Thirteen essential vitamins
Vitamins are essential nutrients that allow your body to function properly. The body itself doesn’t produce vitamins, but they’re super important, so we need to take vitamins from food to keep our bodies in check.
Of course, different vitamins do things and we need more of some than others. 13 might be unlucky for some, but there are 13 essential vitamins that the body needs, and if you manage to consume a moderate dose of them all, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy life.
Let’s take a look and what they are:
Vitamin A is really important, if you don’t get enough in your body - it can cause night blindness (nyctalopia), which makes it difficult to see in the dark. Deficiency in vitamin A can also lead to keratomalacia or dry keratitis (very dry eyes).
You’ll find plenty of vitamin A in: liver, cod liver oil, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, butter, kale, spinach, squash, some types of cheese, eggs, apricots, cantaloupe melons and milk.
Vitamin B is also essential for the body to function properly. You’ll find the best sources of vitamin B in: yeast, pork, cereals, sunflower seeds, brown rice, rye, asparagus, kale, cauliflower, potatoes, oranges, liver and eggs.
Vitamin B1 or thiamine 1 deficiency can cause beriberi, a potentially life-threatening condition that can affect either the nervous or cardiovascular system. A lack of vitamin B1 can also lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a type of brain disorder.
Vitamin B2 or riboflavin is really important for the body because it helps to break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates, making sure they can be digested properly. If you’re lacking vitamin B2 this can lead to ariboflavinosis, a deficiency disease with symptoms including: a sore throat, redness of the tongue, mouth sores, scaly and yellow skin (seborrheic dermatitis), red eyes and,or fatigue.
The best source of vitamin B comes from: asparagus, bananas, persimmons (a sweet orange fruit sometimes called ‘sharon fruit’, originally from China), chard, cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, meat, eggs, fish and green beans.
Vitamin B3 or niacin (as it’s also known), helps the digestive system to function correctly. It can help lower cholesterol and is also good for the skin and the nervous system.
The best sources of vitamin B3 include: liver, chicken, veal, fish (tuna, salmon), milk, eggs, avocados, dates, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, nuts, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms and cereals.
If you find yourself with a severe vitamin B3 deficiency, it can cause a condition called pellagra. The symptoms of pellagra range from diarrhea, flaky skin or dermatitis and mental impairment.
The best sources of vitamin B5 include: meats, whole grains, broccoli, avocados, royal jelly and fish roe. This vitamin is one of the most important for the body because it helps to convert your food into energy and it is necessary to make blood cells.
A lack of Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid can cause paraesthesia or ‘pins and needles’ like sensations in the body.
The importance of vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine) lies in its ability to allow the body use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates in food.
It also helps to form haemoglobin (a substance found in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body).
Good amounts of vitamin B6 can be gained from: meats, bananas, whole grains, vegetables, nuts and milk. However, something to remember - if you freeze milk, this could reduce its vitamin B6 content.
If you don’t have Vitamin B6 in your body, it can cause anemia or peripheral neuropathy (a condition that usually causes weakness, numbness or pain in the hands and feet).
Whereas vitamin B6 helps to store energy, vitamin B7 helps the body to break down fat - converting food into fuel.
There are lots of foods that contain low levels of vitamin B7, with the best identified being: egg yolk, liver, fish (especially sardines) and some vegetables (such as garlic, tomatoes or watercress).
Vitamin B7 or ‘biotin’ deficiency can result in dermatitis or enteritis (inflammation of the intestine).
Vitamin B9 or more commonly known as folic acid is essential to help the body form red blood cells. It’s an especially important vitamin for pregnant women, as it helps to reduce the risk of birth defects including spina bifida in unborn babies.
You’ll find vitamin B9 in a range of food stuffs including: liver (but avoid this during pregnancy), dried herbs, sunflower seeds, legumes, green leafy vegetables, asparagus and peanuts.
We need vitamin B12 to make red blood cells and keep the nervous system healthy, it is also involved in helping to release energy from food.
The best sources of vitamin B12 include: fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and dairy products, some fortified cereals and soy products. If you’re vegan, seeing as dairy and meat are out of the question, it’s likely you’ll need to take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Vitamin B12 deficiency could lead to a condition called vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. This type of anemia causes the body to produce abnormally large red blood cells that cannot function properly. The first signs of anemia include: extreme tiredness (fatigue), lack of energy (lethargy), breathlessness, feeling faint, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears), weight loss or loss in appetite.
The best sources of vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) come from fruits and vegetables. Kakadu plum and the camu camu fruit (native to the Peruvian Amazon) apparently contain the highest vitamin C content of all the foods in the world.
Did you know, cooking food rich in vitamin C actually destroys the vitamin content, so consider raw options, where possible.
If you become deficient in vitamin C this can cause megaloblastic anemia. This is a blood disorder that causes bone marrow to produce abnormally large, immature red blood cells and reduces the overall production of red blood cells in the body.
Vitamin D helps to maintain strong bones, so it’s pretty essential for your health in general.
The best way to get a good dose of vitamin D is to get out into the sunshine. But if you’re really not keen on basking in the sun, you can also find small amounts of vitamin D in fatty fish, eggs, beef liver and mushrooms.
If you do not absorb sufficient amounts of vitamin D, this could lead to rickets or osteomalacia (softening of the bones).
From helping to maintain healthy hair, skin and eyes to strengthening your immune system, vitamin E is vital for a healthy body.
The best sources of vitamin E include: kiwi, almonds, avocados, eggs, milk, nuts, green leafy vegetables, uncooked vegetable oils, wheat germ and whole grains.
Without enough vitamin E in your body, you could end up with nerve and muscle damage, leading to the loss of feelings the arms and legs, lack of control over body movements and vision issues. Although uncommon, a lack of vitamin E can also cause hemolytic anemia in newborns (a medical condition that causes red blood cells to be destroyed faster than they are made).
Vitamin K is important to help the blood in your body clot effectively. It’s also good for the bones and the heart.
You’ll find the most vitamin K in foods such as green leafy vegetables, avocado, kiwi and prunes.
Vitamin K or phylloquinone deficiency can cause hemorrhagic diathesis (spontaneous severe heavy bleeding).