Vitamins are organic substances found in food. They are absolutely essential for life as they help with digestion, absorption and the utilisation of foods.
There are two types of vitamins. There are those that are water soluble-like the B vitamins and vitamin C-which means they are suspended in water and are passed out of the body easily.
There are also fat soluble vitamins which get stored in the fatty tissues of the body like the liver. Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat soluble.
A closer look
Vitamin A There are two types of Vitamin A. Retinol- which is mainly found in animal foods and is the active form of vitamin A. There is also Beta Carotene, the more natural source, which is found in colourful fruits and veggies. The body converts this form into the active form. It is a potent antioxidant and is vital for eye health, the skin, and the immune system. High levels of beta carotene are linked to reduced risk of various diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Vitamin A is fat soluble so can be stored in the body, so it can be toxic if taken in large doses.
B Vitamins The B vitamins tend to work synergistically together and are vital for energy levels as well as being known as the anti stress vitamins. They are also good for the immune system, digestion and skin/hair and nails.
B1 (Thiamine) is required for energy production in the brain as well as nerve cell function. Some believe that taking a large dose 2 weeks before foreign travel can reduce mosquito bites!
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) tends to colour the urine yellow, do not be alarmed! It’s vital for energy production and lipid metabolism.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) has shown to be effective in lowering cholesterol and balancing blood sugar levels. It can cause a rash on the skin though, so there are non-flushing types available.
B5 (Pantothenic Acid) helps to nourish the adrenal glands and is the anti-stress vitamin. It’s crucial for energy production as well as memory and brain function.
B6 (Pyridoxine) is important for the functioning of more than 60 different enzymes, as well as being crucial in maintaining hormonal balance and immune function, and warding off depression.
B12 (Cyanocobalamin) is vital for energy, a deficiency can cause anaemia. This is quite hard to come by in a vegan diet, although you can get fortified foods and nutritional yeast which provide it.
Folic acid is vital for pregnancy and for a healthy heart. It has an emphatic effect on reducing the chances of neural tube defects, as it is important for the development of the foetus. Again leafy greens are an excellent source.
A deficiency of the B vitamins can cause fatigue, low mood and anxiety. As they are water soluble they need to be replaced regularly. Good sources of the B vitamins are wholegrain rice, fruits, leafy greens, oats, nutritional yeast, nuts, seeds and beans.
Vitamin C A potent antioxidant, vitamin C is vital for the immune system, circulation, the heart and healthy skin. It is also required to regenerate vitamin E, and it is vital in producing Glutathione, which is a potent free radical protector. It is water soluble as the body does not store it. Good sources are fruits and veggies like oranges, berries, kiwi’s, melon and parsley. If you are going to supplement a buffered vitamin C like an Ester-C form is the best source as it is much more bio-available to us.
Vitamin D Often called the sunshine vitamin. Pretty much anyone in the Northern hemisphere would struggle to get enough vitamin D. Our bodies produce it between the hours of 10-3 on bright days during the summer. Most people barely get out in the sun for long enough during the summer, and let’s be honest in the UK and Ireland we rarely get sunshine in the summer anyway!! I would always recommend people to take a supplement of vitamin D3 but check that it is a Vegan form. Vitamin D is vital for the absorption of calcium which helps with bone health. It’s also good for mood, helping to ward off anxiety and depression. A lot of studies of later life illnesses have actually linked them to a deficiency in vitamin D, hence why it is so important.
Vitamin E Known as the skin vitamin, vitamin E is vital for healthy skin, energy levels, heart health, circulation as well as hormonal balancing. It helps to stabilise and protect against oxidative damage caused by free radicals, heavy metals and environmental toxins. It is a potent antioxidant found in avocados, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin K Often overlooked vitamin K is hugely important for bone support and heart health. K1 is found in leafy greens and vegetables, whereas K2 is found in fermented foods and can be produced in a healthy GI tract by good bacteria.
This was just a brief look at the vitamins, their role in a healthy diet and some good sources of each. Although it is important to get as much as we can from a well planned diet, the absorption of vitamins can also be affected by alcohol, coffee, smoking, medication like the contraceptive pill, pollution, processed food, heat, light, stress, fried foods, and animal products. Hence why sometimes we do need to supplement our diet to top up our levels.