Vitamins play a key role in metabolism, immune system response and optimal over-all functioning of the body. Some vitamins can be produced by the body, however a large number have to be obtained from diet. Most of the vitamins discussed here can currently be consumed in the form of supplement capsules or tablets. However, it is important to get substantial quantities of these vitamins from one’s diet. And many healthcare professionals agree that supplements should not replace a healthy and varied, balanced diet.
So here are 10 vitamins you should ensure you are getting from your diet:
1. Vitamin B3 (Niacin) is a member of the B group of vitamins. Deficiency of this vitamin can lead to sensitivity to sunlight resulting in a scaly pigmented rash and a condition known as pellagra characterized by dermatitis, dementia and diarrhoea.
Consuming products or drugs high in sulphur, or consuming too much alcohol and sleeping pills can all affect the adequate absorption of this vitamin. The over-consumption of maize as a staple can result in the malabsorption of this vitamin.
It can be found in liver, whole wheat products, fish, eggs, roasted peanuts, poultry, avocados and dates.
2. Vitamin K (Menadione)
This is made up of the compounds, K1 and K2 which are synthesized naturally in the gut by bacteria and K3 which is synthetic. It promotes proper blood clotting, aids in preventing internal bleeding and reduces excessive menstrual bleeding.
A deficiency of this vitamin leads to Coeliac disease and Colitis in babies. Substances that can influence the absorption of this vitamin include mineral oil, polluted air and aspirin. Consuming frozen foods can also inhibit the proper absorption of this vitamin.
It can be found in yoghurt, egg yolk, soya bean oil, fish liver oil, leafy green vegetables, safflower oil, cheese, blueberries and kelp.
3. Vitamin P (C Complex)
This is the group of compounds composed of citrus bioflavonoids, citrin, rutin and hesperidin. The P stands for permeability factor. These compounds enhance the effectiveness of vitamin C, strengthens capillary walls and helps to build resistance to infections.
Exposure to heat and light usually degrades these compounds, making them less effective. Smoking prevents the proper absorption of this vitamin. Excessive consumption of alcohol also negatively affects the absorption and utilization of this vitamin.
These group of compounds can be found in the white skin of citrus fruits, grapefruit, apricots, buckwheat, blackberries, cherries and rose hip.
4. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid or Cevitamin Acid)
This vitamin is essential as it acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from the damaging effects of free radicals produced in our bodies. It also aids in the production of collagen which is important for the growth and repair of tissue cells, gums, blood vessels, bone and teeth. It also aids in the proper and quick healing of wounds. It is considered an immune system booster as it helps in preventing several viral and bacterial infections. It also increases the absorption of iron from diet.
Scurvy, a condition characterized by the bleeding of the gums, is a sign that one’s diet is not providing adequate amounts of the vitamin.
This vitamin can be found in citrus fruits and juices from these fruits. These include oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe, lemon, kiwi, and tomatoes. It can also be found in some vegetables such as red and green peppers, and broccoli. Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes (cooked or baked with the skin still intact) both contain a substantial amount of vitamin and should be included in the diet.
5. Vitamin D (Calciferol, Viosterol or Ergosterol)
This vitamin is essential for proper bone development, as it aids the absorption of calcium from the diet. The presence of this vitamin enhances the absorption and utilization of vitamin A. This vitamin also enhances the effectiveness of the immune system in conjunction with vitamin A and C.
A diet with an inadequate supply of this vitamin will result in Rickets (softening and weakening of bones in children), severe tooth decay, osteomalacia (softening of the bones in adults) and osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones) in the elderly.
The greater portion of vitamin D required by the body is produced by our skin from the interaction of oils in our skin with sunlight. It can also be found in some food products such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herrings, beef liver, egg yolk, mushroom and fortified dairy products as well as some nuts.
6. Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
This is an essential vitamin that protects our cells from free radical damage, boosts the immune system and enhances reproductive health in women. It also prevents the formation of blood clots within the vessels. It also enhances the absorption and effectiveness of vitamin A. This vitamin can also prevent the formation of thickened scar tissue when applied topically, as it is easily absorbed through the skin.
This vitamin is made up of a group of compounds called tocopherols. There are eight compounds: alphatocopherol, betatocopherol, gammatocopherol, deltatocopherol, epsilontocopherol, zetatocopherol, etatocopherol, and thetatocopherol. Alphatocopherol is the most effective of these compounds.
A diet poor in natural sources of vitamin E can lead to anaemia, muscle degeneration and reproductive disorders.
It can be found in sunflower seeds and oil, almonds, peanuts, spinach, avocados, soya beans, eggs and butternut squash. These should be included in the diet wherever possible.
7. Vitamin H (Vitamin B7, Biotin or Co enzyme R)
This is a member of the vitamin B complex group of compounds. It is essential for the normal metabolism of fats and proteins. It works in conjunction with the other B complex compounds to help maintain healthy skin.
Consuming raw eggs can prevent the absorption and utilization of Biotin. Raw eggs should thus be consumed in low amounts and infrequently. Adequate amounts of this vitamin alleviates eczema and dermatitis, prevents baldness and delays the greying of hair.
Biotin can be found in nuts, fruits, unpolished rice, egg yolk, milk and kidneys.
8. Folic Acid (Vitamin B9 or Folacin)
This vitamin is also a member of the B complex group of compounds. It is essential for the formation of red blood cells, protein metabolism, utilization of sugar and the proper division of cells of the body.
Adequate amounts of this vitamin will prevent anaemia, canker sores, improve appetite, delay the greying of hair, promote healthy skin, and protect against intestinal parasites and food poisoning.
It can be found in dark green leafy vegetables like Kontonmire( cocoyam leaves) and spinach, carrots, melons, apricots, beans, avocados, and whole wheat.
9. PABA (Para amino benzoic Acid or Vitamin B10)
This vitamin is also a member of the B-complex group of compounds. It is required for the formation of folic acid and the metabolism of proteins.
Adequate amounts can help delay wrinkles, restore natural hair colour, and maintain healthy and smooth skin.
A diet that contains insufficient amounts of this vitamin can result in the development of eczema, alopecia(hair loss), vision problems, mild depression and developmental delays in children.
It can be found in liver, molasses, bran, whole grains and kidney.
10. Vitamin A
This term describes two different compounds: Preformed vitamin A also known as retinol which is only found in animal food products, and provitamin A also known as Beta-carotene found in both plant and animal food products. This vitamin has a ton of benefits and is therefore critical to consume a diet that provides adequate amounts.
It promotes the growth of strong bones, healthy skin, teeth and gums. It is needed for the treatment of many eye disorders, including night blindness (a typical condition caused by a deficiency in vitamin A). In conjunction with vitamin C and D, it helps the body build resistance to respiratory tract infections and shortens disease recovery time. When applied topically (retinol), it can help remove age spots, treat acne, boils, open ulcers, and impetigo (red sores around the nose and mouth caused by a bacterial infection in children)
It can be found in fish liver oil, carrots, green and yellow vegetables, margarine, yellow fruits, and dairy products.
Varying one’s diet to include the food sources of these vitamins will ensure that adequate amounts are consumed on a daily basis to prevent deficiencies. Certain disease conditions also increase the need for some of these vitamins, and so consumption of foods high in those vitamins must increase during the period of recovery.
Always consult your primary health care professional before starting a regimen of supplements for any of these vitamins as an overdose of some vitamins can result in negative side effects such as diarrhoea, itching, skin rashes and excessive urination among others.
- Earl Mindel, The vitamin Bible, Arlington Books limited, London, 1995. PP 34-70