Understanding Vitamins & Their Health Benefits (+ How They Work)

We hear a lot about vitamins and how important they are to things like immunity. Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K are essential nutrients that need to be consumed every day to maintain body function through healthy cells, nerves, skin and tissues. This guide explains why you need each of these vitamins, what foods to get them from, and what to eat with them in order for your body to absorb and utilize them.



What Are Vitamins

Vitamins are both organic compounds and essential nutrients. Organisms require vitamins daily to function, but in limited amounts. They are essential for normal metabolism and deficiencies of certain vitamins can cause medical conditions. There are currently 13 recognized vitamins. Let’s take a look at the function of each of them and what food sources to get them from…

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important to maintain healthy skin, protect against infections, improve night vision and boost the immune system. It also helps protect against some cancers. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin and its chemical names include retinol, retinal and certain carotenoids, including beta carotene. There are a number of health issues that may suggest a vitamin A deficiency. They include mouth ulcers, poor night vision, acne, dry skin, dandruff, diarrhea and a poor immune system, or, frequent colds or infections.


Best Food Sources

Foods high in vitamin A include carrots, sweet potato, cabbage, pumpkin and squash, beef liver, melons, mangoes, tomatoes, broccoli and apricots.

B Vitamins

There are a number of important B vitamins. Let’s look at each of them.

B vitamins

B1 (Thiamine)

B1 is not a Banana in Pyjamas character, and neither is B2 for that matter. Not in this context, anyway! (That’s an Australian reference, for those who are feeling confused right now). Thiamine helps the body use protein in an effective way, and is essential for brain function, digestion and energy. If your muscles feel particularly tender, or if you have pain in your eyes or stomach, constipation, irritability or poor concentration, you may have a B1 deficiency.

Best Food Sources

Foods high in vitamin B1 include watercress, kale, squash, zucchini, yeast, sunflower seeds, oranges, lamb, asparagus, mushrooms, peas, capsicum, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, beans and lettuce.

B2 (Riboflavin)

This water soluble vitamin helps the body use fats, sugars and proteins for energy, and is needed to repair and maintain healthy skin, nails and eyes. Gritty eyes, sensitivity to bright lights and cataracts may be signs of a deficiency. Other signs may include a sore tongue, dull or oily hair, eczema, split nails and dry, cracked lips.

Best Food Sources

Get your daily dose of vitamin B2 from mushrooms, tomatoes, watercress, cabbage, broccoli, pumpkin, cabbage, asparagus, bananas, chard, yogurt, eggs or fish.


B3 (Niacin)

Niacin is essential for energy production and brain function. It is a water soluble vitamin and is also vital to maintaining healthy skin. It helps balance blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels, and it plays a role in digestion and controlling inflammation. A vitamin B3 deficiency may cause diarrhea, insomnia, headaches, poor memory, anxiety, depression, bleeding gums and dermatitis.

Best Food Sources

Foods rich in niacin include mushrooms, tuna, salmon, chicken, turkey, lamb, cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini, squashp, cauliflower, avocado, nuts and legumes.


B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

B5 is another water soluble vitamin that is involved in energy production and in controlling fat metabolism. Your brain and nerves need this vitamin to function and it helps make natural steroids in the body, as well as maintaining healthy hair and skin. If you suffer from muscle tremors or cramps, poor concentration, tender heels, nausea, exhaustion from light exercise, lack of energy or anxiety, or ‘pins and needles’ in your extremities, you may have a pantothenic acid deficiency.

Best Food Sources

Good food sources include broccoli, avocado, mushrooms, alfalfa, peas, lentils, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, strawberries, eggs, squash and whole wheat.


B6 (Pyridoxine)

This water soluble vitamin is essential for the body to digest and utilize protein. It is also important for brain function and hormone production. It is often associated with easing PMS and menopause symptoms because of its anti-depressant properties and its role in helping to balance sex hormones. Water retention, tingling hands, anxiety, depression, muscle tremors and cramps, anemia and low energy levels could be signs of a pyridoxine deficiency.

