You’re no stranger to vitamins, and you certainly know the importance of incorporating them into your diet. After all, if you didn’t care about your health, you’d be surviving on mac ‘n cheese and french fries alone, but that’s not the case. As you mature, age, and experience a wide range of ups and downs over the course of your lifetime, your body changes, and so does its needs.
Whether you’re currently following a strict diet or you’re more of a free-spirited yogi, providing your body with the nutrients its needs should be a top priority. Here are six seriously healthy vitamins, and how to get them.
1. Vitamin A
Why it’s important: Vitamin A plays a key role in immune function, vision, reproduction, and cellular communication. It’s probably best known for its critical role in a person’s vision, and it also supports cell growth and differentiation. Additionally, according to the National Institutes of Health, there are two forms of vitamin A within the human diet. Preformed vitamin A is found in animal sources, and provitamin A cartenoids are plant pigments which the body converts into vitamin A.
How to get it: Preformed vitamin A is highest in liver and fish oils, and is also found in milk and eggs, which also include some provitamin A. Most provitamin A, however, is found in leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow veggies, tomato products, and fruits. The top food sources of vitamin A include dairy products, liver, fish, and fortified cereals, while the top sources of provitamin A include carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, and squash.
2. Vitamin C
Why it’s important: Vitamin C helps metabolize protein, plays a vital role in immune function, and is an important physiological antioxidant. Due to the biosynthesis of collagen, which is essential to connective tissue, vitamin C helps in the healing of wounds, as well.
According to NIH, “Insufficient vitamin C intake causes scurvy, which is characterized by fatigue or lassitude, widespread connective tissue weakness, and capillary fragility.” Furthermore, vitamin C may help in the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, and the common cold. Unlike most animals, though, humans aren’t able to synthesize vitamin C endogenously, meaning this important vitamin does not originate within us naturally. Therefore, it’s important to incorporate foods high in vitamin C into your diet.
How to get it: When you think about vitamin C, you probably associate it with orange juice and other citrus sources. And, you’d be right. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, and potatoes are the best contributors of vitamin C to the American diet. Additional sources include red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe.
3. Vitamin D
Why it’s important: Although it isn’t naturally present in many foods, vitamin D is an essential component of proper health. According to NIH, vitamin D is produced within the body when UV rays hit your skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. It promotes calcium absorption in the gut, maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations, supports healthy bone growth, and reduces inflammation.
How to get it: Sun exposure is a great source of vitamin D. How many times have you heard someone equate their paleness to being vitamin D deficient? However, relying on the sun for vitamin D also presents the possibility of other health issues, such as skin cancer, so make sure you’re adequately equipped with proper sun protection.
A better way to get vitamin D is through fortified foods, such as milk (very few foods naturally contain vitamin D). The best sources of vitamin D from food are found in the flesh of fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna) and fish liver oils. There are also small amounts of vitamin D in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Some mushrooms provide vitamin D, as well, due to their sun exposure.
4. Vitamin E
Why it’s important: Vitamin E, which describes a collective group of fat-soluble compounds, delivers important antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help protect the body’s tissue from damage caused by free radicals. This is important because free radicals can harm cells, tissues, and organs, and might contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Additionally, vitamin E is involved in immune function.
How to get it: The best sources of vitamin E are nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, as well as green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. In many American diets, vitamin E is commonly delivered in the form of gamma-tocopherol from soybean, canola, corn, and other vegetable oils and food products.
5. Vitamin K
Why it’s important: Vitamin K refers to a family of compounds making up the fat-soluble vitamin. Included in these compounds are phylloquinone (vitamin K1) and a series of menaquinones (vitamin K2). Vitamin K dependents play a crucial role in the body, as well. Most notably, vitamin K is essential in blood clotting and bone health.
How to get it: Popeye’s not the only one who needs his spinach, as it’s one of the most common sources of vitamin K in the American diet. Other sources include broccoli, iceberg lettuce, and fats and oils (particularly soybean and canola oil). And while few foods are fortified with vitamin K, some meal replacement shakes and bars are.
6. Vitamin B
Why it’s important: First things first: There are eight vitamins that make up the vitamin B complex. Many work together, and all are of great importance in the human body. Most often, B vitamins are associated with metabolism, or turning your food into fuel, and breaking down carbohydrates. As Daily Burn explains, each of their roles differs, providing various benefits to a person’s health overall.
B1 (thiamine): Helps the body make new cells and protects the immune system, as well as helping to break down simple carbs. Get it from whole grains, peanuts, beans, spinach, kale, blackstrap molasses, and wheat germ.
B2 (riboflavin): Works to assist in red blood cell production, enabling oxygen to flow throughout the body. B2 also works as an antioxidant to help fight free radicals, and may also prevent early aging and the development of heart disease. Get it from almonds, wild rice, milk, yogurt, eggs, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and soybeans.
B3 (niacin): Boosts a person’s HDL, or good cholesterol, thus lessening the bad stuff. Get it from yeast, red meat, milk, eggs, beans, and green vegetables.
B5 (pantothenic acid): Breaks down fats and carbs for energy, and is responsible for the production of sex and stress-related hormones. It also promotes healthy skin and reduces signs of aging. Get it from avocados, eggs, yogurt, meat, and legumes.
B6 (pyridoxine): Helps to regulate levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which is associated with heart disease. B6 is closely associated with mood and sleep patterns because it helps the body produce serotonin, melatonin, and norepinephrine, a stress hormone. Get it from chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, lentils, sunflower seeds, cheese, brown rice, and carrots.
B7 (biotin): B7 is vital for the normal growth of a fetus during pregnancy, and is also associated with healthy hair, skin, and nails. It may also help control high blood glucose levels in those with diabetes. Get it from barley, liver, yeast, pork, chicken, fish, potatoes, cauliflower, egg yolks, and nuts.
B9 (folate): B9 is also important during pregnancy, as it prevents neurological birth defects. It may help keep depression at bay and prevent memory loss, as well. Get it from dark leafy greens, asparagus, beets, salmon, root vegetables, milk, bulgur, wheat, and beans.
B12 (cobalamin): B12 is necessary for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. Get it from animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk.
If you’re not able to work all of these necessary vitamins into your diet, it’s important you speak with your doctor to discuss other methods, such as daily supplements.