The Role of Vitamins

When many of us think of vitamins, we picture a bottle of pills or chewable capsules. It has become so common to think of “taking your vitamins” that we often forget where vitamins really come from.

Vitamins are naturally occurring, organic substances found in plants and animals. They are necessary to good health and help our bodies to function properly. Each vitamin has a role to play, and it’s important to get enough of all the necessary vitamins to ensure a strong and healthy body.

What They Do and Where to Find Them

Vitamins are generally known by letters, Vitamin A, B, C and so on, but they also often have another name. Knowing which vitamin is which, what they do for the body, and which foods provide them makes it easy to eat a balanced diet.

  • Vitamin A. This vitamin is available from both plant and animal sources. It plays a major role in protecting the immune system, eye health, reproduction, and helps build barriers in both the skin and linings of internal systems to keep out harmful bacteria. You can find Vitamin A in beef or chicken liver, dairy products, and many fruits and vegetables, especially carrots, spinach, kale, cantaloupe and apricots.
  • Vitamin B6. Necessary to immune and nervous system function, vitamin B6 also creates enzymes that metabolize proteins, and is required to create hemoglobin, which carries oxygen within the bloodstream. Vitamin B6 can be found in foods such as potatoes, bananas, garbanzo beans and chicken.
  • Vitamin B12. This vitamin is required to create red blood cells and support neurological function. Foods that provide Vitamin B12 are beef liver, clams, yogurt, and fish such as trout and salmon.
  • Folate. Another one of the B vitamins, folate has recently been shown to reduce the risk of a number of birth defects including spina bifida. You can get folate from foods such as whole grains and leafy greens like spinach and broccoli.
  • Vitamins B1-6 and B7. Also known as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid and biotin, the remaining B vitamins are also important to good health, helping to metabolize food into energy and create red blood cells. B vitamins can be found in a variety of foods such as meats, poultry, eggs, and green vegetables.
  • Vitamin D. Crucial to healthy bones, this vitamin helps in the absorption of calcium and bone growth. It also plays a role in immune health. This vitamin does not appear naturally in many foods, however it can be found in fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines. Vitamin D is also absorbed into the body through sun exposure, however too much exposure to UV rays carries a risk.
  • Vitamin E. An antioxidant which can help to rid the body of free radicals, Vitamin E also supports a healthy immune system. This vitamin can be found in nuts such as almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts, as well as sunflower seeds, broccoli, and spinach.
  • Vitamin K. This vitamin plays an important role in blood clotting as well as maintaining healthy bones and tissue. It is most commonly found in leafy green vegetables such as kale, collard greens, spinach and broccoli.

Getting Enough Vitamins

It can be difficult to tell if you are getting enough vitamins from your diet, so it’s not a bad idea to take a daily multi-vitamin. Just be careful not to overdo it on supplements. Taking too much of some vitamins can actually be detrimental to your health. A balanced diet and a basic multi-vitamin should be sufficient to provide your body with what it needs to function and stay healthy.

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