The term vitamin K refers to a group of similar chemicals that all have the important function of aiding blood clotting. It is named from the German word “koagulation.”
Having the proper amount of clotting factor in your blood is important. Too little, and you’re at risk for bleeding and bruising. Too much, and you risk dangerous clotting and stroke. The clotting process itself is extremely complex, and vitamin K plays a big part in making it work.
In addition to helping your blood clot properly, vitamin K also helps to build strong bones. In fact, it is recommended for post-menopausal women to help prevent fractures from the bone loss associated with the hormonal changes of menopause.
Vitamin K Deficiency
Sometimes babies are born with low levels of vitamin K because it doesn’t pass through the placental barrier very well. Premature babies are particularly at risk. The good news is that this usually clears up quickly as the infants receive the vitamin K they need in their diets.
For adults, low levels of vitamin K have been associated with arthritis. Vitamin K helps to strengthen the proteins in the joints to protect from the pain and stiffness that arthritis can bring.
While most people aren’t at risk for deficiency, some conditions make low levels of vitamin K more likely. Alcoholics, for instance, have poor liver function that predisposes them to many vitamin deficiencies
Other conditions that can lead to poor vitamin K processing include cystic fibrosis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Bowel surgery can also cause difficulties with vitamin K absorption.
Food Sources of Vitamin K
By far, the best food sources of vitamin K are dark leafy greens. Kale, spinach, and other greens are all excellent ways to get your recommended daily serving of vitamin K.
If you’re looking to add some vitamin K to your diet, have a Caesar Salad. A spinach omelette would be another great way to enjoy some vitamin K. Even a very small amount of spinach added to any dish brings a respectable amount of vitamin K to the table.
A side dish of broccoli or peas will add a punch of vitamin K to your diet. In fact, even just a few tablespoons of parsley can provide a decent serving of vitamin K.
Want a fast, easy serving of vitamin K? Have a kiwi. One kiwi contains about a third of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K.
Vitamin E is well known as an antioxidant, which means it protects the body from cell damage caused by certain chemicals. Because it is fat soluble, it protects the fatty membranes that surround the cells.
Vitamin E is given to cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment to help prevent and repair the damage to healthy cells in the treatment area.
Because it is believed to be good for the skin, vitamin E is often used in creams and lotions that are applied to dry, rough, scaly, or damaged skin. It is also widely recommended as a way to reduce the appearance of scars, such as those that might occur after surgery.
Some people, though, are very sensitive to vitamin E, and develop contact dermatitis, a nasty rash, from applying it to the skin. Since studies show that it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of difference anyhow, it is probably not a good idea to apply it directly to the skin.
It turns out that many of the claims for vitamin E just haven’t been backed up by solid evidence. The jury is still out, for instance, on claims that vitamin E helps those struggling with cholesterol issues. More research needs to be done on the effectiveness of vitamin E supplements.
Vitamin E Deficiency
Vitamin E deficiency shows up as problems with the nervous system due to damage to the structure of the nerve membrane.
The good news for most of us is that vitamin E deficiency is almost never due to a poor diet. Rather, it is usually caused by a problem with the metabolism of fat. Where these problems exist, the retina of the eye is often affected.
Food Sources of Vitamin E
The most concentrated food sources of vitamin E are oils, with wheat germ oil being the highest concentration available.
Green, leafy vegetables like spinach, swiss chard, turnip greens, kale, and mustard greens are excellent sources. If you can stand the heat, chili peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin E.
Almonds, avocado, and broccoli are good sources of vitamin E, too. Nuts and nut butters, including peanuts and peanut butter, also provide vitamin E.
As a meal choice, a spinach omelette cooked in olive oil would provide some vitamin E. Adding some sunflower seeds and dried cranberries to your morning oatmeal would certainly beef up your vitamin E as well.
Want a fast, easy serving of vitamin E? Eat a handful of sunflower seeds or almonds. These foods are both portable and easy to eat on the go.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. It works by increasing the absorption of calcium in the foods we eat. This calcium is then used to build bone strength.
Vitamin D is unusual in that it isn’t necessarily obtained from the foods we eat, but instead is synthesized from sunlight. When sunlight hits our skin, our bodies act to manufacture the vitamin D that we need to keep our bones healthy.
