As children, we are told to eat our fruits and vegetables because they are good for us, but there’s often little explanation as to why they are good for us. A more accurate request would be to ask children to eat their vitamins.
Fruits and vegetables are an incredible source of vitamins that our bodies need to function properly. Yes, there are plenty of vitamin supplements on the market that can help with this. However, these products are just that, supplements. They are designed to supplement vitamin levels you might not be able to get from food. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), 77 percent of American adults report taking at least one dietary supplement a day. The CRN notes that, while supplements can help promote overall wellness when taken properly, they should not be used as a replacement for a well-balanced diet.
But if the vitamins we need are found naturally in food, why are so many people unable to get their recommended vitamin intake? Read on to learn just how important vitamins are for your body, the different types you need, and how you can boost your vitamin intake by improving your diet.
How Vitamins Function and Where to Find Them
Vitamins are naturally occurring compounds in foods that can be dissolved in the body in two different ways: in fat or water. Fat-soluble vitamins are, as the name suggests, stored in the body’s fatty tissues, primarily in the liver. Water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body; therefore, you need a more definite supply of these vitamins than fat-soluble ones.
Virtually every organ and vital process in your body depends on vitamins to function optimally. Vitamin deficiency can cause a whole host of problems, including chronic disease, inflammation, and neurological conditions. While all vitamins are important, they are not all created equal. Deficiencies in specific types of vitamins can result in more detrimental health effects than others. Your body also needs higher levels of certain vitamins than it does others, so it’s important to understand what each type is responsible for and how much you should have.
Fat-soluble vitamins (and recommended daily intakes):
Vitamin A (700–900 mcg)
Vitamin A is made up of retinoids and carotene compounds, including lycopene and beta carotene. It is responsible for eye and skin health, and it has antioxidant properties that can help prevent certain cancers.
Vitamin D (20–70 mg, but varies with age)
While vitamin D is essential for maintaining calcium levels and strengthening bones, we now know that dairy milk is not the only source of it, nor is it always the best option, depending on your ability to tolerate lactose.
Vitamin E (15 mg)
Vitamin E is often used in skin care products because of its antioxidant properties, which can help prevent damage to and repair cells. It’s also great at protecting vitamin A and other lipids from damage.
Vitamin K (90–120 mg)
The bacteria in your intestines produce a specific type of vitamin K that can often cover half of the daily recommended amount. However, since it is only half, it’s still important to consume vitamin K from food; it helps activate protein and calcium that are essential for blood clotting.
Water-soluble vitamins (and recommended daily intakes):
Vitamin B1 (1.1–1.2 mg)
Thiamin, also known as vitamin B1, is present in most nutritious foods. It is essential for helping your body turn the food you consume into energy and can contribute to healthy brain, nerve, and muscle function.
Vitamin B2 (1.1–1.3 mg)
Similarly, B2, also known as riboflavin, helps your body turn food into energy and also plays a role in the health of skin, hair, and blood.
Vitamin B3 (14–16 mg)
Vitamin B3, niacin, is one of the only vitamins that can be produced in the body as well as consumed in food. Like other B vitamins, it is essential for processing food into energy the body can use and contributes to good brain and nervous system health.
Vitamin B5 (5 mg)
Pantothenic acid, B5, is a less commonly known B vitamin, but it’s very important for creating fats that are needed for brain function, hormone function, and the production of hemoglobin.
Vitamin B6 (1.3–1.7 mg, but varies with age)
Vitamin B6 is hard for many people to obtain from food alone. However, it is critical for maintaining a healthy sleep cycle and appetite. It can also aid in brain function and immunity.
Vitamin B12 (2.4 mg)
Cobalamin is among the most popular vitamin supplements on the market. Because B12 is mostly found in meat products, it can be difficult to get enough of it on a plant-based diet, but it’s very important for the health of your cells—particularly nerve and red blood cells.
Biotin (30 mg)
If you are trying to grow longer hair and nails, you may already be familiar with biotin. This vitamin helps break down fatty acids in the body, which helps promote strong bones and healthy skin and hair.
Vitamin C (75–90 mg)
Perhaps the most commonly known and sought-after vitamin, vitamin C helps with a wide variety of essential processes, including boosting immune system function and producing collagen. It also produces antioxidants that can fight against certain cancers.
Choline (425–550 mg)
The body produces minute amounts of choline but not enough to sustain proper levels without consuming it. Choline helps release a neurotransmitter that aids with proper brain function and metabolizing fats.
Vitamin B9 (400 mg)
It’s crucial for babies to get enough vitamin B9, so doctors often recommend that pregnant women take a B9 supplement to ensure proper brain and spinal development for their babies. In adults, it is important for the creation of new cells and can help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
How to Get the Most Vitamins from Food
Fruits and vegetables are vitamin- and nutrient-dense, and they are easy for most people to process, making them one of the best options when it comes to getting your daily vitamin intake. There are specific fruits, veggies, and protein sources to consider if you’re looking to boost your levels of particular vitamins.
- Vitamin A: sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, spinach
- Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6: leafy greens, mushrooms, legumes, watermelon, meats, poultry, eggs
- Vitamin B12: fortified cereals, meats, fish, cheese, eggs
- Biotin: whole grains, egg yolks, soybeans, fish
- Vitamin C: citrus fruits, broccoli, peppers, strawberries, tomatoes
- Choline: milk, eggs, peanuts
- Vitamin D: vegetable oils, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts
- Vitamin B9: fortified cereals, legumes, spinach, asparagus
- Vitamin K: cabbage, dark greens, eggs
Research suggests that as many as 90 percent of adults do not get their recommended daily serving of fruits and veggies. Vitamin deficiency is a rampant problem, and it can contribute to increased rates of disease. The best way to ensure you are getting the recommended daily intake of vitamins is to follow the CDC’s Dietary Guidelines by filling your plate with fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, and whole-grain sources of carbohydrates.
If you think you may be experiencing a vitamin deficiency, or before you begin any new dietary or supplement plan, make sure to consult your physician.
For more information, visit dietaryguidelines.gov