Vitamins in Healthy Food

Cheryl Zielke
healthy food

Whole, unprocessed, fortified? What's the difference when it comes to the vitamins in healthy food? While the food manufacturers continue to formulate foods with enticing marketing campaigns to get you to buy their products, the following information about vitamins and the foods they can be found in will assist you on your next grocery shopping trip.

What are Vitamins?

Unlike the macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein), vitamins, also appropriately called micronutrients, do not provide direct energy for the body. Rather, they are essential for the performance of organ function via enzymatic and hormonal processes. Vitamins are necessary for human life, but not all can be synthesized in the body.

Where to Find Them: Food vs. Supplements

The question often arises, "Should I be taking vitamins?" The answer is most likely, "probably". However, by choosing healthy, balanced meals and snacks, our bodies are usually offered the vitamins we need from the foods themselves. The problem is that in today's rushed, "never enough time" lifestyle, those critical meals are not being prepared or consumed on a regular basis. For this reason, a multi-vitamin serves as an insurance policy that all the essential vitamins and minerals are being received by the body.

The disadvantage to taking a vitamin supplement is the limited ability to fully absorb the individual vitamins in comparison to receiving vitamins in healthy food choices. There is a synergistic effect of the digestion of food compounds that serves to enhance the absorption and the usage of the vitamins coming from the foods. For example, the category of fat-soluble vitamins requires dietary fats for optimal absorption to occur. Another disadvantage is the added cost of vitamins when food is purchased regardless as to whether supplements are chosen or not.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins in Healthy Foods

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are the fat-soluble vitamins. These vitamins can be found in healthy foods. The following foods are good sources:

Vitamin A

As with all the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin A is stored in the body. For this reason, excess supplementation is unnecessary and not often advised due to its potential toxicity of large stores. The following foods offer adequate amounts for healthy eyes, immune system, and antioxidant protection:

  • Sweet potato
  • Carrots
  • Beef liver
  • Kale
  • Mango
  • Spinach
  • Cantaloupe
  • Apricots
  • Red bell peppers
  • Papaya
  • Fortified cereals

Vitamin D

Vitamin D can be produced on its own in the body. However, these foods provide substantial amounts as well:

  • Fortified milk
  • Cod liver oil
  • Edible bones of sardines, herring

Vitamin E

Deficiencies of vitamin E are rare because it is found abundantly in our food supply. Some healthy foods that contain this antioxidant vitamin are:

  • Almonds and other nuts
  • Avocado
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetable oils
  • Seeds
  • Wheat germ

Note: Vitamin E is destroyed at high cooking temperatures, as in frying with vegetable oil.

Vitamin K

Deficiencies of vitamin K are rare as it is made in the lining of the intestinal tract. However, prolonged use of antibiotics can interrupt its production. The following foods are quality sources:

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Egg
  • Wheat bran
  • Wheat germ
  • Fortified milk

Water-Soluble Vitamins in Healthy Foods

As the name suggests, this group of vitamins is affected by the amount of fluid present on the body. These vitamins are not stored as the fat-soluble vitamins are, and are easily lost through urination. The B vitamins and vitamin C are the water-soluble vitamins essential for life.

B Vitamins

The B-complex vitamin consists of thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, pyridoxine (B6), folate, cobalamin (B12), biotin, and pantothenic acid. Healthy foods that contain these vitamins include:

  • Beef liver
  • Pork
  • Enriched rice
  • Whole grains
  • Yogurt
  • Fortified milk
  • Egg
  • Legumes
  • Poultry
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Spinach
  • Avocado
  • Fish
  • Sweet potato

Vitamin C

Whether forming or repairing red blood cells, producing collagen for connective tissue, keeping your gums healthy, healing cuts and wounds, or protecting you from infection, vitamin C is always at work. For this reason, the following healthy foods that contain vitamin C should be sought after and consumed as often as possible:

  • Citrus fruits including oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons, limes
  • Tomatoes
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Melons
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Guava
  • Papaya
  • Berries including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries

How to Include Vitamin-rich Foods

As you may see from the lists, most healthy foods will provide all the vitamins your body needs for great health and well-being. By nourishing yourself with a variety of foods in appropriate amounts, not too small and not too much, your vitamin needs will be satisfied. Many fortified foods, such as breads, dairy products, cereals, and fruit juices, have added vitamins to also provide you with substantial amounts of the micronutrients. Reading food labels is worth getting in the habit of doing, as is eating the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet with a dash of white from dairy and a dash of brown tones from whole grains, nuts, seeds, and heart-healthy oils.

Vitamins in Healthy Food