This amazing process, though, is hindered by many factors. To get vitamin D from sunlight, the skin must be exposed outdoors. For those living well north or well south of the equator, it’s difficult to be outdoors in the extreme cold of the winter months.
Even in the summer, people often just don’t spend enough time outside to get the needed amount of vitamin D.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Extreme vitamin D deficiency shows up in children as rickets, where bones can soften and bend, and in adults as osteomalacia, which is characterized by fragile bones that are more likely to break in a fall.
These deficiency diseases are largely prevented in areas where breakfast cereals and dairy products are fortified with vitamin D.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
Getting vitamin D naturally from food sources is problematic. The best type of vitamin D that you can eat is from canned fish, especially if you eat the bones along with it. If you enjoy canned sardines, eaten bones and all, they are a great source of vitamin D and calcium, too.
Canned salmon is also an excellent source of both vitamin D and calcium. But for best results you need to crush up the tiny bones that come in the can and eat them along with the salmon meat.
If you have never done this before, it is easy to mash the bones into the meat with a fork, and they are pretty much undetectable. It is well worth the effort for the extra nutritional value.
Please note that ordinary fish bones can’t be crushed and eaten like this. The canning process softens the bones of canned sardines and salmon so that they can be eaten for the double bonus of vitamin D and calcium they contain.
Many dairy foods, especially milk, are fortified with vitamin D, so that milk-drinkers are guaranteed to get at least some of the recommended daily intake. A small amount of vitamin D is available in eggs as well.
Want a fast easy serving of vitamin D? Have a glass of milk. You might find, though, that taking a vitamin D supplement is necessary, especially if you have limited exposure to sunlight.
A blood test can determine if vitamin D supplementation is your best solution to obtaining enough of this important nutrient.
The health benefits of vitamin C have been both well documented and highly debated. For instance, many people believe that taking vitamin C will keep them from catching a cold, though this isn’t really backed up by research.
There are things that vitamin C is definitely good for. It is best known as an antioxidant. It protects the body from chemical reactions that can damage the cells.
Vitamin C also helps to metabolize iron. If you plan to enjoy a meal that’s high in iron, make sure you include something that’s high in vitamin C to get the full benefit of the iron in your food.
Vitamin C is also important in the production of collagen, the protein that holds our cells together. While getting lots of vitamin C won’t necessarily keep you young, it will definitely keep your cells healthier.
In your brain, vitamin C helps make chemical neurotransmitters, like serotonin that helps regulate mood, sleep cycles, and sensations of pain. Keeping your brain well supplied could actually help you to be happier and more productive.
Vitamin C Deficiency
The disease caused by lack of vitamin C is called scurvy. Sailors on long voyages, who therefore had no access to fresh fruits and vegetables, were known to suffer terribly from scurvy before its cause was determined.
Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include brown discolorations on the skin, weakened gums leading eventually to loss of teeth, and bleeding from the mucous membranes. These are all signs of the breakdown of collagen, the glue that holds our bodies together.
Vitamin C and the Common Cold
For years, people have believed that consuming extra vitamin C in the diet or the form of supplements would act as a protection against the common cold. Studies have shown that this claim is overstated.
For most of us, taking extra vitamin C doesn’t prevent a cold. It has, however been shown to speed up recovery in cold sufferers. So be sure to get more of this useful vitamin when you’re fighting a cold.
Food Sources of Vitamin C
For many of us, oranges and other citrus fruits are the first things that come to find when we think of vitamin C. In fact, there are many other options that are excellent dietary sources of this important vitamin.
Papayas, cantaloupes, kiwis, and berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are all excellent sources.
Bell peppers are very high in vitamin C, especially the red ones. Sources you might not expect include broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, and leafy greens like spinach and collard greens.
Want a fast easy serving of vitamin C? Have an orange. It sounds like a cliché, but oranges are a great source of vitamin C. Want something a little less messy? Eat a sweet red pepper.
Vital to the production of blood and to the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, cobalamin, or vitamin B12, must be obtained from a healthy diet, as our bodies are unable to make this vitamin from other nutrients.
