Vitamins 101

Here at Vitasave, you could say that vitamins are our specialty. Just walk into any of our locations or browse our website and you'll see what we mean.

Another thing we pride ourselves on is education. So, today we want to start with the basics and dive into the world of vitamins.

There are two different types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B vitamins. These are excreted through the urine and not as easily stored which means daily intake is needed.

Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, K are a little bit different in that they are more readily stored in the body, thus remain in the body for longer and are more prone to reach toxic levels in excess. Always consume fat-soluble vitamins with a source of dietary fat for optimal absorption. 

What do vitamins do? Vitamins have various roles in the body, however, they are all essential for optimal health. Which is why adopting a whole foods diet is the best way to ensure all of your needs are being met.

Below we list the most important functions of specific vitamins in the body.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps maintain healthy vision, immunity, skin, and promotes fertility and regular cycles.

Animal foods contain preformed vitamin A (retinol) and include beef liver, eggs, shrimp, fish, and dairy products. These foods contain the highest amount of retinol.

Plant foods contain carotenoids which are precursors to vitamin A and include sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, broccoli, squash, and spinach. 

Since carotenoids have to be converted into retinol A, animal sources contain higher amounts of bioavailable vitamin A and are more efficient at raising serum levels in the body.

Cod liver oil is an excellent food-derived supplement that is high in retinol and omega 3 fats which improve absorption. Be cautious with vitamin A supplementation as it can be stored in the body over time and become toxic at excess levels. 

B vitamins

Also known as the "energy vitamins" this group of vitamins is used by the body to metabolize macronutrients in order to produce energy, aids in liver detoxification, promotes nerve function, produces hormones and neurotransmitters, and supports the adrenals under stress.

B vitamins, such as B12 and B6,  are critical for optimal brain function, and deficiencies have been linked with anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline (1).

Where can you find B vitamins? Animal products are rich in B vitamins and various plant foods contain various forms such as leafy greens, legumes, and nutritional yeast.

As there exist many B vitamins and they all work synergistically, a deficiency in just one can lead to health consequences. This is where a B complex can be a good idea in order to balance the ratio of B vitamins in the body and cover your nutritional bases. Always choose a supplement that includes B vitamins in their active form, to make sure you are getting the benefits.  

Vitamin C

We have all been told to take more vitamin C when we are sick. But, why is this? Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, meaning it protects our cells from free radical damage and strengthens the immune system while also helping to kill viruses. 

Vitamin C also improves the absorption of iron, enhances collagen formation for beautiful skin, and supports cardiovascular health.

Eat your vitamin C by including foods like kiwi fruit, citrus, red bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and papaya on your plate.

Liposomal is said to be the best form of oral vitamin C supplementation. As vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and used up fairly quickly in the body, repeated doses are recommended throughout the day especially if you are suffering from the cold or flu.  

Vitamin D

If you live in Vancouver, chances are you have met this vitamin. Vitamin D is synthesized in our skin through direct sunlight exposure. However, we can also obtain it from food and supplementation (thankfully for us Canadians!)

Technically a hormone, vitamin D works together with magnesium, vitamin K, and calcium to support healthy bones, but also decrease inflammation, build a healthy immune system, protect against infections, help prevent development of chronic disease, support brain function and mood imbalances, and improve leptin  sensitivity... vitamin D seems to do it all!

Food sources of vitamin D include wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, beef liver, eggs, and mushrooms.

Supplementation may be recommended if you are vegan, or do not get adequate sunlight exposure or regular consumption of vitamin D rich foods. In that case, we recommend choosing vitamin D3, which is much more efficiently utilized and absorbed in the body than D2.

Testing is recommended to ensure adequate dosage. When supplementing with Vitamin D be sure to take a vitamin K2 supplement in combination, as K2 helps move vitamin D3 as well as calcium into the bone and other areas needed in the body while reducing the risk of arterial calcification.  

Vitamin E

Another fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant, vitamin E is commonly touted for its benefits for skin health. As an antioxidant, it helps decrease inflammation, repair damaged skin, and acts as a natural anti-aging nutrient. When taken with vitamin C it can help reduce acne and eczema outbreaks, making your skin look healthier and more youthful. 

Its effects don't stop at beauty though, it can also help balance hormone levels reducing symptoms like PMS,  support healthy cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of macular degeneration in older populations alongside beta carotene consumption.

You can get vitamin E from food sources like leafy greens, seafood, olives, avocados, and nuts and seeds.

When supplementing look for a natural form of vitamin E which contains all 8 compounds and tocopherols to receive all of the benefits. 

Vitamin K

There are two forms of vitamin K; K1 (phylloquinone) and K2 (menaquinone). K1 is known for its blood clotting properties, whereas K2 has profound effects on bone health by enhancing calcium and vitamin D absorption in the bone and promoting bone formation (as mentioned previously). It is such a vital nutrient for bone health that it has been shown to increase bone mass and decrease bone loss. 

Vitamin K1 is found in leafy greens while vitamin K2 can be found in meat, dairy, and fermented foods like cheese and natto. Vitamin K2 can also be produced by the bacteria in your gut. When choosing a vitamin K2 supplement, opt for MK-7 over MK-4 as it has been shown to build up in the body and last longer. 

Do you really need to supplement?

You may be wondering if supplementing with vitamins is really necessary, why can't we just get them through our diet? Here at Vitasave, we strongly believe in food as medicine and agree that supplementation should not replace a healthy diet.

However, there are circumstances where supplementing can be beneficial or even necessary. In instances of deficiencies, chronic disease, illness, poor diet, chronic stress, intake of medications, and among older populations and athletes, food may not be enough. In addition, the quality of our soil and thus our food does not contain the same levels of vitamins and minerals as it did years ago, therefore it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain everything we need from our diet. Not to mention the state of our digestion which is commonly compromised, plays a big role in whether we absorb the nutrients we need or not.

Your best bet? Test don't guess. Get tested for nutrient deficiencies and supplement accordingly with the guidance of your health care practitioner, all while focusing on real whole foods to supply an array of nutrients. 

Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.

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