Vital vitamins

Vital vitamins

Don’t turn to a pot of pills for a health boost – nutritionist Jo Lewin divulges what different vitamins do and how to get all you need naturally.

Vitamin AVital vitamins

Vitamin A is essential for growth and cell development, vision and immune function, plump, youthful skin and hair. It protects against infections and is a powerful antioxidant, so helps prevent disease.

How can I get it?
One 180g baked sweet potato would provide you with your Nutrient Reference Value (NRV). Other good sources include, animal products such as liver, oily fish, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet red peppers, pumpkins, mangoes, cantaloupe melons and apricots.


Vital vitaminsVitamin D

Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and is thought to possibly slow the progression of osteoporosis. It is also believed to strengthen the immune system and help prevent some cancers. It helps muscle function and works with vitamins A and C in the immune system.

How can I get it?
Vitamin D is manufactured mainly by the skin when it's exposed to sunlight. You should be able to get your recommended amounts by spending 15-30 minutes (depending on your age and ethnicity) outside in the sun each day. One can (155g) of sardines should also supply the NRV. Other good sources include herrings, salmon, tuna, dairy produce and eggs.


Vitamin EVital vitamins

Vitamin E is an antioxidant needed for healthy skin, a good strong immune system and a healthy heart.

How can I get it?
Half an avocado and 25g of sunflower seeds would provide the NRV. It is found in all vegetable oils such as sunflower and pumpkin oils, margarine, tuna, salmon, avocadoes, broccoli, almonds, sunflower seeds, eggs, soya and wholegrains, which include oats, rye and brown rice.


Vital vitaminsVitamin K

Vitamin K is great for building and maintaining healthy, strong bones and essential for helping blood to clot properly.

How can I get it?
Vitamin K can be found in yogurt, egg yolks, fish oils, dairy produce and green leafy vegetables. An 80g serving of cooked kale or Brussels sprouts would supply your NRV.


Vitamin B1Vital vitamins

Also known as thiamine, vitamin B1 is needed for energy production, carbohydrate digestion, a healthy nervous system and heart function.

How can I get it?
It is found in wholegrain foods such as cereals and bread, oats, rye millet, quinoa, legumes, pork and liver. A 25g serving of yeast extract would supply your NRV.


Vital vitaminsVitamin B3

Also called niacin, vitamin B3 is good for hormone synthesis, such as insulin the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the body and also for thyroxine, serotonin and other mood and brain hormones. It is used in the prevention and treatment of depression, arthritis and circulatory disorders.

How can I get it?
Vitamin B3 is found in foods that are high in protein, such as chicken, beef, fish and nuts. Breads and cereals are often also enriched with niacin. A 50g serving of peanut butter with two slices of wholemeal bread will help you on your way to your NRV.

Vitamin B5Vital vitamins

Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, is needed for conversion of fats and carbohydrates into energy and also for supporting the adrenal glands, which regulate the stress response in the body.

How can I get it?
The best sources of B5 are fish, poultry, wholegrains, rye, barley, millet, nuts, chicken, egg yolks, liver and green leafy vegetables.


Vital vitaminsVitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is the 'workhouse' of nutrients, involved in more bodily processes than any other vitamin. It functions primarily as a coenzyme, forming red blood cells, helping cells to make proteins, manufacturing neurotransmitters in the brain and releasing energy. There is also evidence to suggest that it plays a role in preventing and treating many diseases.

How can I get it?
One serving of fortified breakfast cereal with a banana and one large salmon steak would provide the NRV. The main sources include poultry, lean red meat, egg yolks, chickpeas, oily fish, dairy produce, cabbage, leeks, bananas and wheat germ.


Folic acidVital vitamins

Folic acid, or vitamin B9, is most famous for its role in helping to prevent neural defects during pregnancy but it is also good for the immune system, energy production and in preventing anaemia.

How can I get it?
Your NRV of folic acid is 200mcg (micrograms). A serving (80g) of Brussels sprouts or fortified breakfast cereal each supply 100mcg of folates. A glass of fresh orange juice (150ml) provides 35mcg and a slice of wholemeal bread (toasted) provides 12mcg. Other good sources include dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, sprouts, egg yolks, carrots, apricots, oranges, pumpkins and squashes, melons, wholewheat and rye.


Vital vitaminsVitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is needed for growth, the digestive and nervous system, as well as the production of energy and healthy blood cells. After the age of 50, the ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food declines.

How can I get it?
A large glass of milk, an egg or a serving of fortified breakfast cereal will supply the NRV. Animal products are the primary source of B12, these include red meat such as beef, liver and pork, shellfish and other fish, eggs and dairy produce. Vegetarians and vegans can also consider seaweed and spirulina.


Vitamin CVital vitamins

Vitamin C is required for a strong immune system, a healthy heart, good skin and gums, and helping to preventing diseases like heart disease and cancer and helping wounds to heal properly.

How can I get it?
A large orange, half a red pepper or a 125g serving of watercress provides the NRV. Other good sources are berries, pomegranates, citrus fruits, potatoes, pumpkins, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach.


Vital vitaminsBiotin

Also known as vitamin H, biotin is needed for healthy hair, nails, skin and energy production.

How can I get it?
It's found in Brewer's yeast, liver, soy products, brown rice, nuts, egg yolks and fruit.


How your body absorbs and stores vitamins:

Vitamins are absorbed and stored by your body in two different ways, and are either fat soluble or water soluble.

Fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K. These are absorbed with fat through the intestine and into the blood stream and are stored in the liver.

Water soluble vitamins include Vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, Biotin and folate. These vitamins only remain in the body for a short time before being excreted by the kidneys (apart from B12), so you need to keep up your intake.

A note on UK dietary recommendationsVital vitamins

Dietary recommendations for any nutrient are based on the daily intake thought to be adequate to safely satisfy the needs of the majority of the population. Despite much research, values for optimum intakes are still being debated. The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) measure used in the UK is calculated from studies of the physiological requirements of healthy people, but because these studies are subject to wide interpretation, the RNI value for a nutrient can vary from country to country.

Recommended Daily Amounts (RDAs) are being replaced with Nutrient Reference Values (NRV). NRVs are the levels of essential nutrients considered adequate for most healthy people, and are only rough guides.

Nutritional requirements often vary slightly for specific groups of the population, during pregnancy and old age for example. It is wise to check with your doctor about how much you need.

For more information see the Department for Health website.

This article was last reviewed on 1 June 2016 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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