Understanding the vitamins you’re taking
We talk through 13 key vitamins and why they're important
Many people pop a multivitamin every morning without truly understanding what each vitamin does for their body.
At nib, we consider ourselves your health partner, working with the experts to give you the tips and tricks to live your healthiest life yet. That’s why we’ve created a complete guide to vitamins. This guide will demystify the role that each of the 13 vitamins plays in our health and can help ensure you’re getting enough of them.
When and why you should be taking vitamins
“Healthy people who eat well don’t generally need to take vitamin supplements because they get all the vitamins they need in the food they eat,” says nib Medical Advisor Dr Hamish Black. “There are some groups of people who need vitamin supplementation, including those who are pregnant, on restrictive diets, have a high alcohol intake, are malnourished or have a chronic disease. You should seek a dietetic or medical review if you’re in one of these groups.”
There are some groups of people who need vitamin supplementation
What do vitamins do?
Our bodies use vitamins to perform essential functions and keep us healthy. “Vitamins and minerals are vital to the healthy functioning of our body at a cellular level,” explains Hamish.
Here’s a complete list of what the 13 vitamins do and the best foods to eat to obtain them.
Vitamin A plays a vital role in supporting healthy reproduction, immune function, vision and skin.
The best food sources of vitamin A include:
Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables (such as carrots, sweet potatoes and red capsicum)
Leafy green vegetables (including spinach and broccoli)
Fortified milk (with added vitamin A)
Vitamin C helps fight infection, destroy free radicals that can damage cells, absorb iron and form collagen. It’s important to get enough vitamin C in our diet because we can’t make vitamin C from other compounds and it isn’t stored in the body for long.
Dietary sources of vitamin C include:
Fruit (including citrus, mangoes, kiwifruit and tomatoes)
Vegetables (especially green vegetables, cauliflower and potatoes)
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and plays an important role in maintaining strong bones and muscles.
The best source of vitamin D is the sun because UV light is necessary to produce it. Regularly exposing your skin to the sun for short periods when the UV index is low (to prevent skin cancer) will help your body make vitamin D. Regular exercise also helps.
An antioxidant that fights free radical damage, vitamin E also supports our immune system, vision and skin.
Food sources of vitamin E include:
Meat (including liver)
Healthy oils (including extra virgin olive oil)
Nuts and seeds
Leafy green vegetables
Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and to prevent a serious bleeding disorder in newborn babies known as haemorrhagic disease of the newborn (HDN). It also supports wound healing and bone health.
Good dietary sources of vitamin K include:
Leafy green vegetables (including kale, spinach and broccoli)
Soybean and canola oil
B vitamins help turn carbohydrates, fat and protein into fuel and transport them through the body. There are eight B vitamins that fulfil different functions. Because most B vitamins (except B9 and B12) can’t be stored in the liver, we need to make sure we’re getting enough of them in our diet.
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
Vitamin B1 helps our cells grow and function properly. Dietary sources include fish, pork, beans, lentils and green peas.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin B2 assists in growing cells, producing energy and breaking down fats and medications. It can be found in milk, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, and lean beef and pork.
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Niacin helps create DNA, cholesterol and fats and it converts nutrients into energy. Red meat, chicken, fish and brown rice are excellent sources.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Vitamin B5 is involved in breaking down fatty acids and performing important metabolic functions. Food sources include liver, kidney, beef, chicken and mushrooms.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 plays an important role in breaking down nutrients and supporting the immune system and brain health. It can be found in liver, tuna, salmon and chickpeas.
Vitamin B7 (biotin)
Biotin assists enzymes in breaking down nutrients and regulates signals sent by cells. Beef liver, salmon, eggs and avocado are good dietary sources.
Vitamin B9 (folate or folic acid)
Folate helps form DNA and produce healthy blood cells. It plays a critical role in preventing neural tube defects in babies when taken during pregnancy. Leafy green vegetables, beans and peanuts contain folate, but women should take a supplement during pregnancy.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 is needed to form DNA, red blood cells, and brain and nerve cells. Excellent dietary sources include fish, liver, red meat, chicken and eggs.
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
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Dr Hamish Black
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Dr Hamish Black
Dr Hamish Black has been a medical practitioner for more than 25 years. In addition to his role as nib group medical advisor, he still spends two days a week practising as a GP. He has spent many years working in emergency departments and in rural Australia, including a stint with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Hamish also loves karaoke and dancing (though not that well at either, he says!), with Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry being his karaoke favourite.