Because food sources of B12 are mainly meats, fish, and seafood, it is very difficult for vegetarian and vegan diets to include enough vitamin B12. Those who choose to exclude animal foods should supplement their diets with vitamin B12 for optimal health.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
For most people, though, vitamin B12 deficiency is not a problem. If you eat meat, fish, and other animal products like eggs, yogurt, and cheese, you’re easily able to get all that you need from your diet.
If you don’t eat animal foods, it’s a different story. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a very serious matter, and can cause irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system. Early symptoms include poor memory, tiredness, and depression. Mania and even psychosis will occur if left untreated.
In rare cases, vitamin B12 absorption is hindered by a condition called pernicious anemia. For those suffering from this disease, vitamin B12 supplementation is a life saver.
As with some of the other vitamins, B12 becomes more difficult to absorb from foods as we get older. For those over age 50, taking a multi-vitamin supplement could be a good idea.
Food Sources of Vitamin B12
Salmon, tuna, and other fish are excellent sources of vitamin B12 along with scallops and shrimp. If you love to eat seafood, you will never be in danger of getting too little vitamin B12 in your diet.
Red meats, like lamb and beef, are also excellent sources, with pork, turkey, eggs, and chicken making respectable contributions as well. Liver is especially high in vitamin B12. Some vitamin B12 is also found in cheese.
Possible vegetable sources of vitamin B12 are all open to debate. Very small amounts can be obtained from mushrooms and certain types of fermented foods, but these just can’t supply enough to keep someone healthy.
Supplementation is necessary for anyone following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet.
Want a fast easy serving of vitamin B12? Open a can of sardines. If you enjoy them, sardines provide an excellent source of vitamin B12. For those who aren’t so fond of this fishy treat, a cup of yogurt will supply about one third of the recommended dietary intake of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B6 is the name given to pyridoxine in its various forms. It helps to build red blood cells, aids in the metabolism of food, works with your immune system, and is part of the process of sending messages in your nervous system.
In fact, many key neurotransmitters rely on pyridoxine in some form or another in order to function properly. It is an important factor in good emotional and mental health.
Vitamin B6 Deficiency
Symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency include skin rashes, anemia, drowsiness, and confusion. Urine testing can detect markers that show if someone is deficient or not.
Because vitamin B6 is involved in carbohydrate metabolism, the production of energy from the grains and sugars in our diet, those deficient in vitamin B6 will have low energy and feel sleepy.
Sleepiness or weariness is also a symptom of anemia, or low levels of hemoglobin in the blood. Since vitamin B6 is necessary in the production of hemoglobin for our red blood cells, this is another way that lack of this essential vitamin manifests in tiredness and low energy.
Some people are more susceptible to Vitamin B6 deficiency. The elderly and women taking oral contraceptives should consider taking supplements of vitamin B6. Other medications, including certain antibiotics, can increase the risk of vitamin B6 deficiency.
Vitamin B6 is important in pregnancy, and is prescribed as a safe, effective treatment for morning sickness.
Alcoholics frequently show signs of vitamin deficiency. B6 is just one of the vitamins that is poorly metabolised when alcohol is present in the body.
Food Sources of Vitamin B6
Tuna, turkey, beef, and pork are all good animal sources of vitamin B6. Pistachios are another excellent source. When it comes to fruit, bananas, pineapples, dates, and avocados are all high in vitamin B6.
For vegetarians, chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are a vitamin B6 powerhouse. Cauliflower, potatoes, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and collard greens are very good sources.
Vegetables should be eaten raw or steamed to retain the most usable vitamin B6. Boiling tends to break down B6 and make it unavailable to the body.
For a meal that’s high in B6, have a chicken sandwich with avocado slices on whole wheat bread. A bowl of chili or soup containing beans, onions, and tomatoes would be a perfect cold weather meal with a healthy amount of vitamin B6.
Want a fast, easy serving of vitamin B6? Eat a banana. One medium sized banana provides about 25% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin B6.
Vitamin B3 is the name given to both niacin and niacinamide, considered as part of the B complex of vitamins. Like the others in this group, vitamin B3 is used in the body for energy production.
In addition, niacin works to eliminate harmful free radicals in the body to protect it from tissue damage.
Niacin has been used to treat high cholesterol and osteoarthritis and is part of a comprehensive treatment plan for circulation problems, dizziness, and migraine headaches. There is also evidence that niacin is helpful for those managing diabetes.
