The Vital Life Force behind a Balanced Meal: Vitamins

Have you ever wondered why Vitamins are important to us? Why do health nuts go gaga over them?

The word “Vitamin” is a short version of Vital Amine. Amines or Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential in minute quantities. They support the body’s various physiological functions. These organic compounds cannot be synthesized by the body.  Which is why they need to be supplemented through our foods on a regular basis to meet our needs.

Vitamins have three main characteristics:

  • They are naturally available in the foods we eat, usually present in very small quantities.
  • They are essential for normal physiological functions of the body – digestion, growth and reproduction.
  • When we do not consume vitamins in sufficient quantities, the body exhibits deficiency symptoms.

Based on its solubility Vitamins are divided into two types:

  • Vitamins that dissolve in fats or lipids are called lipid soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed passively into the body and must be transported along with dietary fat. These are usually found in cells which contain fat such as membranes, lipid droplets or oils within seeds. In the body, these vitamins are stored in the fatty tissues.
  • Vitamins soluble in water are known as water-soluble vitamins.

Each of these super awesome vitamins serve multiple functions in the human body. But the most crucial among them is the role they play with Enzymes. Vitamins are absolutely necessary as cofactors for enzymes to catalyse reactions. And every process in the body depends on these enzymes.

When the body does not receive vitamins in the right quantities on a regular basis, there are deficiencies. These can create or worsen chronic health conditions.

Water Soluble Vitamins:

The functions of some of the vitamins are very similar to one another and are found in similar foods. One such group of vitamins is referred to as the B complex. These include 8 B vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12). These vitamins, as a group, play an important role in keeping our bodies functioning like well-oiled machines. While each of these vitamins work in tandem, they also have their own unique roles and functions within the body including

They are usually found together in different food groups. Each of them plays vital roles and ensure that the body operates efficiently, as it should!

Referred to as vitamin B complex, the eight B vitamins — B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12 — play an important role in keeping our bodies running like well-oiled machines. These essential nutrients help convert our food into fuel, allowing us to stay energized throughout the day. While many of the following vitamins work in tandem, each has its own specific benefits.

Vitamin B1:

Vitamin B1 is often referred to as the anti-stress vitamin only because of its ability to protect the immune system. This vitamin helps break down simple carbohydrates (1) and helps the body make new cells. Sunflower seeds, asparagus, lettuce, mushrooms, black beans, navy beans, lentils, spinach, peas, pinto beans, lima beans, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, tuna, whole wheat and soybeans are good sources of vitamin B1

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin):

Vitamin B2 works much like an antioxidant, fighting free radicals that damage cells. This action is also believed to prevent early ageing and the development of cardio related ailments. Riboflavin is known to stave off migraines (2) and play a role in the body’s red blood cell production. Exposure to sunlight is known to reduce the riboflavin content in foods. Particularly UV rays. Sources: Almonds, unpolished wild rice, milk, yoghurt, spinach, mushrooms, eggs.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin):

Vitamin B3 which I’d also known as Niacin boosts HDL cholesterol aka the good cholesterol. Alcohol consumption has shown to lower B3 levels in some individuals. Niacin I absorbed typically and is used to treat done common skin ailments like acne (3).

Sources: Beans, green vegetables, peanuts, sweet potato, peaches, tuna, salmon.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid):

Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid is found in almost all food groups in small quantities. This comes from the Greek word Pantothen which means “ from everywhere”. B5 plays a crucial role in the body in the break down of fats, and production of the sex & stress hormones including testosterone. B5 it’s also known to promote healthy glowing skin and is used to prevent redness/skin spots (3).

Sources are avocados, eggs, strawberries, lentils, cauliflower, squash, sunflower seeds, broccoli.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine):

Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine along with fellow B vitamins such as 12-and 9 helps regulate the amount of homocysteine in the body. Homocysteine is known to be associated with heart disease. Pyridoxine plays an important role in mood and sleep patterns. The body needs pyridoxine to produce serotonin, melatonin and norepinephrine. Pyridoxine also helps reduces inflammation in the body particularly with rheumatoid arthritis. Sources are Chicken, Brown rice, carrots, cheese, tuna, salmon, tuna, bell peppers

Vitamin H or B7 (Biotin):

Mainly because of its association with healthy hair, skin and nails this is known as ‘the beauty vitamin’. This vitamin is one of the saviours to those suffering from high blood sugar. Amongst all B vitamins, Vitamin B7 or Biotin is believed to play a crucial role during pregnancy. This is needed for the normal growth during the embryo stage (4). Sources are barley, potatoes, fish, eggs, nuts, chicken and fish.

