I used to love taking my vitamins. That’s when they were fruity flavored Flintstones vitamins. My mom would put them on the top shelf of the cabinet so I couldn’t reach. When she wasn’t looking, I’d drag a kitchen chair to the cabinet, climb up and grab a few more of the sweet and tart candy-like vitamins. Too bad I don’t have the same fervor for taking my vitamins that I did as a child. As an adult, I find it difficult to not only remember to take my vitamins but also to know which kind to take. There are bottle after bottle of vitamins lining the shelves and trying to determine which ones are right for you can be confusing.
Here’s the scoop…vitamins are called vitamins for a reason. The reason is that vitamins are “vital to life” (vita = life). Vitamins are essential nutrients needed in small amounts to prevent diseases and support optimal health. However, there is a difference between vitamins and vitamin supplements. The truth is that foods deliver most of the vitamins your body requires and supplements just can’t compete. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take vitamin supplements at all, just that its important to understand the different vitamins and minerals, your individual deficiencies and when a supplement might be needed. Because there is so much information to share about vitamins and minerals, I’m breaking this out in a series to make for easy reading. Let’s start with the different types of vitamins.
WATER-SOLUBLE vs. FAT-SOLUBLE
There are essentially two types of vitamins, based on their solubility: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins include the eight B vitamins and vitamin C. They’re called “water-soluble” for obvious reasons – they are hydrophilic, are found in the watery compartments of foods and are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Water-soluble vitamins are retained in the body for varying lengths of time and excreted in small excesses. They must be consumed regularly (every 1 to 3 days) to prevent deficiency, however toxic levels are possible when consumed in excess. “Fat-soluble” vitamins are hydrophobic and include vitamins A, D, E and K. They occur in the fats and oils of foods, enter the lymphatic system before the blood and require transport proteins to travel to the cells where they are stored in fatty tissues and the liver until needed. Because they are stored in the body, they aren’t needed as frequently but toxicity is more likely when taken in excess.
So, what are your B vitamins and what are good food sources for them and vitamin C (the other essential water-soluble vitamin)? Here’s a quick breakdown for reference:
THIAMIN (B1): Food Sources – enriched, fortified or whole-grain products; pork
RIBOFLAVIN (B2): Food Sources – milk products; enriched, fortified or whole-grain products; liver; dark, leafy greens
NIACIN (B3): Food Sources – protein rich foods; whole grains
BIOTIN: Food Sources – widespread in foods; also synthesized in the GI tract
PANTOTHENIC ACID (CoA): Food Sources – widespread in foods; beef, poultry, whole grains, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli
VITAMIN B6: Food Sources – protein-rich foods (meats, fish, poultry)
FOLATE/FOLIC ACID: Food Sources – legumes, vegetables, fortified grain products
VITAMIN B12: Food Sources – foods derived from animals
VITAMIN C: Food Sources – fruits and vegetables
Examine the list of food sources and decide if you think your diet allows for adequate amounts of each. Do you see a particular area where you are lacking? What if you’re a vegetarian? Are you getting the B3 and B6 and B12 vitamins your body needs and that are primarily found in high protein or animal derived foods?
To help you understand just how important these water-soluble vitamins are, look for more detail on each individual vitamin, its chief function in the body, recommended intake and symptoms of deficiency and toxicity in the next post. Don’t worry, we’ll delve into the fat-soluble vitamins too.