Getting enough vitamins and minerals is super important and sometimes easier said than done! It’s especially challenging to know which vitamins are the most important and what effects they have on your body. We’re here today to give you a breakdown of the most important vitamins and how they can help to boost your general well-being.
The Most Important Vitamins A-K (Except for B)
I’ll put B vitamins in a separate category because there are so many varieties. Here, we’ll cover vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. All of these are really important for different reasons (and most of them are found in some concentration in your typical multivitamin).
- Vitamin A. This vitamin is particularly important for your skin and eyes. In fact, vitamin A deficiency has a lot of nasty side effects that are totally preventable if you take enough in. For instance, low vitamin A levels are the leading cause of childhood blindness and can increase the risk of disease or death in children and infants. In addition, lack of vitamin A can cause complications with pregnancies and increase the risk of maternal mortality. Vitamin A is found naturally in carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and kale among other foods.
- Vitamin C. Deficiency in vitamin C is notorious for causing scurvy, which makes it one of the more famous deficiencies. Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid, and your body needs it to produce collagen. If you’re low in vitamin C, you’ll experience tissue breakdown, which manifests itself in scurvy’s symptoms: muscle and joint pain, exhaustion, swollen gums, and occasionally the appearance of red dots on the skin. Vitamin C is famously found in oranges, but strawberries, brussel sprouts, and broccoli also contain high concentrations.
- Vitamin D. The biggest thing that vitamin D does in your body is regulate your calcium and phosphate levels. The side effects of vitamin D deficiency aren’t nearly as dramatic as deficiencies in vitamins A or C – some studies estimate that almost 42% of people are technically vitamin D deficient. Severe deficiency can lead to rickets (the weakening and softening of bone) in children, and aches and pains in adults. A lot of fish contain Vitamin D, including tuna and salmon, or you can take it in from cheese or eggs. If you’re vegan, it’s definitely worth adding a vitamin D supplement to your routine.
- Vitamin E. This vitamin is famous for strengthening your immune system, and it is highly unlikely that you have a deficiency. Excess vitamin E is naturally stored in the body to be called upon when there’s not a ready supply being provided. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps to maintain healthy skin and eyesight. It has also been suggested that maintaining good levels of this vitamin could help slow dementia. Vitamin E is mostly found in leafy green vegetables like spinach and broccoli, but many nuts also have a high content.
- Vitamin K. The most important thing that vitamin K does for you is to help your blood clot properly. Without it, wounds won’t heal correctly, and in addition, it helps strengthen your bones. You don’t need much vitamin K to keep these things functioning correctly, so it’s even harder to have a deficiency of vitamin K than of vitamin E. If you’re concerned about your vitamin K levels (or just want to play it safe), increase your intake of kale and spinach.
There are eight types of B vitamins: B1-3, B5-7, B9, and B12. They’re basically all important, and they all have cool names. In addition to general health and wellness, vitamin B is great for your skin, hair, and nails as well. Sit back and brace yourself for all of the kinds of B vitamins you need to be aware of.
- Thiamin. Vitamin B1 works to help the body convert carbohydrates into energy. Thiamin is also important to keep muscles and nerves functioning properly. Thiamin deficiency is relatively uncommon, but when it does appear it is most often in those who consume a lot of alcohol. The side effects of a deficiency include weakness, fatigue, and nerve damage. In order to avoid those symptoms, make sure that you’re consuming enough whole grains, legumes, and red meat.
- Riboflavin. Vitamin B2 also helps the body to transform food into energy but is especially important in keeping your nervous system healthy. There are a lot of symptoms of a riboflavin deficiency, including a sore throat, lesions around the mouth, and anemia. Luckily it’s found in a ton of foods that you eat every day: from dairy to seafood to enriched grains to soy.
- Niacin. Vitamin B3 also helps transform food to energy (most of them do). Its specialty is keeping skin healthy. Niacin deficiency isn’t really a problem, but an overabundance of niacin can damage your liver. It’s pretty hard to overdose on, but I wouldn’t recommend a straight niacin supplement on top of your diet unless it’s recommended by a physician.
