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Vitamins: What You Need to Know!

Picture showing vitamins in the form of an orange and dietary supplements

Besides oxygen in the air we breathe, can you guess what else is vital for a living? Vitamins!

Vitamins are organic substances produced by plants or animals that are needed for our normal cell function, growth, and development. Hence, they play a key role in keeping our bodies in good health, as well as in protecting us from diseases.

There are 13 “essential” vitamins. An emphasis is laid on the term “essential” here because they are not produced in the body (except for vitamin D) and therefore must come from a food source.

In no particular order, we have the following essential vitamins:

  1. Vitamin A
  2. Vitamin C
  3. Vitamin D
  4. Vitamin E
  5. Vitamin K
  6. Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  7. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  8. Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  9. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  10. Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)
  11. Pantothenic acid (B5)
  12. Biotin (B7)
  13. Folate (folic acid or B9)

Read further to know more about them.


Vitamins can be classified into two categories: fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins.

  • Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s liver, fatty tissue, and muscles as reserves. The four fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K.

The presence of dietary fat from food sources such as vegetable oil in moderation is needed to ease up the absorption of such vitamins by the body.

  • Water-soluble vitamins

On the other hand, water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body. Water soluble—in this case means the body expels what it does not absorb. Any leftover or excess amounts of these vitamins are therefore eliminated from the body through urine.

The nine water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and all the [eight] B vitamins (B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, B-6, B-7, B-9, and B-12).

Since they are not stored in the body, you have to consume them regularly to prevent shortages or deficiencies in the body. However, an exception to this is vitamin B12, which can be stored in the liver for several years.

Each of the vitamins listed above carries out an important function in the body. Now let’s try to discover more about these functions and how you can get them.

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A vitamin deficiency or avitaminosis occurs when you do not get enough of a particular vitamin and can cause serious health issues.

It is preferable to get your vitamins from food, rather than a pill or a supplement. Why? That’s because nutrient-dense foods equally contain other substances or nutrients that are good for your health, such as dietary fibers (involved in protecting you against heart diseases).

As an older adult, though it might be true that you can get most of the vitamins you need from foods, there are exceptions in the case of the presence of a disease or avitaminosis. But if you aren’t sure, contact your doctor or your nutritionist to find out if you are deficient in any important vitamins.

Getting Your Vitamins from Foods

Here are the functions and your go-to local food sources of vitamins:

  • Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Vitamin A or Retinol

Function: It is important for healthy vision, the immune function, reproduction, cell growth and development.

Local food sources: beef, liver, eggs, shrimp, fish, fortified milk, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and mangoes

Vitamin D or Calciferol

Since it is made by the body after exposure to sunlight, vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin”.

Function: Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Calcium is needed for teeth and bone health. It’s also involved in maintaining proper blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.

Local food sources: fortified milk and cereals, the flesh of fatty fish (mackerel, tuna or salmon) as well as fish liver oils

Vitamin E or Tocopherol

Function: Vitamin E is a cancer-fighting antioxidant. It also helps the body form red blood cells and uses vitamin K.

Local food sources: vegetable oils, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts

Vitamin K or Phylloquinone 

Function: You need Vitamin K because, without it, your blood would not stick together or coagulate.

Local food sources: green leafy vegetables, some plant oils (soybean, olive and cottonseed), and some fruits

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  • Water-soluble Vitamins

Vitamin B-1 or Thiamine

Function: Thiamine helps the body cells change carbohydrates into energy. Getting enough carbohydrates is very important for your heart to function well with nerve cells.

Local food sources: ham, soy milk, watermelon

Vitamin B-2 or Riboflavin

Function: Riboflavin works in combination with the other B vitamins. It is important for body growth and red blood cell production.

Local food sources: milk, yogurt, cheese, whole and enriched grains and cereals

Vitamin B-3 or Niacin

Function: Niacin is a vitamin that is involved in skin and nerve health. At higher doses, it equally has cholesterol-lowering effects.

Local food sources: meat, poultry, fish, fortified and whole grains, mushrooms, and potatoes

Vitamin B-5 or Pantothenic acid

Function: Pantothenic acid is important for food metabolism. It is also involved in the production of hormones and cholesterol.

Local food sources: chicken, whole grains, avocados, mushrooms

Vitamin B-6 or Pyridoxine

Function: Vitamin B-6 helps form red blood cells and maintain brain function. This vitamin also plays an important role in the proteins that are part of many chemical reactions in the body.

Local food sources: meat, fish, poultry, legumes, tofu and other soy products, and bananas

Vitamin B-7 or Biotin

Function: Biotin is essential for the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates, and in the production of hormones and cholesterol.

Local food sources: whole grains, eggs, soybeans, fish

Vitamin B-9 or Folate

Function: Folate works with vitamin B12 to help form red blood cells. It is needed for the production of DNA, which controls tissue growth and cell function. Many foods are now fortified with folate in the form of folic acid.

Local food sources: fortified grains and cereals, asparagus, spinach, legumes (black-eyed peas and chickpeas), and orange juice

Vitamin B-12 or Cyanocobalamin

Function: Vitamin B12, like the other B vitamins, plays an important role in food metabolism. It also helps form red blood cells and maintain the central nervous system.

Local food sources: meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, fortified soy milk and cereals

Vitamin C or Ascorbic acid

Function: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that promotes healthy teeth and gums. It helps the body absorb iron and maintain healthy tissue. It is also essential for wound healing.

Local food sources: citrus fruits, potatoes, bell peppers, spinach, and tomatoes

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Getting Your Vitamins from Supplements

Food is not the only source of vitamins. You can get them from dietary supplements too.

Some supplements can have side effects, such as increasing the risk of bleeding after an injury or changing your response to anesthesia during surgery.

Supplements can also interact with some medicines in ways that might cause health issues. For example, vitamin K can reduce the ability of the common blood thinner warfarin to prevent blood from clotting.

Read the label to make sure you’re getting an adequate dose of supplements.  Too much of some vitamins can be detrimental to your health, and you might be paying for supplements you don’t need.

If you need to supplement your diet, get in touch with your nutritionist or your pharmacist to get help on what supplements and doses are safe for you.

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National Institutes of Health (NIH) – Dietary Supplements Fact Sheets

The Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, Making Sense of Vitamins and Minerals: Choosing the foods and nutrients you need to stay healthy

1 thought on “Vitamins: What You Need to Know!”

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