There are 13 different vitamins, and they’re vital micronutrients. You can divide them into two groups: fat-soluble and water-soluble.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat-soluble. They require fat to be absorbed, and they are stored for a long time in your liver and body fat.
The rest are water-soluble vitamins, which travel more readily through the bloodstream. You pee out the ones that you don’t use quickly.
Vitamins are necessary for every function in your body. Your heart needs them to beat, your lungs need them in order to expand and contract, etc. If specific vitamins aren’t present in large enough quantities, these vital functions are adversely affected or even stop.
Think of your body as a house that needs constant, ongoing maintenance. The walls, foundation, and roof of the house are the macronutrients that provide the structure. Vitamins are the individual nails that hold everything together, the grout that keeps the floor tiles in place, and the paint that protects the walls. When you run out of nails, the house falls apart. When the grout crumbles and isn’t repaired, the floor tiles separate, and when paint chips and flakes, the walls are more likely to decay.
When your body runs out of a specific vitamin, it can’t function correctly. For example, vitamin C plays a vital role in maintaining the health of ligaments, skin, tendons, and blood vessels. It’s necessary to heal wounds and to repair and maintain bones and teeth. When you don’t get enough vitamin C, these functions stop. Your gums start to bleed, wounds don’t heal, and severe joint pain develops.
At the same time, moderation is also key. When it comes to vitamins, too much can be just as bad as too little.
Vitamins are like Goldilocks and the three bears: too little can lead to deficiency disease, too much can cause imbalances or health problems, and the correct amount is just right.
The best way to get the vitamins you need is by choosing nutrient-dense foods. Eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt, and a variety of lean protein foods. A nutrient-poor diet that is high in processed foods contains too few vitamins, and a vitamin supplement is not a substitute for a healthful diet.
Here is a handy poster that shows all of the food sources of vitamins. It is an excellent tool to explain the science of vitamins and minerals and how a healthful diet supplies all you need!
By Lynn Grieger RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC