The Complete 'A To Z' - Guide To Vitamins

Vitamins are important. Everybody knows that.

We all need a good vitamin intake for our bodies to function properly and survive. Vitamins are essential. Meaning, our bodies can’t produce enough themselves, so we have to get them throughout our diet for optimal health.

That's why I wanted to create an ultimate vitamin guide for you. So let's get right into it!

Types of vitamins

There are two different types of vitamins: Fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins. All vitamins are measured in mg or mcg.

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) is an indicator of how much of each vitamin is needed to stay healthy. The values, which are all backed by scientific data, are broken down by age and gender.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble means, that the vitamins are stored in the body for later use, by binding them to fat cells in the stomach. Vitamin A,D,E and K (to memorise easily: the EDEKA-rule) are such vitamins.

It’s more difficult to become deficient in these kinds of vitamins, since we are able to store them. But it's therefore also easier to build up toxic levels.

Water-soluble vitamins

The rest of the vitamins are water-soluble. Meaning, they are absorbed by the cells directly.

Water-soluble vitamins can not be stored in the body. If we consume too much of them, they get flushed out with every stop at the restroom.

Biotin, vitamin C, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and all the other B vitamins are water-soluble. Those vitamins need to be ingested consistently.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Vitamin A (aka retinol or retinal) 

As children we get told that we should eat more carrots to improve our vision. And that's somehow true. Vitamin A does improve vision. Not in general, but in dim light.

It’s also crucial for the production of red and white blood cells, which are needed for the immune system to work against infections and keep the blood vessels functioning properly.

Having a deficiency in vitamin A can lead to night blindness. So eat your carrots!

Furthermore, vitamin A is especially important if you're pregnant! It's crucial for the baby's embryonic growth, including the development of the heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes and bones, as well as the circulatory, respiratory and central nervous system.

That's not all! A good intake of vitamin A can be beneficial if you recently gave birth, because it helps with postpartum tissue repair.

How much do you need?

Men need about 900mcg (0.9mg) and women about 700mcg (0.7mg) per day. Don't go over 3000mcg! 

Good sources

A good rule of thumb: orange coloured foods! But there are a few other options as well.

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Mango
  • Butternut squash
  • Kale
  • Liver
Vitamin D

The sun-vitamin (vitamin D is technically a hormone) is important for normal calcium metabolism and regulates the amount of phosphate in our bodies. We need it to maintain ideal health.

Vitamin D is created in our skin as a reaction to direct sunlight. But when our bodies create vitamin D, the result is an inactive form. Therefore, the body must convert it to an active form, which happens in the liver and kidney via a process called hydroxylation.

From March to the end of September you should get all the vitamin D you need, just by enjoying the sun for 20 minutes per day.

During the winter months, you should consider supplements, depending on where you live.

A deficiency in vitamin D has been associated with osteoporosis, rickets (a disease in which the bone tissue doesn't properly mineralise), skeletal deformities and softer bones.

How much do you need?

Aim for 20 min direct midday-sunlight per day or supplement with up to 5.000 IU per day. If you get some sunlight, supplement with less.

Good sources

Vitamin D is only naturally present in a limited number of foods.

  • Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel)
  • Red meat
  • Liver
  • Egg yolks

Some manufacturers add it to certain foods like fortified breakfast cereals and milk.

Vitamin E

It's important to get enough vitamin E to protect essential lipids from damage, battle free radicals - which by the way causes ageing amongst other things - and maintain the integrity of cell membranes.

Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and helps to maintain a healthy skin. You might have noticed vitamin E before - in one of your skincare products!

How much do you need?

15000mcg (15mg) daily.

Good sources
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Cereals
  • Seeds
Vitamin K 

This vitamin is really important for wound healing and bone development.

Actually, it's made by the bacteria that line your intestinal tract. If you accidentally cut yourself, you need vitamin K for good blood clotting, so your wound is able to heal properly.

Lacking this vitamin could cause easier and heavier bleeding, nosebleeds and heavier menstrual bleedings. 

How much do you need?

Men need about 120mcg and women about 90mcg. A toxic reaction from excessive consumption has not yet been observed or reported. 

Good sources
  • Green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli and kale)
  • Vegetable oils
  • Cereal grains

Water-soluble vitamins

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) 

We already know vitamin C is vital for a healthy immune and nervous system, because it strengthens blood vessels.

Besides that, it acts - much like vitamin E - as an antioxidant, which is relevant for cell growth, repair and it’s also required for utilising carbohydrates and synthesising fats and protein. 

How much do you need?

According to the RDA, men need 90mg and women 75mg. If you smoke you should add another 35mg.

However, we recommend a daily intake of 1000mg. Don’t go above 2000mg though, it's just unnecessary. 

Good sources
  • Citrus fruits (grapefruits, lemons and oranges)
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Red peppers
  • Broccoli
Niacin (or Vitamin B3) 

Niacin is - like all the other B vitamins - essential for the conversion of food into cellular energy.

That's not all! Vitamin B3 is also very helpful to maintain a healthy skin, ears, eyes, nervous system and it decreases triglycerides in the blood stream.

How much do you need?

Men need about 16mg and women about 14mg per day.

Good sources
  • Coffee (yes, please!)
  • Chicken
  • Salmon
  • Peanuts
Folic Acid

Pregnant? Then this vitamin is vital to ensure a proper development of the baby and help prevent birth defects on the brain.

Working together with vitamin B12, it also creates healthy red blood cells. 

How much do you need?

Aim for 400mcg daily. 

Good sources
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Lentils
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
Pantothenic Acid (a.k.a. Vitamin B5)

The main function of vitamin B5 is to release energy from the food we eat. Plus, it helps with the synthesis of red blood cells and steroid hormones.

Found in nearly all meats and vegetables, suffering from a vitamin B5 deficiency is fairly rare.

How much do you need?

5mg per day. 

Good sources
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocados
  • Yogurts
Vitamin B12 

Vitamin B12 is needed to process folic acid.

You are in your late 40's? Keep B12 high, because it protects the nerve cells and might reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Having a deficiency can cause memory loss, dementia and anaemia. 

How much do you need?

2-3mcg per day. 

Good sources
  • Beef
  • Salmon
  • Skimmed milk
  • brie cheese
Riboflavin (known as Vitamin B2) 

Used as a converter, B2 helps us to turn the food we eat into fuel. It’s also powerful for iron absorption. A vitamin B2 deficiency is very uncommon nowadays. 

Ho much do you need?

Men need about 1.3mg and women about 1.1mg per day. 

Good sources
  • Almonds
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Eggs
  • Milk
Vitamin B6

This water-soluble vitamin is very important for the production of the hormone serotonin. Serotonin plays a huge role when it comes to sleep, appetite and mood. Furthermore, it’s needed to build haemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.

Plus, it influences cognitive and immune function. So you better don't skip on that! 

How much do you need?

About 1.3 mg a day.

Good sources
  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Spinach
Biotin (also called Vitamin B7 or Vitamin H) 

Biotin is the most important vitamin, when it comes to the metabolism of fat and the growth of cells, such as hair or fingernails. Got brittle nails or want longer hair? Fill up on biotin.
 

How much do you need?

30mcg per day. 

Good sources
  • Salmon
  • Whole grains
  • Eggs
  • Avocados

Does heating veggies and fruits destroy vitamins?

It's no myth, that some cooking methods, such as boiling and baking, alter the nutritional value of fruits and veggies. However, this doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Cooking can degrade some nutrients, but also enhance the availability of others. Many people also believe that eating veggies raw is the best method to get all the nutrients in. Again, this depends on the type of nutrient.

No single cooking or preparation method is the best, which includes eating veggies raw!

Water-soluble vitamins seem to be most vulnerable to degradation in processing and cooking. For example, canned peas and carrots lose up to 95% of their natural vitamin c. Depending on which cooking method you choose, the loss of vitamin c varies between 15%-55%.

Fat-soluble vitamins on the other hand, behave much better.

Basically, by far the worst method to serve veggies is to fry them. So stay away from that.

Conclusion

Don't be intimidated by the aforementioned numbers. You don't have to make sure to get your vitamins exactly right to the mcg!

If you eat a variety of fruits, veggies and quality meat on a daily basis, you don't have to worry, about getting all your nutrients in.

And if a blood test reveals a deficiency, you now know where to get the desired vitamins from. If everything else fails, there's also always a supplement version for each one. But getting your nutrients from real food should always be the number one goal.

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