Best Food Sources

Get your vitamin B6 supply from nuts, bananas, watercress, cauliflower, cabbage, red kidney beans, eggsbe, squash, broccoli, turkey, lentils, tuna, onions and asparagus.

Red kidney beans

B7 (Biotin)

Another water soluble vitamin, B7 helps the body metabolize proteins and process fatty acids and glucose. Like all essential nutrients, biotin cannot be synthesized by the human body, and therefore has to be consumed. This B vitamin is made by bacteria, yeast, algae, mold and certain plants. Biotin deficiency is rare, but symptoms may include dermatitis, hair loss, lack of appetite, depression, fatigue, insomnia and intestinal inflammation.

Best Food Sources

Foods with biotin include liver, yeast, cheddar cheese, salmon, sardines, peanuts, avocado, raspberries, banana, cauliflower, eggs and mushrooms.


B9 (Folic Acid Or Folate)

Folate is a water soluble B vitamin and a vital nutrient. It is particularly beneficial to women trying to get pregnant. It is critical for the development of the brain and nerves of a fetus during pregnancy. A folate deficiency can potentially cause serious problems, including birth defects and blood diseases. Folate is also essential for brain and nerve function, and is needed for protein utilization and the formation of red blood cells. Anemia, eczema, cracked lips, anxiety, low energy levels, stomach pains and severe headaches may be signs of a folic acid deficiency.

Best Food Sources

Beans, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, baker’s years, liver, legumes, leafy vegetables, nuts, sprouts and avocado are some of the best folate foods. In some cases, a doctor might also recommend people take a folate supplement, especially women trying to get pregnant.

Folic acid

B12 (Cyanocobalamin)

The body needs B12 in order to make use of protein. It is also essential for energy because it helps the blood carry oxygen around the body. The brain and nerves need it to maintain proper functionality, and the body needs it for DNA synthesis. There are a number of deficiency symptoms, including dull hair, eczema, sensitivity in the mouth, irritability, anxiety, low energy levels, pale skin, constipation and anemia.

Users Comments:

  • Shivi

    Excellent details on vitamins and its different types. This guide can be very helpful for those who are working hard to cut down the calories and stick to a healthy diet.

  • Mike

    Thank You Very Much !!! Great Information !

  • Vic Cherikoff

    Good to see the food sources referenced but otherwise very out-dated information.

    Our foods are falling in nutritional quality and fast. Over the last 50 years we have seen some entire classes of nutrients disappear. For example, fruits were once a good source of fat soluble antioxidants but these are gone. The transition of wild or near-wild food to agriculture has seen blueberries lose half their antioxidants and vitamin C is one of the most sensitive vitamins and often the first to go.

    Some minerals are also lacking in promotion that their counterparts get. We all get scammed that calcium is essential for healthy teeth and bones but how many elderly people do you know who have consumed milk all their lives and still suffer a broken hip after a fall? We need less calcium and more magnesium along with a host of the alphabet vitamins and other antioxidants to get strong bones.

    In fact, nutritional scientists now talk of vitamin capacity rather than just the vitamin in isolation. The pairings in the article short-change our understanding. For example, for vitamin C to actually work as it is needed, consumption of high vitamin C foods also need to provide hundreds of bioflavenoids and folates, fat soluble vitamins E and D, other vitamins and co-factors and various minerals of which iron is just one.

    What does this mean?

    Sure, we need to get our nutrition from whole foods rather than pills of isolated synthetic chemicals. But we actively need to consume organically grown or wild harvested wild and near-wild foods to supplement the rubbish produce we buy today.

    For anyone wanting to know more, I have written up the finding of my last 32 years of research on and exploration of wild foods in my book, Wild Foods; Looking back 60,000 years for clues to our future survival.

  • elena

    Excellent details on vitamins and its different types. This guide can be very helpful for those who are working hard to cut down the calories and stick to a healthy diet.

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