Eating a healthy, well-rounded diet is important for good nutrition.
But most of us don’t always eat the perfect combination of foods and nutrients for our bodies, so we need additional supplements to make sure our nutrition is complete.
For many, taking vitamins is an obvious complement to a balanced diet, and for good reason. Vitamins are an excellent way to increase minimal or missing nutrients that the body needs to stay healthy.
But when taking vitamins, what is the difference between fat-soluble vitamins vs water-soluble vitamins?
In this article, we will discuss each, and which vitamins fall into each category.
How Vitamins Support Health
From the chalky, cartoon-shaped children’s vitamins of the past to the current options of fruit-flavored gummies and traditional capsules or gels, the shape and efficacy of vitamin supplements have changed over the years.
As an addition to nutrients that we receive when eating a healthy diet and experiencing natural sunlight exposure, vitamin supplements add in missing or needed nutrients and minerals to the body. They can aid in food absorption, improve the body’s ability to heal itself, enhance eyesight as well assist in a host of other potential effects.
While the majority of nutrients we absorb come from the food we eat, vitamin supplements are an excellent way to increase nutrition, but all vitamins are not the same regardless of how they are ingested.
How Vitamins are Absorbed
The body recognizes the vitamins and nutrients we introduce to our body, but all vitamins are not absorbed into the body in the same way. The way we categorize vitamins is through how the body takes in those vitamins and whether they are water-soluble or fat-soluble.
While ultimately the body absorbs all vitamins for its use through either ingestion by food, supplement, or even outside sources like the sun, the way the body breaks down the vitamin is key to understanding how the body will use or save the element for future uses or needs.
Vitamins that are categorized as water-soluble are ones that the body is able to break down and absorb directly into the body for use.
Water-soluble vitamins are short-term vitamins since they are not stored in the body but are put to immediate use. Any extra nutrients from a water-soluble vitamin introduced into the body are excreted out as excess, rather than being stored. For this reason, water-soluble vitamins must be ingested either through foods or supplements on a regular basis in order to ensure that the needed nutrition is available for the body to use.
Vitamins categorized as fat-soluble are ones that are absorbed by the fats in the body. These vitamins are broken down by the fats ingested with foods, and then they stay with the liver or adipose (fat) tissues in the body for up to 6 months for the body to use.
Fat-Soluble vitamins are longer-term additions to nutrition since they are not excreted immediately upon disuse and instead stick around for the body to use if needed. These vitamins do not need to be ingested or absorbed daily since the body keeps a store of them at all times for future use or needs.
Water-Soluble Vitamins: What You Need to Know About Each One
This very important vitamin plays a starring role in keeping you healthy since its main function is to support the immune system. Vitamin C is commonly found in foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, and cantaloupes. An antioxidant, this vitamin actively works to protect cells from degradation.
Another crucial function of Vitamin C is its support in the body’s ability to build collagen, an important element in the body’s ability to heal wounds and strengthen bones, tissue, and muscles. In addition, Vitamin C assists in iron absorption, a vital mineral the body needs for healthy blood.
B Complex Vitamins
All of the B vitamins play a part in fueling the body, and each one has a specific part of this larger job.
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
The first of the B vitamins, thiamin, is responsible for the release of energy from food. Additionally, B1 enhances the functions of the nervous system. Consumption of B1 is possible in grains, yeast, beans, meat, and nuts.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
This helpful B vitamin supports good vision and healthy skin as well as assisting in converting the amino acid called tryptophan into niacin. Since light destroys riboflavin and water can cause it to drain away from foods, B2 is best acquired in foods that are steamed or roasted. Food rich in riboflavin are almonds, grains, wheat, wild rice, soybeans, yogurt, eggs, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and spinach.
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Healthy digestion is a large function of B3, also known as niacin. This vitamin works to encourage nerve health and good skin as well as supporting metabolism and normalizing enzyme functions. Good food sources of niacin are chicken, salmon, turkey, dry roasted peanuts, and beef liver.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
The B5 vitamin works with the formation of hormones as well as supporting efficient metabolism. Consuming B5 is possible in most plants and animals, including most vegetables, grains, legumes, milk, eggs, and most meats.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 assists in producing red blood cells as well as insulin. B6 also assists with producing healthy hemoglobin, adding another blood-related responsibility to this important but lesser-known vitamin.
As a protein metabolizer, the inclusion of B6 indicates healthy blood formation and also is critical for healthy brain functioning. Pyridoxine is found in fish, poultry, potatoes, bananas, and chickpeas.
Vitamin B7 (biotin)
The energy that biotin fuels is connected to carbohydrates. The B7 vitamin supports the body’s ability to metabolize food’s carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Biotin can be commonly found in eggs, bananas, and milk.
