A-Z Crucial Vitamins & Why Your Body Needs Them
Our bodies need various vitamins and minerals to achieve optimum health and prevent illness. The following are some of the most crucial vitamins for our health. Certain nutrients are beneficial when provided by whole foods, but may be harmful in supplement form. Read on to learn which nutrients you need each day and why, and the best way to obtain them.
Vitamin A is an essential vitamin required for vision, gene transcription, boosting immune function, and it is also good for the skin and reproductive health. Vitamin A also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs work properly. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, and therefore, needs to be consumed with fat in order to have optimal absorption.
Beta-carotene gets converted into vitamin A by the body and is naturally present in many foods, so there is no reason a person eating a reasonably healthy diet should require any extra vitamin A. Most people in the United States get enough vitamin A from the foods they eat, and vitamin A deficiency is rare. It can be toxic in large doses, so stick with the recommended dosage.
Food sources: Look for orange and yellow fruits and vegetable sources, including sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, butternut squash, dried apricots, mango, and of course the all mighty dark leafy greens like kale are also a great source of Vitamin A.
Recommended daily dosage: 2,300 – 4,300 international units (IU)
“B vitamins help support adrenal function, help calm and maintain a healthy nervous system, and are necessary for key metabolic processes.” says wellness guru Dr. Andrew Weil.
B-6 is a water soluble vitamin that is part of the B family. It aids in the breakdown as well as utilization of macro nutrients like carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Food sources: Brewer’s yeast, bananas, cereal grains, legumes, vegetables, sunflower seeds and some animal products like cheese and eggs.
Recommended daily dosage: 1.3-1.7 mg
B9 is also called Folate or Folic acid — but be careful with the labels, because there is a subtle but important difference. Folic Acid is the synthetic version, and Folate is the version found naturally in foods. Some experts have seen higher levels of cancer in people with folate deficiencies. On the other hand, women who take large amounts of synthetic folic acid in supplements may be at increased risk of breast cancer according to recent studies.
Luckily, we don’t need to get folic acid from supplements, because folate is plentiful in green vegetables and other whole plant foods.
Food sources: Leafy greens, spinach, broccoli, beans, peas, lemons, bananas and melons.
Recommended daily folate dosage: 400 micrograms (mcg); 600 mcg if you’re pregnant
The human body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells, nerves, DNA, and carry out other functions. B12 protects the nervous system. Without it, permanent damage can result (e.g., blindness, deafness, dementia). Fatigue, and tingling in the hands or feet, can be early signs of deficiency.
Plants don’t make vitamin B12. Most foods that deliver it are meat, some fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products like Swiss cheese. Some plant foods containing B12 are brewers yeast and fortified cereal grains. Strict vegetarians and vegans are at high risk for developing a B12 deficiency if they don’t eat grains that have been fortified with the vitamin or take a vitamin supplement. Vegans and vegetarians are recommended to supplement with B12 and not rely on any one fortified food for adequate intake. The sublingual tablet under the tongue is more effective than just swallowing.
Food sources: (Supplements are recommended for vegans and vegetarians) mackerel, clams, oysters, yogurt, beef, fortified cereals
Recommended daily dosage: 2.4 micrograms
Most people know that calcium is important for your bones, but did you know that it’s also vital to your overall health? This essential mineral also helps build strong teeth and nourishes your nervous system. Though 99 percent of the calcium in the body is in the bones and teeth, the remaining one percent plays a crucial role in other bodily functions, such as nerve transmission and muscular function. Calcium is lost daily through hair, skin, nails, sweat, urine and feces, so this lost calcium must be replaced, or the body will leech calcium from the bones to perform other functions, resulting in conditions such as osteoporosis.
Food sources: The dairy industry would have you believe that milk is the best source of calcium, but the truth is quite the opposite. Read here to learn why. Good plant-based sources of calcium include blackstrap molasses, collard greens, fortified plant milks, tofu made with calcium sulfite, tahini, chia seeds, leafy greens like kale and a little known superfood called moringa.
Recommended daily dosage: 1,000 mg and up to 1200mg in our 50s for women and 70s for men.
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin for our bodies. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps prevent oxidative stress. It also works with enzymes to play a key role in making collagen. Well known for its immunity building, this vitamin hosts many other health benefits including helping to heal wounds, helping lower cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke, combating effects of stress and regulating blood sugar. Researchers have been studying whether high levels of vitamin C can kill cancer cells, but there’s been no conclusive evidence.
Supplementation is generally not needed as it can easily be obtained from food, though increasing dosage during times of stress or illness may be beneficial.
Food sources: A cup of strawberries gives you well over your daily dosage. A single orange is packed with nearly your entire daily C, as is one red pepper or a cup of broccoli.
Recommended daily dosage: 75 -90 milligrams (mg)
Vitamin D is important to the body in many ways. Vitamin D helps calcium absorption and plays a central role in muscle function. Nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. Many people — 30-70% of Americans, including about 50% of our children — are deficient in this vitamin. The only two reliable sources of vitamin D are the sun and supplements. A person can make 20,000 units in their body with just 20 minutes of sun exposure. If possible, wait a day or two before showering for maximum absorption.
