What are vitamins?

Vitamins are found in the foods we eat, and although they do not provide energy for our bodies, they are essential to the maintenance of good health.

Vitamins are, however:

  • organic chemicals that are vital for normal body function.
  • generally present in food, but some are synthesized at least partially within the body (vitamins D and K).
  • classified as either water soluble (vitamins B and C) or fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E and K).

Why are vitamins good for me?

We take vitamins for a number of healthy reasons:

  • vitamin A for eyesight, growth, appetite (retinol)
  • vitamin B1 for the nervous system heart, and digestion (thiamine)
  • vitamin B2 for digestion, skin, hair, and nails (riboflavin)
  • vitamin B3 for digestion (niacin)
  • vitamin B5 for digestion (pantothenic acid)
  • vitamin B6 for digestion, skin health, nerve health (pyridoxine)
  • vitamin B7 for hair and skin health (biotin)
  • vitamin B9 (folic acid) fights anemia, promotes healthy fetal development
  • vitamin B12 for red blood cells (cobalamin)
  • vitamin C aids in immune defense (ascorbic acid)
  • vitamin D promotes strong bones and teeth
  • vitamin E is an antioxidant that fights toxins (tocopherol)
  • vitamin K assists in blood clotting

What diseases are caused by vitamin deficiencies?

A lack of specific vitamins may lead to diseases, but most have been eradicated by educating third-world populations about diet and nutrition. However, vitamin K deficiency continues to plague young children world-wide, as does rickets.

Other maladies include:

Also, fetal spinal cord defects can be caused by a lack of vitamin B9, more commonly known as folic acid.

How should I get vitamins in my diet?

Photo of children holding baskets and trays of different foods, including fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses, meats and poultry.
  • vitamin A: liver, cod liver oil, carrots, green leafy vegetables, egg yolks, diary products, yellow fruits
  • vitamin B1: red meat, egg yolk, cereal, nuts
  • vitamin B2: milk, cheese, green leafy vegetables, fish
  • vitamin B3: mushrooms, green peas, fish oil, red meat
  • vitamin B5: cheese, fish oil, avacados
  • vitamin B6: fish, bananas, chicken, pork, legumes
  • vitamin B7: fish, carrots, nuts, eggs, berries
  • vitamin B9 (folic acid): carrots, liver, egg, yolks, melon, apricots, pumpkin, avocado, beans, green leafy vegetables
  • vitamin B12: eggs, shellfish, poultry, diary products
  • vitamin C: citrus, berries, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, green leafy vegetables and peppers
  • vitamin D: sunlight, cod liver oil, sardines, herring, salmon, tuna, diary products
  • vitamin E: nuts, vegetable oil, broccoli, sprouts, spinach
  • vitamin K: green leafy vegetables, brussels sprouts, fish, liver, meat, eggs

As you can see, essential vitamins are found in the foods that are recommended for a balanced diet, and many foods like fish and green leafy vegetables contain a variety of essential vitamins.

How can I tell if I am getting enough vitamins?

The recommended daily allowances (RDAs) of vitamins and minerals have been calculated by health care agencies and are provided by a balanced diet incorporating fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and dairy products. However, elderly or pregnant patients, those with certain illnesses and healthy subjects who are taking restrictive diets (i.e. vegans) may need to fortify their diet with mineral or vitamin supplements.

What are vitamin supplements?

Nutritional supplements are a subject of contentious debate by nutrition experts. Some say all we need is a balanced diet and no supplements. Others say that supplementing vitamins such as vitamin C reduce such illnesses as the common cold. There has been a lot of research, but no definitive conclusion has been reached. That has not stopped the marketing of a variety of ingredients that the manufacturers claim can make you feel better if taken.