It is important to note that, while both are labelled vitamin B3, niacin and niacinamide are processed differently in the body and produce different health benefits.
Vitamin B3 Deficiency
Vitamin B3 deficiency manifests as a nasty disease called pellagra, which is characterized by dermatitis, skin lesions, digestive problems, psychiatric symptoms, and eventual death if left untreated.
Symptoms of deficiency can include depression, poor concentration, irritability, and fatigue.
Alcohol abuse and poor diet are usually to blame for most cases of vitamin B3 deficiency. Alcohol is to blame for a number of deficiency issues as it interferes with the normal metabolism of many nutrients.
Food Sources of Vitamin B3
The best food sources of vitamin B3 are animal sources: tuna, chicken, salmon, and turkey.
Good vegetable sources include tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and asparagus. Other vegetable sources are legumes, like peanuts and green peas, leafy greens, and root vegetables. Dates are a good fruit source.
Nuts, seeds, and grains also provide useful amounts of this necessary vitamin. A peanut butter sandwich is a great source of niacin, since the refined flour used for the bread would be fortified with niacin to add to that existing naturally in the peanut butter.
Enjoy your post-holiday turkey sandwich. It too is rich in vitamin B3.
Because vitamin B3 is a water soluble vitamin, and can’t be stored by the body, it is important to consume foods rich in niacin every day. The good news is that niacin is more easily available than some vitamins because it can be synthesized by the liver from the essential amino acid tryptophan.
Want a fast, easy serving of vitamin B3? Open a can of tuna and dig in! Tuna is an excellent source of niacin and a single serving can provide your daily recommended intake of this valuable nutrient.
Not a fan of fish? A handful of peanuts is also a good source of vitamin B3.
Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, helps to preserve the health of your skin, the lining of your digestive tract, and your blood cells.
Riboflavin is recommended to help improve immune function, boost energy levels, maintain healthy skin, hair and nails, and treat certain types of anemia.
It is also important in producing energy and hunting down harmful free radicals by promoting the body’s recycling of the powerful antioxidant glutathione.
Therapeutically, riboflavin is associated with a lower risk of developing eye cataracts and a reduction in the frequency of migraine headache attacks has been seen in those taking vitamin B2 supplements.
There is never any concern about getting too much riboflavin, as any excess is quickly excreted in the urine.
Interesting Facts About Vitamin B2
An interesting fact about riboflavin is that vitamin B2 supplements will turn urine bright yellow. In fact, the “flavin” part of the word riboflavin comes from the Latin word for yellow, flavus.
Have you ever noticed that eating asparagus will turn your urine yellow? Asparagus is rich in riboflavin.
Riboflavin is even used as a food coloring because of its distinctive yellow color. Because it is fluorescent under UV light, riboflavin is used in some industrial applications to detect leaks.
Vitamin B2 Deficiency
Riboflavin deficiency shows up as painful inflammation and skin rashes on the tongue, throat, lips, corners of the mouth and genitalia. Other signs you’re not getting enough riboflavin include itchy, bloodshot eyes and anemia.
Because it is removed during the milling process, vitamin B2 is included in enriched flour products in the United States and other countries. This helps to prevent deficiency in places where enriched flour is widely used.
Riboflavin is damaged by exposure to light. Store dairy foods and other foods high in riboflavin in opaque containers to protect this important nutrient and get the most value from your food..
Food Sources of Vitamin B2
Some of the best sources of vitamin B2 are daily products. Milk, cheese and yogurt are all excellent ways to get your daily dose of riboflavin.
Non-dairy sources include spinach and other greens, asparagus, eggs, and mushrooms. For a meal rich in riboflavin, have a cheese omelette, a salad with chopped hard-boiled eggs, or asparagus with cheese sauce.
Liver and kidneys are good meat sources of riboflavin.
Want a fast, easy serving of vitamin B2? Have a cup of yogurt or a handful of toasted soybeans. A quarter cup of almonds is also a good source of riboflavin.
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is a key player in the body’s production of energy. Thiamine takes the energy in carbohydrates and fats and helps to regulate the process of converting that energy into a form that is usable by your body.
Vitamin B1 is especially vital to the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. Your brain is constantly burning energy.