Vitamin B9 (folate or folic acid)
Folic acid is a crucial vitamin in the body because its functions revolve around the formation of red blood cells as well as the metabolism of proteins. In addition, this critical vitamin has been shown to reduce the risk of some birth defects and so it is commonly given to expectant mothers. Folate can be found in oranges, lemons, and melons, strawberries, and bananas. In addition, folate can also be found in dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach as well as nuts, peas, and beans.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 supports a healthy nervous system as well as critically aiding in the creation of normal red blood cells. This essential vitamin can be found in such food sources as poultry, fish, meat, and dairy, and is commonly seen as a deficiency in vegans or vegetarians.
Fat-Soluble Vitamins: What You Need to Know About Each One
The slower-released category of vitamins is the fat-soluble group of nutrients. As a whole, this group of vitamins should not be over consumed since excess is stored in the liver and fatty tissues in the body and can reach toxic levels if left unchecked. Fat-soluble vitamins are not naturally excreted quickly, so high levels of any of these vitamins can cause short-term issues like nausea or vomiting. Long-term effects of an excess of fat-soluble vitamins could be inhibited growth or even birth defects.
This vitamin is rooted in antioxidant functions as it helps to protect the blood from unhealthy free radicals, small particles that are in the body when it breaks down food or is exposed to toxins like tobacco smoke or radiation. Vitamin A also supports healthy vision, and those at risk for age-related macular degeneration are often prescribed Vitamin A to help decrease reduce their risk of developing this devastating eye condition. Vitamin A also encourages strong cell division and supports healthy growth.
Additionally, this fundamental vitamin plays a part in reproduction as well as the body’s immune system. Luckily, vitamin A is found in a plethora of foods that are rich in beta carotene, like leafy green vegetables, carrots, and cantaloupe, as beta carotene is understood to convert into Vitamin A during absorption. Other Vitamin A-rich foods are liver and dairy products. Too much Vitamin A can be harmful, however. Too much Vitamin A can result in nausea, vomiting, blurry vision, or even vertigo. Overdoses of this important vitamin (over 10,000mg/day) can produce bone thinning or joint and bone pain as well as damage to the liver, headaches, or skin irritations.
This essential vitamin is responsible for building healthy, strong bones. Vitamin D is needed in combination with calcium to complete this crucial body task as its presence allows the body to absorb the needed calcium. Another vital function of Vitamin D is that it aids in regulating other cell functions in the body as well. This vitamin also has other critical functions:
- anti-inflammatory abilities
- antioxidant properties
- neuroprotective capabilities
Not having enough Vitamin D can be devastating for a body. Low levels of Vitamin D can lead to soft, brittle bones as well as lead to the destructive disease osteoporosis. Vitamin D is unusual, however, in that it is not acquired naturally through many foods. Some foods that are rich in D are fatty fish like sardines or salmon as well as fortified milk or cereals. Instead of foods, this necessary element can be easily absorbed through sun exposure. Just like other vitamins, too much of the fat-soluble Vitamin D can also be problematic since it continues to sit in the body until it is needed. An abundance of Vitamin D can experience things like nausea, vomiting, constipation, poor appetite, weakness, and even such serious effects as heart arrhythmias and kidney stones or damage. Additionally, many medications that may be prescribed for a variety of reasons may interact with the body’s natural ability to absorb Vitamin D, increasing the user’s likelihood of being Vitamin D deficient.
This antioxidant-rich vitamin is central to many bodily functions such as reproduction and vision as well as being supportive of healthy skin, blood, and brains. This fat-soluble vitamin is necessary to lessen the symptoms of or of further development of known diseases such as Alzheimer’s and liver disease. Vitamin E naturally occurs in foods such as nuts, canola and olive oils, margarine, leafy greens, dairy, and meats. A deficiency of Vitamin E might lead to the development of nerve pain but not for everyone.
The final fat-soluble vitamin is Vitamin K, and it has several variations including K1, K2, K3, and K4. This vitamin is associated closely with its effect on the blood. While closely studied, Vitamin K’s primary usage revolves around its ability to thicken the blood, so it is utilized to reverse issues with blood-thinning or medicines like Warfarin that thin the blood. Other common uses of extra K include assisting in bleeding problems with newborn babies who show low levels of the vitamin as well as being used with a rare inherited bleeding disorder.
Those with brittle or weak bones, like those suffering from osteoporosis, may also be prescribed extra doses of varieties of Vitamin K as well. This vitamin works with Vitamin D to strengthen bones through calcium use, so they are often thought of together when describing adequate bone health. Vitamin K is found, like many of the other crucial vitamins, in leafy green vegetables, broccoli and Brussel sprouts but since it is fat-soluble, the body reserves excess Vitamin K in its stores to be used when needed.