Vitamin B9 (Folate):

You may have heard the word Folic acid being mentioned alongside other food supplements. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Folate is known to stave off depression and prevent memory loss (5). This is one of the other vitamins that play a key role in pregnancy particularly to prevent nerve related birth defects in the child. Sources are dark leafy greens, beetroots and other root vegetables, beans, salmon and milk.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin):

Vitamin B12 must combine with intrinsic factor before it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. We can store a year’s worth of this vitamin – but it should still be consumed regularly. B12 is a product of bacterial fermentation, which is why it’s not present in higher order plant foods.

Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin B12 is a total team player. B12 combines with B9 to help iron-protein complex aka haemoglobin do its job, ie carry oxygen. Since B12 is a product of bacterial fermentation, it is not present in higher order plant foods. Non-meat ie vegetarians and vegans are seen to be more prone to deficiencies with regard to the vitamin (6). Sources: fish, shellfish liver, trout, salmon, tuna, eggs.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid):

The Miracle Vitamin! Believe it or not the true potential of this vitamin was first seen at sea. Sailors who consumed lemons and other citrus fruits did not develop scurvy like the others. From then on this Vitamin was closely studied they found that Vitamin does wonders in treating a whole range of ailments. This water-soluble vitamin easily gets destroyed when fresh foods are processed. In the body, Vitamin C acts as a strong antioxidant (7). It stimulates the production of hormones & enzymes. It also helps in the synthesis of collagen amongst other functions.

Presence of Vitamin C is strongly correlated with reduced incidences of cancer, blood pressure, immune-related disorders (8). Sources: All citrus fruits such as limes, oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, pineapples, guavas, kale.

Vitamin A (Retinoids):

Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant, that is most well known for the role it plays in maintaining healthy vision and neurological function (9). This Vitamin is found in two primary forms namely active Vitamin or retinol and beta-carotene. We get active Vitamin A from animal-derived foods and this can be directly used utilized by the body. Beta-carotene is primarily found in plants and needs to be converted to Vitamin A before the body puts it to use. Sources are carrots, papayas, carrots, green leafy vegetables, squash, bell peppers, peaches, beef, eggs.

Vitamin D (Calciferol):

The Sunshine Vitamin! This fat-soluble vitamin most well known for the crucial role it plays to build and maintain strong bones (10). This Vitamin boosts immunity and improves resistance to certain disease. Vitamin D is known to play an important role in regulating mood and is one way you could kick out the blues (11). And guess what, the body naturally produces this Vitamin when exposed to sunlight. Now you have more reason to go into your birthday suit on a bright sunny day. Sources are Sunlight is the best sources but it could also be supplemented with salmon, mackerel, tuna and mushrooms.

Vitamin E (Tocopherol):
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, preventing free radical damage to specific fats in the body & in effect reducing ageing. Vitamin E plays an important role in the functions of various organ systems, enzymes and neurological processes (12). And guess what, this Vitamin is only found in plant sources! Sources are broccoli, green leafy vegetables, almonds, olives, blueberries, tomatoes, most nuts and seeds.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that one of the prerequisites for blood coagulation (13). This vitamin controls the binding of the calcium in bones and in other cells within the body. Without this vitamin, blood clotting is seriously impaired. The absence of Vitamin K from the diet is seen as one of the causes of osteoporosis and calcification of arteries (13). Sources are green beans, green peas, carrots, watercress, parsley and asparagus.

Ensuring that your meal is power packed with these Vitamins is one of the safest sure shot ways to steer clear of various ailments. Try your hand at this balancing act!

Disclaimer: The above article is sponsored by Thyrve, the world’s first Gut Health Program that incorporates microbiome testing and personalized probiotics to ensure a healthier gut, happier life, and a brighter future. 

References:

1. Thiamin : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16550223

2. Riboflavin : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18984840

3. Niacin B3 : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20061726

4.Biotin : https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-h-biotin

5. Folate: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15534434

6. B12 : http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/1/131.long

7. Vitamin C : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/10916278_Vitamin_C_as_an_Antioxidant_Evaluation_of_Its_Role_in_Disease_Prevention

8. Vitamin C: http://functionalfoodscenter.net/files/101646709.pdf

9. Vitamin A: http://www.scielo.br/pdf/abo/v79n1/0004-2749-abo-79-01-0056.pdf

10. VitaminD: https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/role-of-vitamin-d-in-various-illnesses-a-review-2376-0419-1000176.pdf

11. Vitamin D : http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2008.02008.x/abstract

12. Vitamin E: http://www.moh.gov.my/images/gallery/rni/13_chat.pdf

13. Vitamin K: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-K