Vitamins keep us healthy and all are essential. But what do they do, and why do we need them?
Vitamins are compounds required by our bodies to work properly. The majority cannot be made in the body so we have to get them from our diet. There are 13 vitamins and they are also termed micronutrients because we only need them in small quantities.
Without them, our bodies wouldn’t be able to perform critical tasks including converting food into energy, building and maintaining bone health, teeth, muscle, skin, blood and hair health, and keeping our brain, eyes, nervous and immune systems in good working order.
Many vitamins work in synergy with other nutrients; Vitamin C helps us to absorb iron from plant foods, while Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium. A, C and E all have an antioxidant effect, which means they help protect our cells from damage caused by free-radicals.
A Vitamin will fall into one of two groups, water-soluble or fat-soluble. Fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K can be stored in our liver and fatty tissues. This means we don’t need to consume them every day but there is a risk that they can build up in the body, which may be harmful.
Water-soluble Vitamins C or the eight B vitamins: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folate and B12, cannot be stored, so we get rid of any excess through our urine.
Luckily, water-soluble vitamins, which we need to continue regular intake, are found in plenty of different foods.
Besides oranges, Vitamin C can be found in broccoli, strawberries, red and green peppers, sprouts and even potatoes! B vitamins can be found from wholegrain foods, fortified cereals, rice, oats, liver, meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, potatoes, broccoli, spinach, soya beans and pulses.
Vitamin D is slightly different to other micronutrients, we can create it in our bodies through exposure to sunlight but in the UK, this is only possible from April to October. In the winter, the angle of the sun’s UV rays is lower, which means Vitamin D cannot be created. Food sources of Vitamin D include fortified cereals, meat, oily fish, eggs and fat spreads.
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