Food sources: Limited. The best source is 10 – 15 minutes of sun exposure a day.
Recommended daily dosage: 1,000 to 2,000 IU
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that helps boost immunity and helps wound healing and DNA repair. It’s a fat soluble vitamin stored in the liver so deficiency is uncommon. Vitamin E in excess dosage from supplements is associated with an increase in prostate cancer risk so it’s best to get your daily intake from food rather than a supplement.
Food sources: We can easily get Vitamin E from raw nuts and seeds like almonds and sunflower seeds as well as wheat germ, avocados, broccoli and leafy greens like kale and spinach.
Recommended daily dosage: 8-10 mg
Iron is one of the components of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that helps blood carry oxygen throughout the body. It’s also essential for the proper function of several chemical reactions in several of the body’s cells and tissues. There are times when supplementing with iron is beneficial, like during pregnancy, or when a deficiency has been identified. However, its accumulation over time may be detrimental because it generates oxidative stress, a byproduct of energy production, which contributes to chronic diseases — specifically cardiovascular disease and brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Stick to food sources for your daily iron intake unless a medical condition warrants supplementing. Excessive red meat consumption can lead to a harmful excess of this nutrient.
The iron in food comes from two sources: animals and plants. Iron from animal sources is known as heme iron, and is found in some meats and fish. Iron from plants is known as nonheme iron, and is found in certain vegetables and in iron-fortified foods like breakfast cereals. Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than nonheme iron.
Food sources: Excellent plant food sources of iron are white beans, raw cacao, popcorn, spinach, fortified cereal, oatmeal, beans and lentils. It’s a good idea to combine nonheme iron foods with vitamin C to increase the absorption of iron. Heme iron is found in some meats and fish.
Recommended daily dosage: 19-50 yrs men=8mg, 19-50 years women =8mg, all over 50 yrs=8mg
Often referred to as “the forgotten vitamin” Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is only recently being recognized for it’s critical role in our health. There are 3 basic forms of vitamin K: K1, K2, and K3, but there are subtypes as well. K1 is preferentially used by the liver to activate blood clotting proteins. K1 is most well known for the important role it plays in blood clotting. You’re most likely getting K1 from your leafy green vegetables, though national data suggests that only about one in four Americans meets the goal for vitamin K intake from food. This puts K2 deficiency at about the same level as vitamin D deficiency. Eat more kale, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli to boost your K1 intake.
Studies show that K2 is preferentially used by other tissues to deposit calcium in appropriate locations, such as in the bones and teeth, and prevent it from depositing in locations where it does not belong, such as the soft tissues, including the pineal gland which can be overly calcified without the addition of K2 in the diet. A calcified pineal gland can affect melatonin production as well as wake/sleep schedules of the body. Vitamin K2 is absolutely essential to building strong bones, and studies suggest it may help prevent osteoporosis. K2 (spcifically menaquinone 7 or M7, one of the subtypes of K2) may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease as well as crucial parts of other bodily processes.
Supplementing your Vitamin K2 is highly recommended. Although K2 is still being investigated, it is thought that the average person needs 180 to 200 micrograms of K2 daily. Vitamin K2 is found in fermented veggies like sauerkraut and is most prevalent in a popular Japanese dish called Natto. Hard and soft cheese as well as raw butter from grass fed cows are also on the short list of foods high in the beneficial M-7 subtype of K2.
K2 Recommended daily dosage: about 200 micrograms
Precautions: “If you are pregnant or nursing, you should avoid vitamin K2 supplementation higher than the RDA (65 mcg) unless specifically recommended and monitored by your physician. If you have experienced stroke, cardiac arrest, or are prone to blood clotting, you should not take vitamin K2 without first consulting your physician,” warns Dr. Mercola.
Vitamin K3 (menadione) is a potent synthetic (man-made) form of vitamin K that is not generally used in humans, though some alternative medical practitioners claim that vitamin K3 is also an anti-cancer agent.
Food sources: Kale, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, and sauerkraut, fermented vegetables for Vitamin K2
Magnesium is critical for energy production. It contributes to the structural development of bone and is required for vital things like the synthesis of DNA. Magnesium also plays a role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, a process that is important to nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, and normal heart rhythm. Magnesium also helps to lower blood pressure, which is vital in the prevention of heart disease. Magnesium is an abundant mineral in the body and is naturally present in many foods. It’s also added to other food products, and available as a dietary supplement.
Less than 50% of American adults are getting their daily allowance from food, so supplementing is recommended.
Food sources: Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Almonds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, raw cacao, chia seeds and spinach all have a high magnesium content.
Recommended daily dosage: 310-420 mg depending on age and gender
Zinc is an essential mineral required by the body for keeping a healthy immune system, building proteins, triggering approximately 100 enzymes, maintaining a sense of smell, and creating DNA. It can also help the cells in your body communicate by functioning as a neurotransmitter.
A daily intake of zinc is required to maintain a steady state because the body has no specialized zinc storage system.
Food sources: Fortified breakfast cereals, chickpeas, wheat germ, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and oysters.
Recommended daily dosage: 8 mg for women -11 mg for men
Check with your doctor before adding new supplements to your diet. Remember it’s always best to get these nutrients from food whenever possible. Let food be thy medicine.