Essential Vitamins: Roles & Functions in the Human Body and Common Food Sources

The following is a list of vitamins essential to human bodily functions, and foods that contain them in large to moderate amounts. Everyone needs all of these (some on a daily basis) in order to keep their bodies working properly. If you can not get some of these vitamins from diet alone, supplementation is necessary.

Vitamin A (Retinol or Beta Carotene)

Vitamin A plays a role in a variety of functions throughout the body, including: vision, immune function, embryonic development and reproduction, bone metabolism, skin and cellular health, and it is an antioxidant. Vitamin A bio-accumulates, which means it’s stored in your body (specifically your liver), so be careful with how much you eat, because it could lead to an overdose! Vitamin A can be found in:

  • Liver
  • Kidney
  • Eggs
  • Fish oil
  • Sweet Potato
  • Carrots
  • Leafy Greens
  • Winter Squash
  • Mango
  • Tomato
  • Red Bell Peppers
  • Paprika
  • Peaches
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce
  • Milk
  • Oatmeal
  • Green Peas

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Vitamin B1 is part of a group of vitamins known as ‘B-complex’ vitamins which all perform some of the same roles throughout your body, including energy production, helping the body use fats and protein, and helping the nervous system function properly. Don’t worry about an overdose on this – all B Vitamins are water soluble (dissolved in water) and they pass through your body on a daily basis (so you need to re-up every day). Vitamin B1 is responsible for carbohydrate metabolism, nerve cell function, red blood cell production, and regulating the flow of electrolytes in and out of muscle and nerve cells, among other things.

  • Tuna
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Pork Chops
  • Beans
  • Pecans
  • Dried Herbs
  • Veggie Burgers
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Lentils

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Vitamin B2, like B1, is responsible for carbohydrate metabolism and red blood cell function. It benefits the skin, hair, finger and toenails and the connective tissues, maintains the mucous membranes of the intestine, and it also plays an important role in maintaining supplies of its fellow B vitamins through various chemical reactions in the body.

  • Dairy Products
  • Mushrooms
  • Almonds
  • Soybeans
  • Spirulina
  • Leafy Greens
  • Spinach
  • Eggs

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Vitamin B3 helps the digestive system, skin, and nerves to function. It also helps synthesize cholesterol and fatty acids in the body and create red blood cells. Because part of the body’s B3 supply comes from conversion of the amino acid tryptophan, deficiency of tryptophan can also increase risk of vitamin B3 deficiency.

  • Mushrooms
  • Tuna and other fish
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Asparagus
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell Peppers
  • Summer Squash
  • Eggplant
  • Green Peas
  • Carrots
  • Cantaloupe
  • Peanuts
  • Spinach

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)

Vitamin B5 is critical to the manufacture of red blood cells, as well as sex and stress-related hormones produced in the adrenal glands. It is also important in maintaining a healthy digestive tract, and it helps the body use other vitamins, particularly B2. Your body also needs vitamin B5 to synthesize cholesterol.

  • Corn
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Lentils
  • Egg yolks
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Whole-grains
  • Lobster
  • Wheat Germ
  • Salmon

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Vitamin B6 is responsible for making antibodies, maintaining normal nerve function, making hemoglobin. (hemoglobin carries oxygen in the red blood cells to the tissues), breaking down proteins, and keeping blood sugar (glucose) in normal ranges.

  • Summer Squash
  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Bell Peppers
  • Turnip greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Raw Garlic
  • Peanuts and Peanut Butter
  • Tomatoes
  • Tuna
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower Seeds

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

Vitamin B9 is crucial for proper brain function and plays an important role in mental health. It aids in the production of DNA and RNA, helps make red blood cells, helps iron work properly in the body, and helps control blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine.

  • Spinach
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Whole Grains
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Salmon
  • Avocado
  • Milk
  • Broccoli
  • Flax Seeds

Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin)

Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and protein & DNA synthesis. Vitamin B12 also supports hormonal balancing and the central nervous system. Vegans and Vegetarians are prone to being deficient in this vitamin, as it’s natural sources are found in meats and animal products. If you are either of the above, I strongly recommend supplementing.

*It is important to note that there are two types of Vitamin B12: Methylcobalamin and Cyanocobalamin. Methylcobalamin is much, much better absorbed than cyanocobalamin. Cyano. is a synthetic B12 found in most supplements and does not occur in nature. Chemically, it has a cyanide compound (you don’t want that in your body, right?). When supplementing, make sure to opt for the Methyl. which is found in health food stores.

  • Clams
  • Shellfish
  • Meats
  • Eggs
  • Dairy

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

Vitamin C is one of the most well known antioxidants, acting as a reducing agent, donating electrons and preventing oxidation to keep iron and copper atoms in their reduced states. It also performs numerous physiological functions in the human body, including the synthesis of collagen, carnitine, and neurotransmitters; the synthesis of tyrosine; and the metabolism of microsome. Vitamin C is water soluble.

  • Papaya
  • Bell Peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Pineapple
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Kiwifruit
  • Oranges
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kale
  • Hot Chili Peppers
  • Parsley
  • Lemons
  • Cauliflower
  • Red Cabbage
  • Chili Powder
  • Spirulina
  • Black Currants

Vitamin D

Vitamin D acts as an immune system regulator, encourages the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous, regulates blood pressure, reduces stress and tension, relieves body aches and pains by reducing muscle spasms, reduces respiratory infections, helps in differentiation of the cells, aids in insulin secretion, helps fight depression, improves overall skin health by reducing wrinkles, makes skin soft, strong, and smooth, and improves cardiovascular strength by providing a protective lining for the blood vessels. The human body can synthesize Vitamin D from cholesterol with adequate sun exposure. It is stored in the tissues and liver, so be careful of potential overdose.

  • SUNSHINE IS THE NUMBER 1 SOURCE OF VITAMIN D!!!
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Ham
  • Mushrooms
  • Milk
  • Sausage
  • Tofu
  • Cheese

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is essential for fertility and reproduction in humans. It is a well known antioxidant protecting cells from oxidative damage. It is also involved in red blood cell formation & maintenance, prevents the breakdown of body tissues, and studies are showing that it may be able to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, preventing arterial blockages. It is stored in the tissues and liver, so be careful of potential overdose.

  • Almonds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Peanuts
  • Leafy Greens
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli
  • Parsley
  • Papaya
  • Olives
  • Pine Nuts
  • Spinach

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is known as the “blood clotting” vitamin. It also protects the heart and helps in bone formation. It is fat soluble and is stored in tissues and the liver, though overdose is rare.

  • Leafy Greens
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Onions
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Sauerkraut
  • Okra
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
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1 Comment

  1. Katie said,

    June 3, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Hi! I nominated you for the Sunshine Award!
    You can find the picture at http://realwomanshealth.wordpress.com/.
    Rules for the Sunshine Award:
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    Answer the questions that come with it.
    Pass it along to 10 people and let them know they have received it.
    Questions:
    Favorite Color
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    Favorite Non-alcoholic drink
    Facebook or Twitter
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