Y.H. (2011). Folic Acid Supplementation and pregnancy: more than just neural tube defect prevention. Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 4(2), 52-59.
- Nair, R., & Maseeh, A. (2012). Vitamin D: the “sunshine’ vitamin. Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotheapeutics, 3(2), 118-126.