Vitamin B1 Deficiency
Because your whole body needs energy, vitamin B1 deficiency can affect how your whole body functions. In addition to the nervous system, areas that are particularly sensitive to lack of B1 include the heart and digestive system.
Vitamin B1 deficiency, though rare in developed countries today, was once widespread due to over-processing of foods.
Beriberi is a thiamine deficiency disease that affects the heart and nervous system particularly. Historically, beriberi has appeared in countries that are dependent on rice in their diet. Polishing the rice in an attempt to preserve it removes the thiamine rich outer coating and puts those who eat only polished rice at risk for thiamine deficiency.
Alcohol abuse plays a huge role in vitamin B1 deficiencies. Metabolism of alcohol robs the body of thiamine and puts heavy drinkers at risk for the same type of nervous system and heart damage that occurs in severe vitamin B1 deficiency.
As we get older, it becomes harder for the body to properly metabolize thiamine, making elderly people particularly at risk for vitamin B1 deficiency.
Food Sources of Vitamin B1
Thiamine is present to a small degree in most of the foods that we consume. As with anything else though, some sources are better than others.
The best dietary sources of B1 include whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, and whole grain wheat flour and rye flour.
Because processing removes the thiamine rich outer coating of the grain, processed white flour is required to be fortified with thiamine and other nutrients before being sold in the United States and other countries.
In addition to whole grains, other good sources of vitamin B1 include asparagus, sunflower seeds, leafy greens such as spinach, cabbage and kale, and brussels sprouts and broccoli. Legumes such as dried beans and green peas are also good sources of thiamine.
Advantages of Raw Food
Vitamin B1 is very sensitive to heat. Cooking has been shown to destroy 50% or more of the thiamine content in foods.
Be sure to consume at least some of these thiamine rich foods in their raw forms. A Caesar salad, containing raw Romaine lettuce or coleslaw with fresh cabbage would be good sources of vitamin B1.
Want a fast, easy serving of vitamin B1? Eat a handful of sunflower seeds. A quarter cup of sunflower seeds contains almost half of your daily recommended intake of vitamin B1.
Vitamin A is the vitamin most often associated with good eyesight. More than one generation of children have been told to eat their carrots so that they could see in the dark.
It turns out, connecting good vision to eating carrots isn’t far off the mark. Vitamin A, plentiful in carrots and other orange vegetables, is indeed beneficial for the eyes.
Vitamin A helps the various parts of the eye, including the cornea, the retina, and the membranes, function as they should.
In addition to aiding vision, vitamin A is good for your immune system and reproductive system. It is also vital to the normal development and growth of cells in our bodies.
Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to viral infections, high child mortality rates, and blindness.
Types of Vitamin A
There are several different chemicals that function as what we call vitamin A. Vitamin A from animal sources comes under the heading retinoids. Retinoids include retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, and retinyl esters.
The second type of vitamin A comes under the heading carotenoids and includes the beta-carotene found in carrots.
Under certain conditions, some carotenoid forms of vitamin A can be converted into retinoid forms by the body as needed.
For most people, though, the best option is to consume both animal and vegetable sources of vitamin A to ensure a good supply of retinoids and carotenoids.
Vitamin A is considered a fat-soluble vitamin, and should be eaten with foods that contain fat so that it can be absorbed properly.
Food Sources of Vitamin A
In addition to carrots, vitamin A is found in sweet potatoes, winter squash, spinach and other greens such as collard greens, turnip greens, kale and Swiss chard. Animal sources include shrimp, fish, milk, cheese, eggs and yogurt.
The best sources of vitamin A for good eye health are leafy greens such as spinach and kale. These are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, the carotenoids that have been found in the human retina.
All those looking to help prevent age-related macular degeneration or other eye diseases would be wise to include dark leafy greens in their meals.
Fruits containing vitamin A include cantaloupe, papaya, and pink or red grapefruit.
Since many adults and children fail to eat enough vegetables, researchers estimate that one-third of the adults in the U.S. fail to get the required amounts of vitamin A in their diets.
Want a fast, easy serving of vitamin A? Eat a handful of dried apricots. They are portable and a great way to ensure that you are getting your daily supply of vitamin A.
Prepared baby carrots, or carrot sticks that you made ahead yourself, are also great for on the go vitamin A.