Essential Vitamins. Vitamins A, C, D, E and K, along with B vitamins, are all considered essential nutrients. An essential nutrient is generally defined as a nutrient that the body needs to function properly, but cannot itself produce. In this guide, you’ll find out which vitamins can easily be obtained from eating a healthy diet, and the vitamins that you may want to consider taking in supplement form to meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
Vitamin A. Naturally occurring in a variety of plants and a few animal sources, vitamin A is an essential nutrient that helps our eyes operate effectively, especially at night. It also plays a strong role in reproductive health and immune function. Low levels of vitamin A can result in visual impairments, greater susceptibility to infections and enamel hypoplasia, a condition that results in thin and weak tooth enamel.
How can I get the recommended amount of vitamin A? If you like eating liver, you’re in luck. Even a half serving of turkey, beef, pork, fish or chicken liver can satisfy your vitamin A needs for the day. Eggs are lower in vitamin A, but still a good source. In the plant kingdom, a single sweet potato contains all the vitamin A recommended for the day. A spinach salad with shredded carrots on top also contains enough vitamin A to satisfy the RDA. However, keep in mind that vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient. Be sure to combine your vitamin A rich vegetables with healthy fats so your body can absorb the vitamin.
Vitamin A supplements – take or skip? Because vitamin A deficiency is fairly common among children and adults, consider your diet. If you aren’t regularly eating high Vitamin A foods, consider a supplement. Likewise, if you have a vegan diet, drink alcohol regularly or you’re exposed to a great deal of pollution, a supplement for vitamin A could be a good choice.
Vitamin C. One of the anti-oxidant nutrients, vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. Our immune cells have been found to contain high amounts of vitamin C. Which has often lead researchers to the very plausible assumption that we need the vitamin to strengthen our immune systems. A prolonged deficiency in vitamin C is dangerous and can lead to a painful and often fatal disease called scurvy.
How can I get the recommended amount of vitamin C? A tall glass of orange juice, fresh pressed or from the market, has enough vitamin C in it to meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA). If orange juice isn’t your thing, try a hefty serving of Brussels sprouts, two servings of cauliflower or some hot salsa made with green or red chili peppers.
Vitamin C supplements – take or skip? If you aren’t eating enough foods rich in vitamin C, then you really need to use a supplement. Scurvy is not nearly as common today as it was in centuries past. But it is still seen, and treated in doctor’s offices when people neglect themselves. Adults who drink large amounts of alcohol, small children who are “picky eaters” and older individuals who live alone are among those at a greater risk of being diagnosed with scurvy.
If you regularly eat a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables, skip this supplement for daily use. Do increase your vitamin C intake when you get the sniffles though. According to the folks over at Harvard Medical School, vitamin C won’t actually prevent you from getting a cold, but 200mg per day can reduce the duration of a cold by about 8% for adults and 14% for children. The National Academy of Sciences also recommends that cigarette smokers beef up their vitamin C intake by an additional 35mg each day.
Vitamin D. Our bodies need vitamin D to help us absorb dietary calcium. A deficiency in vitamin D can result in osteomalacia in adults. The same disease is called rickets when it occurs in children. Rickets and osteomalacia are characterized by a softening and sometimes deformity of the bones. Researchers have linked a deficiency in D vitamins with breast and colon cancers, depression, heart disease and osteoporosis. Vitamin D also plays a strong role in immune system functioning.
How can I get the recommended amount of vitamin D? Vitamin D isn’t found in a huge variety of foods naturally. It’s often added to certain foods like cow’s milk, plant-based milk, orange juice and cereal. So, if you tend to start your day with cereal and milk, you’re well on your way to that RDA for vitamin D. Other good ways to get your fill are to enjoy some wild-caught salmon, tuna or mackerel. And don’t forget the giant ball of fire in the sky. Our bodies were made to synthesize vitamin D on our skin after sun exposure. To get vitamin D from the sun, go outside during the day. Expose as much skin as possible, without alarming the neighbors, and soak up the sun. People with very fair skin need only about 20 minutes in the sun to get enough vitamin D. Those with darker skin tones will need more sun exposure – closer to 30 or 40 minutes. Use caution if you’re at high risk for skin cancer.
Vitamin D supplements – take or skip? Skip this one if you’re an outdoorsy type that lives in a year-round sunny area, you love salmon and you drink plenty of fortified milk or juice. Consider a supplement if those things aren’t true. For some people, it’s a wise choice to supplement vitamin D in the winter months. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study that found strong evidence to suggest that vitamin D supplementation in children, during cold and flu season, can reduce the onset of influenza by nearly half.
