Vitamins perform hundreds of essential roles in the body, from healing wounds to strengthening our immune system.
Despite this, consuming vitamins often stays in the backburner of people’s minds, at least until we fall into poor health. This is because most vitamins we need come from our diet or environment; for instance, strawberries are a rich source of vitamin C.
In this article, we’ll discuss the 6 most important vitamins for your health, including their benefits, how to source them, and more.
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What Are Vitamins?
In a biological sense, vitamins are organic compounds that our body needs to function efficiently throughout the day, providing the building blocks to a healthy life.
Vitamins typically fall into two categories;
- Fat-soluble: After consumption, these vitamins are stored in fatty tissues and the liver. Examples of fat-soluble vitamins are vitamin D and E.
- Water-soluble: These vitamins aren’t stored; instead, the body excretes them through urine. Examples of water-soluble vitamins are C and the B-complex group.
Just like with any substance we consume; complications can arise if we consume too little or too much of it. Because of this, people are constantly striving for a perfect equilibrium.
When we can’t get the essential vitamins from our food, it’s common to take supplements that are easily found in supermarkets and health food stores.
Below, we’ve categorised 6 essential vitamins for everyday health; many of these support hair, skin, and organ health.
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A, or sometimes referred to as retinol, offers the body numerous benefits. Some of its most important functions are visual, immune, and reproductive support.
Some studies even note that it’s an effective defence against children’s infectious diseases, such as measles.
It’s typical to find high quantities of vitamin A in foods such as;
- Oily fish
- Liver products (e.g., liver pate)
- Winter vegetables (sweet potatoes, squash)
- Dairy products (milk, yoghurt, eggs, cheese)
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, collards)
It’s also worth noting that animal-based sources offer much higher quantities of vitamin A; because of this, it’s common to find vitamin deficiencies in people who follow a restricted diet, such as veganism.
Additionally, liver products contain very high levels of vitamin A and may be harmful to pregnant women, especially as the vitamin is fat-soluble.
Recommended Serving: 700mcg for men and 600mcg for women.
2. Vitamin B-Complex
Vitamin B-complex is a term that references all 8 essential B vitamins. While each has a unique function and benefit to the body, the most important is arguably B12.
Not only does it help the body release energy from our diet, but it produces red blood cells, which help keep the nervous system healthy and may prevent anaemia. Some people even use the vitamin as an energy boost, as vitamin B deficiency often presents itself as fatigue and tiredness.
Foods that contain high levels of B12 include;
- Organ products (liver, kidney)
- Oily fish (sardines, tuna)
- Fortified nutritional yeast
All B vitamins are water-soluble, so it’s not uncommon for people to use supplements.
Recommended Serving: The amount varies depending on the B vitamin.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and is a water-soluble vitamin. This means it’s essential to include the vitamin regularly in your diet, as the body can not store it.
The vitamin is useful for maintaining healthy skin, cartilage, and bones. It’s even become a common ingredient in skincare products because of its apparent production of collagen, a protein that some claim encourages skin elasticity and reduces signs of ageing.
Fruit and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C; you can find high levels in:
- Citrus fruits (orange, lemon)
It’s worth noting that excessive amounts of vitamin C can cause diarrhoea, nausea, and stomach pain.
Recommended Serving: 40mcg per day.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is the only vitamin that our bodies produce when exposed to our environment; the sun.
Unsurprisingly, around 20% of adults have a vitamin D deficiency in the UK, thanks to our dubious climate. According to the NHS, both adults and children need 10mcg/µg (micrograms) of the vitamin per day.
Vitamin D is essential to our diets as it builds strong bones, teeth, and muscles. This makes it especially important during the developmental phases of growth. In extreme cases of vitamin deficiency, bone deformities such as rickets can occur in children.
If sunlight isn’t a viable option, some foods offer considerable amounts of vitamin D, including;
- Canned tuna
- Egg yolks
- Unfortified dairy products
All in all, oily fish is an ideal choice, with one serving of farmed salmon offering roughly 6mcg. However, it’s popular to consume the vitamin in supplement form.
Recommended Serving: 10mcg per day.
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E, or tocopherol, is another fat-soluble vitamin on our list. It is largely used for its antioxidant properties, which means it may aid inflammation and pain.
Additionally, many consider it a useful vitamin for healthy skin, whether that be through healing or protecting the skin from environmental stress, such as pollution and solar radiation. However, research into these benefits is still ongoing.
Good sources of vitamin E are:
- Plant oils (rapeseed, soya, sunflower)
- Nuts (hazelnuts, peanuts)
- Seeds (sunflower, almonds)
- Wheatgerm (granola, cereal)
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient for the body. However, there is some debate about the risks of overconsumption. Some studies have reported that the vitamin may cause blood thinning in high quantities, especially when combined with drugs.
In truth, research on the vitamin is limited for both its benefits and risks.
Recommended Serving: 4mcg a day for men and 3mcg a day for women.
6. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is a lesser-known vitamin on our list. However, its function is no less important than other nutrients.
The vitamin is helpful for wound healing by encouraging blood clotting and consequently reducing bleeding. Some research also suggests it could regulate calcium levels and protect bone health. Unfortunately, much of the research surrounding vitamin K is outdated and in serious need of funding.
Foods rich in the vitamin are:
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, mustard greens, spinach)
- Liver products
- Green beans
- Prunes kiwi
Dark green leafy vegetables, like kale, are by far the most nutrient-rich source of vitamin K and as the body stores excess amounts of the vitamin, deficiencies are rare.
Recommended Serving: 1mcg a day for each kilogram of body weight.
Final Thoughts on the Most Important Vitamins for Health
Vitamins are an essential part of daily wellbeing, whether that be vitamin A for healthy hair or vitamin C for bone health.
Luckily, most people consume a full spectrum of vitamins without even realising it. By maintaining a diet full of vegetables, fruit, and protein, we can support our bodies natural functions.
However, some vitamins like B-complex and C are water-soluble, and so supplement use can be expected. If you are worried about either vitamin deficiency or even overconsumption, it’s important to visit your local health care provider.
It’s also worth noting that the recommended serving quantities in this article come directly from the NHS website.
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