We all know vitamins are necessary, but how do they actually benefit us? (And why are there so many B vitamins anyway?)
The general facts
There are 13 essential vitamins, so called because our bodies can’t make them. We have to obtain them from the food we eat or in extract form. Some vitamins need daily replenishing, as they are regularly flushed out through urine, while others are stored in fatty tissues. The main functions of vitamins are maintaining bone health, immunity, the cardiovascular system, and physical fitness.
Vitamin A is fat-soluble and stored in the liver. We get it primarily through animal products like eggs and fruits and dark green vegetables (as beta-carotene). It’s a building block for healthy teeth, tissue, and retina pigments, and our bodies absorb it better when we eat it along with a fat source.
The B vitamins are all water-soluble, which means they need regular replenishing. When scientists first discovered vitamins, they didn’t realize that the nutrient they called “factor B” was actually a group of several different compounds. Since this initial discovery, scientists have determined that B4, 8, 10, and 11 are not actually vitamins. This is also true of the nutrients originally dubbed Vitamin F, G, H, I, and J.
There are 8 B vitamins recognized today:
…also known as thiamin, which helps with the conversion of food to energy and muscle contraction, in addition to maintaining the function of the nervous and immune systems. Whole grains, beans, spinach, kale, and red meat are good sources of B1.
…or riboflavin, breaks down macronutrients (carbs, fat, and protein) and aids in red blood cell production. We get it from almonds, eggs, Brussels sprouts, spinach, salmon, and red meat.
…aka niacin or niacinamide, helps with the function of the digestive system and cellular energy production. It also boosts HDL cholesterol (the good kind). Sources include beef, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and leafy greens.
…or pantothenic acid, is vital to the breakdown of carbs and fats, the production of hormones, and the process of growth. Virtually every food group contains B5.
…also called pyridoxine, is involved in cellular reactions throughout the body and the production of the hormones serotonin, melatonin, and norepinephrine. Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, bananas, berries, carrots, and spinach are good sources of B6.
You know B7 as biotin, and it promotes healthy hair, skin, and nails. In combination with Vitamin B9 and zinc, it produces keratin, a protein necessary for strong hair (and one of the essential ingredients in our SuperFoods Damage Control line!). We get it naturally by eating strawberries, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts, but taking it in supplement form for extra-luscious locks doesn’t hurt!
…or folic acid, is instrumental in fetal health and development and the growth of red blood cells. Its sources include dark leafy greens, organ meats, beets, dates, avocados, and salmon.
…cobalamin, is a team player. It helps B9 to produce red blood cells and iron to create hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. It also promotes the health of the central nervous system. While not naturally found in any plants, B12 can be obtained from animal meat and clams.
But wait, there’s more!
Want to know how Vitamins C-K function in keeping us healthy? Check out Part 2!