What are vitamins?
What are vitamins?

Vitamins (also known as micronutrients) are essential to our bodies. We only need them in small amounts, but we need them to keep our bodies functioning well and keep us healthy.

There are two different forms of vitamins, Fat-soluble and Water-soluble. The water-soluble forms are vitamin C, the B vitamins, and folic acid, the fat-soluble forms are vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Fat soluble vitamins
Fat soluble vitamins

Vitamin A (Retinol)

Essential for the health and function of our skin and other body tissue linings. Helps to keep our immune systems healthy and our vision in dim light.

RNI (Reference nutrient intakes) - Adults (men) 700µg/day (0.7mg) (women) 600µg/day (0.6mg)

Sources - Only found in animal products, but beta-carotene in fruit and vegetables is converted in our bodies to Retinol.

Liver, whole milk, cheese, butter, margarine, eggs, carrots, green and yellow vegetables. orange fruits.

Large amounts of vitamin A are not recommended if you are thinking about having a baby or are pregnant, as they can harm your unborn baby. Do not eat liver, liver products such as pate or take Vit A supplements as they contain high levels of Vit A.

Vitamin D

Found in some foods in the diet, but mainly produced in the body from sunlight on our skin during summer months. It’s recommended that in the UK we should now include Vit D supplements during the winter months (October-March)

Controls and maintains absorption of calcium and phosphorus from our diets. Keeps bones and teeth healthy. Helps our immune systems and improves muscle strength.

RNI - Adults 25-30µg/day(1000-1200IU)

Sources - Oily fish, meat, eggs, fortified cereals, butter, margarine.

Vitamin E

An antioxidant, protects our bodies cells from damage.

RNI - Adults (men) 4mg/day (women) 3mg/day

Sources - Nuts (almonds), seeds (sunflower), vegetable seed oils and spreads, green vegetables.

Vitamin K

Needed for normal blood clotting and bone structure.

RNI - Adults 0.001mg/kg(1µg) (per kilogram of body weight)

Sources - Meat, dairy products, green vegetables, egg yolk.

Our bodies store these vitamins in our fatty tissues and liver ready for when needed, so we don’t need to eat foods containing them every day.

The fats we get from our diet help our bodies absorb and use fat-soluble vitamins. This is just one of the many reasons it’s important to eat a balanced diet, which includes a good amount of non-processed, natural fat containing foods.

Water soluble vitamins
Water soluble vitamins

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Helps release energy from carbohydrate and is also importantant for the nervous system and heart.

RNI (Reference nutrient intake) Adults (men) 1mg/day (women) 0.8mg/day

Sources - Wholegrains, meat (especially pork) fortified cereals, milk, nuts.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Helps release energy from food. Needed for the structure and function of our skin and body tissue linings.

RNI - Adults (men) 1.3mg/day (women) 0.8mg/day

Sources - Milk, dairy foods (cheese, yogurt) eggs, fortified cereals, rice, liver, pulses (lentils, peas, beans) green vegetables, mushrooms.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Helps release energy from food. Needed for the structure and function of our skin and body tissue linings. Also keeps our digestive and nervous systems healthy.

RNI - Adults (men) 17mg/day (women) 13mg/day

Sources - Meat, bread, flours (wheat and maize) fortified cereals, milk, dairy foods (cheese, yogurt) eggs, yeast.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Helps release energy from protein. Helps to form haemoglobin in our blood (carries oxygen around our bodies)

RNI - Adults (men) 1.4mg/day (women) 1.2mg/day

Sources - Poultry, white fish, milk, dairy foods (cheese, yogurt) wholegrains, peanuts, soya beans.

Vitamin B12

Needed to produce red blood cells. Keeps our nervous systems healthy and helps release energy from food.

RNI - Adults (men) 1.5µg/day (women) 1.5µg/day

Sources - Meat, fish, milk, dairy foods (cheese, yogurt) eggs, yeast extract, fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin C

An antioxidant. Needed to keep our body tissues healthy (skin, gums). Helps in wound healing. It also helps our bodies absorb iron from vegetable and other non-meat sources.

RNI - Adults (men) 40mg/day (women) 40mg/day

Sources - Fruits (especially citrus), peppers, tomatoes, green vegetables, potatoes.

Folic acid

Needed to form healthy red blood cells and important for our nervous systems. *Folic acid is especially important for the development of the nervous system in unborn babies.

RNI - Adults 0.2mg/day (200µg)

*If you are thinking about having a baby or are pregnant, a doubling of Folic acid to 0.4mg/day (400µg) is recommended until the 12th week of pregnancy. This will help prevent neural tube birth defects, such as (spina bifida)

Sources - Green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach), wholegrain foods, fortified cereals, nuts, peas, bananas, oranges.

Unlike fat soluble vitamins, water soluble vitamins do not get stored in our bodies, which is why it’s important to try to eat a variety of these foods every day to ensure we get enough of the vitamins we need. Any extra we take in and don’t use, as many of us do with supplements, will be disposed of when we urinate.

Storage and cooking

The way foods containing water soluble vitamins are stored and the cooking methods used are also important, being exposed to the air or to heat or water during cooking will destroy many of the vitamins they contain.

To make sure as few of the water soluble vitamins are lost during cooking as possible, the best cooking methods to choose are those that don’t bring the water directly into contact with the food. Steaming, microwaving or grilling are the best methods for this.

If you are boiling however, why not keep the water to use in soups or stews rather than pouring it away, keeping all those beneficial vitamins and flavour.