- Pantothenic Acid. Vitamin B5 helps transform food to energy (surprise!) and aids in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. The major side effects of a deficiency in pantothenic acid are fatigue, depression, and chronic stress. Luckily it’s pretty easy to get a good amount of pantothenic acid in your diet. It’s found in whole grains, egg yolks, mushrooms, and avocados among many other foods.
- Pyridoxine. Vitamin B6 helps with a different part of the food to energy process; it stores energy from protein and carbohydrates and helps to create hemoglobin. B6 is also really important for your thyroid since your body can’t use iodine to produce hormones without it. Pyridoxine deficiency can result in muscle weakness, but long-term high doses of B6 can result in nerve damage. If a supplement hasn’t been recommended by a doctor, you’re probably getting enough B6 in your diet (it’s in practically everything).
- Biotin. Vitamin B7 is essential for your body to process fat from the foods that you eat. However, only a very small amount is required, so it would be nearly impossible to have a deficiency. There aren’t any notable side effects from an overdose of B7, but again a supplement is probably unnecessary. Biotin is found in high quantities in meat, particularly in the liver of animals, but also in nuts and seeds, avocado, and sweet potato.
- Folate. Vitamin B9 (also known as folic acid) helps form healthy red blood cells and reduces the risk of central nervous system defects. For this reason, it’s especially important to keep your B9 levels up during pregnancy. Low folate levels can lead to anemia which comes with a lot of side effects, and B9 deficiency can also cause headaches and behavioral disorders. Folic acid is found in high concentrations in citrus and leafy greens.
- Cyanocobalamin. Vitamin B12 has a very similar function to folate (helping to form red blood cells and keep the nervous system healthy), but it also circles back to join the early B vitamins and transform food into energy. The major side effect of B12 deficiency is pernicious anemia, which has side effects including exhaustion, muscle weakness, paraesthesia (pins and needles), and depression. B12 is found in most meats and other animal byproducts, but if you’re vegan it might be worth looking into a supplement.
Most Important Minerals
I won’t go into quite as much detail with the many minerals that your body needs since the focus of this article is the vitamins. Minerals are very important for you, though, and they’re found in a ton of different places. Suffice it to say that most “multivitamins” will also contain a number of these key minerals in them.
- POTASSIUM helps control the balance of fluids in the body and ensure that nerves are communicating properly with one another.
- SODIUM AND CHLORIDE help with digestion and the balance of fluid levels. Since both of these ingredients are found in salt, overdose is more common than deficiency. Be careful; too much salt can lead to high blood pressure which could increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
- CALCIUM helps build strong bones in children and fight bone deterioration in adults. It is also a necessary component to keep muscles functioning properly as it aids in muscle contraction.
- PHOSPHORUS also helps to build and maintain bone strength and assists the B vitamins in harnessing energy from food.
- MAGNESIUM helps maintain the correct function of the parathyroid glands (which produce hormones that affect bone health) and helps transform food into energy.
- IRON helps create red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of the disease but can be easily held off by eating high-iron foods or taking a supplement.
- ZINC helps to create new cells and enzymes, and assists in the healing of wounds. It also fights allergy symptoms and infections.
- COPPER triggers the release of iron to form hemoglobin and also aids in the production of red and white blood cells. It’s also important for brain development.
- IODINE helps to keep your cells and metabolic rate at healthy levels. It’s also involved in the synthesis of the thyroid.
When it comes down to it, your body needs all kinds of vitamins to function correctly. It’s hard to pin down what the most important vitamins are. Everything on this list is important in one way or another! That said, take a look and see which of these things you’re getting enough of from the foods you eat and which might need a bit of extra TLC. When in doubt or if you start experiencing side effects that sound like they could be a result of one of these deficiencies or overdoses, consult a physician. We hope that all of this information was helpful – let us know in the comments if you have any questions or learned anything new!
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