Learn what each vitamin does and how to make sure you’re getting enough.

Talk to your doctor before supplementing any of these essential vitamins.We all know that vitamins are important, but what do each of the 13 essential vitamins actually do? And what foods contain these essential vitamins? Let’s take a look!

First, here’s a quick list of the 13 essential vitamins:

  1. Vitamin A
  2. Vitamin C
  3. Vitamin D
  4. Vitamin E
  5. Vitamin K
  6. Thiamin
  7. Riboflavin
  8. Niacin
  9. Pantothenic acid
  10. Vitamin B6
  11. Biotin
  12. Folate
  13. Vitamin B12

As a quick note: before you start taking vitamin supplements or make any dietary changes, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor. Everyone’s nutritional needs are different, so you’ll want to see which supplemental vitamins, if any, your doctor recommends for you before you take them.

Vitamin A
As a kid, you may have been told some version of “eat your carrots so you can see in the dark!” While you might still be working on that night vision, it turns out Vitamin A, found in carrots, is essential for good vision, as well as immune health and cell growth.

Sources of Vitamin A include:

  • Leafy greens
  • Red and orange fruits/vegetables (tomatoes, red peppers, mango, etc.)
  • Liver
  • Eggs
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Fortified foods

Vitamin C
Vitamin C might be the most famous one of the bunch — we know it’s in oranges, sailors used to get scurvy without it, and many of us take extra at the first sign of a runny nose. Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects your heart and immune system, assists in tissue growth and wound healing, and maintains bones and teeth.

Sources of Vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts
  • Strawberries
  • Potatoes

Vitamin D
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D is hard to get from food sources alone. Our bodies synthesize it after spending time in the sun (ideally three times a week for 10-15 minutes), and it’s commonly recommended to take a supplement in the winter. Vitamin D reduces inflammation and helps our bodies absorb calcium, which is necessary for strong bones and teeth.

Sources of Vitamin D include:

  • Sunlight
  • Fish
  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
  • Fortified foods

Vitamin E
The antioxidant alpha-tocopherol is the form of Vitamin E that our bodies can use. It helps synthesize red blood cells and protects our bodies from dangerous free radicals that contribute to chronic disease.

Sources of Vitamin E include:

  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts)
  • Sunflower seeds and oils
  • Avocados
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach and collard greens
  • Mangos

Vitamin K
Most of us have experienced a cut or wound at some point in our lives, and you can thank Vitamin K for helping you heal! Its primary function is synthesizing some of the proteins you need for blood clotting.

Sources of Vitamin K include:

  • Leafy greens like kale, collard greens, spinach, cabbage, and lettuce
  • Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
  • Green beans and peas

Thiamin (B1)
The rest of the essential vitamins, starting with thiamin, are all in the B vitamin family. They’re grouped together because while they do have different functions, many B vitamins are found in the same foods and support each other.

If you’re a pasta lover, then B vitamins like thiamin might be your personal favorites; they enable our bodies to turn carbohydrates into energy! Thiamin also supports heart, nervous system, and muscle function.

Sources of thiamine include:

  • Lentils, beans, and peas
  • Salmon
  • Enriched cereals, breads, and rice
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Tofu

Riboflavin (B2)
Next up in the B series is riboflavin, which also helps metabolize energy and supports cell growth. Riboflavin has also been studied for its ability to prevent migraines by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.

Sources of riboflavin include:

  • Fortified foods
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Meat
  • Dairy

Niacin (B3)
Joining the B family, niacin also helps convert nutrients into energy in addition to creating and repairing DNA and cholesterol. Some healthcare providers actually use niacin supplements as a treatment option for high cholesterol.

If you’ve ever taken a supplement with a high amount of niacin, you might have experienced the “niacin flush,” where your skin gets warm, flushed, and itchy. Your healthcare provider can recommend whether you need a supplement and may suggest easing into it.

Sources of niacin include:

  • Salmon, tuna, and anchovies
  • Whole grains
  • Potatoes
  • Liver
  • Peanuts
  • Mushrooms

Pantothenic acid (B5)
It’s important for our bodies to be able to build and break down fatty acids, which is the main function of pantothenic acid. It also supports other metabolic functions, helps manufacture red blood cells, and maintains our digestive health.

Sources of pantothenic acid include:

  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Salmon
  • Avocados
  • Lean meat
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lentils

Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 does have another name, pyridoxine, but you can understand why most people just call it B6! This is an important one, as it helps more than 100 enzymes perform important daily functions in the body. Notably, B6 supports our hearts, brains, and immune function.

Sources of Vitamin B6 include:

  • Salmon
  • Lean chicken
  • Tofu
  • Sweet and regular potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Pistachios

Biotin (B7)
You might be familiar with biotin as the “skin, hair, and nails” vitamin. However, this is mostly just marketing. Being deficient in biotin can be damaging to skin, hair, and nails, but there’s no evidence that supplementing extra biotin helps make them healthier. The main role of biotin is working along with other B vitamins to support the enzymes that break down fat, carbohydrates, and proteins.

Sources of biotin include:

  • Peas, beans, and lentils
  • Egg yolks
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Liver
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Mushrooms

Folate (B9)
Folate, which in fortification/supplement form is known as folic acid, is most well-known as a vitamin that requires extra attention during pregnancy. That’s because it’s vital during periods of rapid growth — like fetal development. Of course, non-pregnant people need folic acid too! It is involved in metabolizing protein and producing healthy red blood cells.

Sources of folate include:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Legumes (especially lentils)
  • Asparagus
  • Eggs
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Nuts and seeds

Vitamin B12
Last but not least is Vitamin B12, whose full name is cobalamin. It supports the development and function of the nervous system and brain, and the formation of red blood cells and DNA.

Since it’s usually automatically supplemented in modern animal feed, many people get their B12 passed on through animal-based foods. As our vegetarian and vegan friends may already know, eating fortified foods or taking supplements is necessary for them to prevent deficiencies in this vitamin.

Sources of Vitamin B12:

  • Fortified cereals and milks
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Organ meats

For more nutritional information, recipe ideas, fitness tips, and more continue browsing the CapTel health and wellness blog!

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