You’ve heard about essential vitamins all your life, from health classes to discussions on news and talk shows. Depending on which stage of life you’re in, your vitamin needs may vary, and a deficiency in any single vitamin can cause health issues.
Vitamins are chemicals that aid specific functions in your body. They play a major role inside your cells, and to be healthy you need optimal levels of each vitamin. Except for Vitamin D, which your body can make from sunshine, you need food or supplements to provide the full range of vitamins. Check with your doctor before supplementing. Following is a list of vitamins and their functions in the body.
Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A and keeps eyes, bones, skin, and tissue healthy and strong. Green leafy vegetables and orange-colored foods such as carrots and cantaloupe are high in beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene is part of the antioxidant group, which helps protect cells from unstable molecules in the body called free radicals. Other antioxidants include lycopene, found in tomatoes, and vitamin C.
Vitamin B6 aids in brain function, memory, and metabolism, while vitamin B12 helps cells divide normally. Vegetarians commonly have low levels of B12, as it is found only in animal sources such as eggs, meat, and cheese. Good sources of B6 include bananas, seeds, and beans.
Folic acid, or vitamin B9, is especially important for women of childbearing age because it reduces the risk of birth defects. Food sources of folic acid include dark green vegetables, melons, beans, and eggs. If you smoke, drink significant amounts of alcohol, or use oral contraceptives, a folic acid supplement will help maintain optimal levels in your blood.
Vitamin C helps produce red blood cells and heal the body. Many fruits and vegetables contain some vitamin C, but citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes are especially high. If you tend to have high levels of stress, you’ll want to eat plenty of foods with vitamin C, or supplement it, because stress depletes vitamin C levels.
Vitamin D keeps bones strong by regulating calcium and phosphorus levels. Sunlight is the most effective way to help your body make vitamin D. Exposing as much skin as possible to the sun (without sunscreen) for 10–15 minutes several times a week will activate vitamin D production. During the winter, or any time you can’t get sunlight, taking cod liver oil is a good source of vitamin D. Carlson’s makes a pleasant tasting oil that can be found in health food stores or online.
Vitamin E maintains cell membranes and red blood cells. Nuts and seeds, cod-liver oil, and wheat germ are good sources of E.
Vitamin K promotes normal blood clotting and maintains strong bones in older people. Green leafy vegetables and fish oil are good sources.
Eating a variety of whole, fresh food is the best way to get the full spectrum of vitamins, but taking a supplement is a good nutrient insurance plan. Keep in mind that the more colorfully you eat, the more vitamins you’ll get. Eat at least five servings a day or orange, yellow, purple, green, and red fruits and vegetables. The nutrients give foods their colors.
What vitamins do you take and suggest for others?