Vitamins are nutrients with different functions in the human body which can only be obtained through our diet
. As such, making sure we intake enough vitamins through the food we eat is very important. In this article we tried to make a list of the 10 most important vitamins (actually 11) and give a few details of what each one of them does for our body.
As an important note, please consult a medic or nutritionist before taking any supplements or vitamins.
1. Vitamin D (Ergocalciferol, Cholecalciferol)
Vitamin D is particularly important in children diet as it is essential in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, which ensure that our bones grow strong and healthy. Vitamin D is also vital for adults in order to prevent weakening of bones and to strengthen teeth. Other benefits associated with vitamin D are building muscle strength, prevent heart diseases and cancer, improvement of immune system and reducing the overall risk of premature death.
The best source for this nutrient is the sun, as the body will manufacture its own vitamin D from cholesterol. This process is caused by the action of sunlight on the skin. Some people however can’t make enough vitamin D from the sun: people with darker skin tone, older people, over-weight or obese individuals or people living in temperate or cold climate.
Other sources of Vitamin D are very rare and are represented by foods like fatty fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring or sardines) and diary products.
The recommended daily intake of Vitamin D is 5 micrograms (more for older people).
2. Vitamin A (Retinol)
Vitamin A ensures a healthy vision and has an important role for the immune system. It also helps bones to develop and cell growth and division. The best sources of vitamin A are carrots, spinach, sweet potato, breakfast cereal, juices and diary products.
Most fruits, vegetables and multivitamin supplements contain vitamin A in its inactive form: beta-carotene. Our body will naturally form as much vitamin A as it needs from the beta-carotene intake and any surplus will be eliminated. Overdosing with vitamin A from supplements could cause hip fractures, pregnancy complications and could interfere with the benefits of Vitamin D.
Usually we can achieve our recommended daily intake of beta-carotene (about 800 micrograms) through our diet and if you’re taking multivitamin supplements, you’re sure to have as much vitamin A as needed.
3. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Vitamin C is one of the most popular out of all vitamins. Its main benefits include acting as an antioxidant that can neutralize the effects of harmful free radicals, controlling infections, and contributing in the manufacture of collagen (a tissue found in bones, teeth, gums and blood vessels).
The recommended daily intake of Vitamin C is about 90 milligrams for men and about 75 milligrams for women. Smokers however, need a slightly more intake. So far, nutritionists have not found any significant positive or negative effect that over dosage of Vitamin C might have.
4. Vitamin E
Various studies on vitamin E reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer have shown mixed results. Its known benefits for your heath are neutralizing free radicals by acting as an antioxidant, assisting DNA maintenance, contributing to a healthy immune system and helping the blood flow. Vitamin E is also important in repairing tissue so it’s a good nutrient to have after a workout.
Best sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, olives, spinach and peanut butter.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin E is 15 milligrams.
5. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is extremely important for people who take anticoagulants due to its role in blood clotting. Recent studies have shown that vitamin K also improves bone density and development, thus reducing the risk of hip fracture.
The recommended daily allowance of vitamin K is about 120 micrograms and 90 micrograms for men and women respectively. Studies have shown that about three in four Americans have vitamin K deficiency.
6. Vitamin B6
All B vitamins have a significant role in metabolism and converting food into energy. The main benefits of vitamin B6 are: contributions to healthy nerves and muscles, supporting healthy cardiovascular and immune systems, promoting healthy skin and hair, claiming and removing anxiety.
Recommended daily allowances for vitamin B6 vary around 1.5 milligrams depending on age and gender. What you also need to know is that B vitamins in general are soluble in water and are not stored in the body so they are very safe. However, very high dosage (around 100 milligrams) of vitamin B6 from supplements should be avoided as it could result in nerve damage.
7. Vitamin B12
The main benefits associated with vitamin B12 are healthy growth and development of skin, hair, nerves and blood cells. It is also involved in the process of DNA production and improves energy levels and memory.
Vitamin B12 is often in our diet as it can be found in foods like fish, meat, eggs or diary products. The main concern with vitamin B12 intake refers to the lack of absorption in the body caused by inadequate stomach acid.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 is about 2.4 micrograms.
8. Folic Acid (vitamin B9)
Folic acid is important in the creation of DNA and reproduction of cells, including red blood cells. Folic acid is also efficient in fighting anemia and extremely important for women during pregnancy as it helps the development of the fetus’s nervous system. Recent studies have shown that folic acid could also help in colon cancer prevention.
You can find folic acid in our diet in the form of folate. The best sources of folate would be lentils, beans, asparagus and spinach. The recommended daily allowance of folate is about 400 micrograms per day. Regular smokers and drinkers should increase their folate intake.
9. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
The main functionality of vitamin B1 is using carbohydrates to produce energy. It also promotes a healthy nervous system.
The best sources of vitamin B1 are sunflower seeds, tuna and lentils.
10. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B2’s main roles include breaking down the three macro-nutrients from food (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and helping to maintain a healthy nervous system, skin, hair and blood cells.
Best sources of vitamin B2 are calf’s liver and milk.
11. Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – Bonus
Just like the other B vitamins, niacin also plays a key role in metabolism by producing energy from food and is important to maintaining a healthy nervous system. It also helps in repairing genetic material and synthesizing hormones.
Best sources of vitamin B3 include chicken and turkey breast, tuna, halibut and peanut butter.