When you talk with friends and family members, they may mention some new vitamin supplements they’re taking. Or, your mom may ask if you’re getting enough of a certain vitamin. Even your doctor may recommend some nutrients, vitamins and minerals in your diet to support your overall health. Despite all this encouragement around vitamins, you may have questions. What are vitamins in the first place, and why do you need them?
Nutrients, Vitamins and Minerals: The Basics
A nutrient is a natural substance that is necessary for life. Your body depends on countless nutrients to function correctly. For example, water is considered a nutrient, because you need it to survive. All in all, there are many categories of nutrients that support healthy living, including:
- Soluble and insoluble Fiber
What makes vitamins special as nutrients is that they’re healthy substances that your body doesn’t produce naturally. You have to get them from a nutritious diet. Some vitamins are found in fruits and vegetables. By eating those types of products, you give your body some of the vitamins it needs.
The body also needs some minerals to work correctly. These are non-organic substances that appear in water or soil and end up getting absorbed into animals or plants. A healthy diet can help you get minerals such as potassium and iodine.
In addition to getting vitamins, minerals and nutrients from the foods you eat, you can also take them directly with a supplement. What are vitamin supplements? These capsules, gels, powders or pills contain specific nutrients in an active form.
Some supplements only contain a single type of vitamin, and others have a blend of nutrients. For example, a vitamin C supplement may have a large amount of vitamin C. Other types of immune support supplements may contain several other kinds of nutrients that can support health and wellness. The idea is to support your body’s immune system by providing health-friendly substances it can use.
Vitamin supplements shouldn’t replace a balanced diet. Instead, they support your diet, helping out when poor food choices or a busy schedule contribute to lower-than-desired levels of vitamins. You can think of supplements as extra helpers that lend a hand to an already stellar team of construction workers for important projects.
Names of Important Vitamins
Now that you have a general idea of what vitamins are, it’s time to get to know some specific examples. That way, it’s easier to enjoy a varied diet and know which foods provide which nutrients. There are two main categories of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.
These vitamins dissolve in water. Your body uses what it needs, and any extra gets disposed of in your urine. Here are some well-known examples:
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): Vitamin C supports your immune system, bone formation, healthy skin and wound healing. Citrus fruits are a great source.
- Vitamin B9 (folate): This vitamin is important for DNA creation, pregnancy and normal development. You can get folate from dark, leafy greens and many fruits.
- Vitamin B7 (biotin): Biotin is related to healthy skin, hair and nails. It’s also connected to your body’s metabolism and energy production. Legumes and eggs are common sources.
The body doesn’t store water-soluble vitamins, so you need to include them consistently in your diet.
These common vitamins need healthy fats to work. Fat-soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin A: Vision support
- Vitamin D: Bone support
- Vitamin K: Blood clotting support
- Vitamin E: Antioxidant support
Your body can store any excess of these vitamins, so they generally accumulate. You don’t usually need a large amount to reach your recommended dietary intake. There are upper limits to these vitamins, meaning you don’t want to go overboard.
The Benefits of a Balanced Diet
Getting the nutrients you need isn’t a question of one type of vitamin per fruit or veggie. Many foods contain numerous vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and other nutrients. Enjoying different foods can help you treat your body to many essential nutrients, plus you get to enjoy a variety of tasty flavors!