What actually are vitamins? And what do they do?
We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat our vitamins, and we know that they are good for us, but what actually are they? Should I get them from pills or whole foods? And what are their roles in the body?
Really good questions.
Vitamins are essential, organic substances needed in small amounts in the diet. That word “essential” means that the body cannot produce sufficient amounts of the substance (vitamins) on its own, so we need to get them from our diet. Vitamins play large roles in the body even though they are required in small amounts. To name a few, vitamins are needed for proper immune function, bone growth, prevention of free radicals, and synthesis of blood clots. While synthetic multivitamins can definitely help achieve the needed levels, research shows obtaining vitamins from whole foods is necessary for a long and healthy life.
And now for the roles of each vitamin and what they are actually up to in the body. This is the juicy stuff.
There are six major categories of vitamins. Vitamins A, D, K, E, C and the B vitamins. From these six categories, we’ll break them down into two groups: Fat soluble vitamins and water soluble vitamins.
Fat soluble vitamins: Vitamins K, A, D, E
These four major vitamins can only be absorbed in the body in junction with dietary fats. For example, if you were to eat a bunch of foods high in vitamins K, A, D, and E, but didn’t have a fat to go with it, your body would not absorb the vitamins. And if the vitamins aren’t absorbed, they can’t do their good work in the body. So be sure to pair your foods with healthy fats - olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, etc.
Roles and sources of the fat soluble vitamins:
Roles: Vitamin K is mainly in charge of forming blood clots in the body. When you get a cut, vitamin K is there to make sure the blood clots so you don’t bleed too much. It also helps with bone metabolism.
Sources: Kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, beet greens, swiss chard, avocado
Roles: Vitamin A is needed for the development of eyes and maintaining healthy vision, limbs, the cardiovascular system, and the nervous system. Vitamin A is needed for cell differentiation - the process where stem cells develop into specialized cells with unique functions in the body.
Sources: Sweet potato, carrots, kale, broccoli, spinach, romaine, acorn squash, butternut squash, apricots, cantaloupe, mango, peaches, citrus
Roles: Vitamin D helps to keep the proper amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the body. It is also needed for healthy immune function, and can even reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases and certain types of infections.
Sources: Cod liver oil, tuna, salmon, eggs, tofu, maitake mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, chanterelle mushrooms, and SUNSHINE!
Roles: Vitamin E acts as a super powerful antioxidant. It’s kind of like a vacuum cleaner that goes in and cleans up all the harmful things your body doesn’t need.
Sources: Asparagus, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, avocado, dark leafy greens, red sweet pepper, mango, kiwi
Water Soluble Vitamins: Vitamin C and the B vitamins
These vitamins are absorbed in the body in junction with water. The important thing to know here is that when you cook foods high in these vitamins, they get lost to water. This means when you cook your broccoli, you lose the vitamin C it contains to water and evaporation. This is why it’s super important to eat veggies and fruits raw at least once per day. If you have a hard time digesting raw fruits and veggies, I highly recommend juicing them! Juicing already starts the digestion process for you, which can really help if you have a sensitive gut.
The B vitamins are complicated. There are 8 different B vitamins, and they all have different functions in the body. I talk more about this in the full video, which is available with the silver & gold packages on the Unlocked Studio.
Roles: The B vitamins mainly act in the body as coenzymes. This means they pair up with all different kinds of cells in the body to produce something the body needs. For instance, Niacin (vitamin B6) acts as a coenzyme that functions in at least 200 reactions that help produce energy for the body.
Sources: Brown rice, eggs, beans, lentils, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, nutritional yeast, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, avocados, bananas
I know, I know, this is a TON of information. I really appreciate you taking time to read this article! Sign up for our online studio to watch the full video and gain access to more nutrition tips.
Love, light, and health,