Vitamin E. Found naturally in nuts and seeds, vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin that our bodies require for optimal health. This nutrient helps our eyes function properly, strengthens our immune systems and protects our cells. Vitamin E is excellent for the skin and neurological health. Deficiencies in vitamin E can cause the breakdown of red blood cells, nerve damage and vision impairments.
How can I get the recommended amount of vitamin E? Olive oil, sunflower oil and almond oil contain high amounts of vitamin E. In fact, just one serving of the aforementioned oils will contain enough vitamin E to meet the RDA for most people. Cashews, peanuts and dark salad greens are also rich in vitamin E.
Vitamin E supplements – take or skip? For the most part, vitamin E is a good nutrient to consume entirely through the diet. It’s easy to get too much vitamin E. And there have been multiple studies showing detrimental side effects from daily supplementation of this essential nutrient. If you can’t consume enough vitamin E rich foods, supplement sparsely and under the advice of a trusted healthcare practitioner.
Vitamin K. Promoted in natural medicine circles to slow the growth of cancer tumors, vitamin K is a fat-soluble nutrient that’s required by the body for blood coagulation. Without this essential nutrient, our bodies would not be able to stop bleeding after a simple papercut. Vitamin K also contributes to good heart and bone health. Deficiencies in vitamin K are somewhat rare, but can result in thinning of the blood, anemia, increased bruising and heavy menstrual bleeding in women.
How can I get the recommended amount of vitamin K? In short, you get your vitamin K from greens. We’re talking collard greens, mustard greens, chard, kale and spinach. And unlike many other foods, when you cook your greens and add some fat to the pan, it increases the bioavailability of the vitamin K quite a bit. If you prefer your greens in salad form, you’ll still get plenty of vitamin K. Just be sure to use a fatty dressing or top your salad with avocado to help your body absorb the nutrient.
Vitamin K supplements – take or skip? It may be difficult to get the recommended daily amount of vitamin K, each day, through diet alone. If a green salad isn’t a daily ritual for you, it’s probably a good idea to consider a supplement. Even with a green leafy diet, alcoholics, people with inflammatory bowel disease or malabsorption issues are often lacking in vitamin K. Also, people with cystic fibrosis and those taking certain antibiotics may need to use a vitamin K supplement. Skip this one if your diet is loaded with greens and you don’t have symptoms of vitamin K deficiency.
Vitamin B. Meet the B vitamin family. They’re a strong bunch of water-soluble nutrients that your body needs for various metabolic functions. Some of the B vitamins are known better by their number, and others, like folate and niacin are known by their names. The B vitamin family is so complex (pun intended) that we created the chart below – just for them.
Food vs. supplements. For the most part, it’s best to get your vitamins from food when it’s possible. A healthy, whole food diet contains so much more than just vitamins and can help your body process and use the nutrients more effectively than swallowing a pill. When you have the choice between an assortment of seeds on top of your salad or a vitamin E capsule, pick the seedy salad!
On the other hand, we do have the wonderful option of supplementing with vitamins when life situations dictate the necessity. People with certain diseases, those without as many dietary options and folks with food allergies or sensitivities all stand to benefit from responsible supplementation of particular vitamins.
Safety considerations. Vitamins A, D, E, B6 and niacin can be toxic in high doses. And any vitamin, taken in the wrong dosage – even vitamin C – can have adverse effects. It’s wise to have your blood tested and consult with your medical practitioner before you begin using vitamin supplements. Always keep vitamin supplements out of the reach of children and pets.
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Harvard Medical School – Can Vitamin C Prevent a Cold? – https://www.health.harvard.edu/cold-and-flu/can-vitamin-c-prevent-a-cold
American Journal for Clinical Nutrition – http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/current
Web MD – The Truth About Vitamin D – https://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/features/the-truth-about-vitamin-d-why-you-need-vitamin-d
Vitamin D Council – How do I Get the Vitamin D My Body Needs – https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/
Global Healing Center – Vitamin E Foods – https://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/vitamin-e-foods/
PubMed – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20219962
Victoria State Government – Vitamin B – https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/vitamin-b
Health – Vitamin A to Zinc – http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20660118,00.html#vitamin-a-to-zinc-1
Dieticians of Canada – Nutrition from A-Z – https://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/B-Vitamins.aspx