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Vitamins and their Food Sources – A Comprehensive Guide

A Comprehensive Guide to Vitamins and their Food Sources

Jasmine A. Stone

Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential for the human body to function properly. Vitamin deficiency can lead to disease and serious health problems, particularly where there is inadequate vitamin intake over a long period of time. The human body is unable to synthesize adequate amounts of vitamins, which means that vitamins must be obtained from the diet or other sources. There are currently thirteen separate vitamins recognised by health experts.

Fat-Soluble and Water-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the liver and the fatty tissues of the human body, which means that you can build up a reserve of fat-soluble vitamins to last several days, weeks or even months. Water-soluble vitamins can not be stored in the body and will be expelled in the urine, which means that you need to ensure a regular intake of water-soluble vitamins.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin with powerful antioxidant properties. Sometimes known as retinol, retinal or retinoic acid, vitamin A is essential for healthy eyesight, strong bones and a resilient immune system. It also helps to protect against cataracts, lung cancer and prostate cancer, while producing protective cells to coat the digestive tract and lungs. Deficiency is rare but can lead to dry skin, dry hair, itching, problems with vision and sometimes even blindness. The best food sources of vitamin A include liver, beef, oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy products, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and leafy green vegetables. Most people get enough vitamin A from their regular diet. Excessive intake has been linked to birth defects, so pregnant women are often advised to limit their intake of liver and other foods high in vitamin A.

Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin or thiamine, is a water-soluble vitamin that works in conjunction with other B vitamins to help convert carbohydrates into energy. Vitamin B1 is needed for healthy muscles, skin cells and hair. It is also needed to ensure the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. Deficiency can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, nerve damage and psychosis. Deficiency is more common in people suffering from alcoholism, as alcohol inhibits the absorption of thiamin. The best food sources of vitamin B1 include pork, eggs, soy products, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and watermelon.

Vitamin B2

Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is a water-soluble vitamin that promotes healthy red blood cell production. It is also essential for healthy brain cells, skin cells and hair. Deficiency can lead to anaemia, skin problems, sore throat, sensitivity to light and cracks around the mouth and lips. The best food sources of vitamin B2 include liver, eggs, cheese, dairy products, rice, whole grains and mushrooms.

Vitamin B3

Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, is a water-soluble vitamin essential for a healthy nervous system and digestive system. It also helps to balance the levels of good and bad cholesterol. Deficiency can lead to digestive problems, skin complaints and a reduction in cognitive abilities. The best food sources for vitamin B3 include beef, pork, chicken, fish, nuts, mushrooms, potatoes and whole grains.

Vitamin B5

Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that helps to break down food and convert it into energy. It is also necessary for the production of certain hormones, neurotransmitters and healthy blood cells. Deficiency is rare but can lead to neurological problems. The best food sources of vitamin B5 include liver, beef, chicken, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms and whole grains.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, pyridoxal or pyridoxamine, is a water-soluble vitamin that helps to regulate mood, sleep, appetite and metabolism. It is also essential for a healthy immune system and optimum mental function. Deficiency is relatively common and can cause headaches, anaemia and skin problems. Vitamin B6 supplements are often used as a remedy for women suffering from PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). The best food sources of vitamin B6 include pork, chicken, cod, soy products, eggs, rice, oatmeal, bananas and potatoes.

Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9, more commonly known as folic acid or folate, is a water-soluble vitamin essential for the production of healthy red blood cells. Folic acid is also an important nutrient for helping to prevent birth defects. While most people can obtain adequate amounts of folic acid from their diet, pregnant women and women who are trying to conceive are often advised to take folic acid supplements. The best food sources of folic acid include liver, broccoli, spinach, bananas, brown rice, fortified cereals and yeast extract.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that helps to protect nerve cells and reduce the risk of heart disease. It is also needed for the production of red blood cells. Older people are prone to vitamin B12 deficiency, as their bodies can be less efficient at absorbing cobalamin from food. Vegans may also find it difficult to obtain enough of the vitamin from their food, as animal products are the richest source of vitamin B12. Deficiency can lead to anaemia, memory loss and dementia. The best food sources of vitamin B12 include liver, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that helps to strengthen your immune system and promote wound healing. It is also essential for the production of collagen and can help to protect against cataracts and some cancers. Deficiency is more common in smokers, as smoking depletes vitamin C stores. The best food sources of vitamin C include oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, red peppers, green peppers and strawberries.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for building and maintaining healthy bones. It also helps to regulate the amount of minerals, such as calcium and phosphate, in the body. Deficiency can lead to bone problems and deformities. Vitamin D is produced by the body when the skin comes into contact with sunlight. It can also be obtained by eating eggs, fortified cereal and oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel and salmon. However, without adequate exposure to sunlight, supplements may be necessary to prevent deficiency. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are often advised to increase their intake of vitamin D.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that can help to protect against prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It is also important for ensuring healthy cell membranes and blood cells. Deficiency can lead to problems with the immune system and a reduced resistance to disease. The best food sources of vitamin E include avocado, nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, olive oil and corn oil.

Vitamin H

Vitamin H, more commonly known as biotin, is a water-soluble vitamin that helps to convert carbohydrates into energy. It also helps to break down fatty acids and promote healthy bones and hair. The best food sources of biotin include offal, egg yolk, fish, whole grains and soy products. Most people obtain adequate amounts of biotin from their diet.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and wound healing. Only a small amount of vitamin K is needed and most people can obtain this from their diet. The best food sources of vitamin K include broccoli, spinach, green leafy vegetables, eggs, dairy products and fortified cereals.

Liver, eggs and leafy green vegetables are among the richest food sources for essential nutrients, offering a range of vitamins, minerals and trace elements needed for optimum health. The most important factor in ensuring a healthy diet is to eat a wide variety of foods, particularly fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, eggs, dairy products, fish, poultry and lean meats.

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