If your body is a temple, nutrients are the groundskeepers—working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure smooth operation. The human body needs 13 essential vitamins to keep you running in great shape.
Most people know that they need to eat a balanced diet to stay healthy. When it comes to essential vitamins, however, they’re hard-pressed to even name all 13. Understanding which vitamins are essential will help you fine-tune your diet. It’s time to get familiar with vitamins A, C, D, E, K, as well as thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12).
Here’s a guide to the 13 essential vitamins and how they can help you:
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A is essential for cell development and growth. It also supports your vision and immune system, and supports your heart, kidneys and lungs. You can find vitamin A in foods like organ meats (particularly chicken and beef liver), eggs, carrots, sweet potatoes and more.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant (ascorbic acid). Antioxidants target free radicals in your system and can prevent diseases like cancer. This vitamin also supports the immune system and can help you absorb iron. Find vitamin C in citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi and red pepper.
- Vitamin D: If you spend a lot of time indoors, you’re probably not getting your recommended dose of vitamin D each day. This vitamin, which is produced when your body absorbs sunlight, can also be found in certain foods like fish, mushrooms and fortified dairy products. It helps your body absorb calcium and can help regulate mood.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that supports your immune system, targets free radicals and helps with blood cell production. You can find it in dark leafy greens like spinach, nuts, sunflower seeds and many plant-based oils.
- Vitamin K: This vitamin is responsible for blood clotting processes and healthy bones. To ensure that your body has everything it needs to heal quickly, get vitamin K from meat, cheese, yogurt and broccoli.
- Thiamine (B1): Thiamine is critical to nerve function, but it also supports skin, hair and muscle health. You can find it in foods like meat, whole grains, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds. You may also see it in fortified bread and cereal.
- Riboflavin (B2): Riboflavin helps your body convert food into fuel. It’s critical for metabolism health, and you can get your daily dose in milk, organ meat, eggs and dark green vegetables.
- Niacin (B3): Niacin also helps convert food into energy, but it also supports growth and development in your cells. Find it in poultry, beef, pork, grains, legumes and fortified foods.
- Pantothenic acid (B5): This vitamin is also responsible for converting food into fuel, but it specifically breaks down fats. It’s found in mushrooms, beef, poultry, seafood, avocadoes, potatoes, broccoli and more.
- Pyridoxine (B6): Pyridoxine metabolizes proteins and carbohydrates, as well as supports synthesis of red blood cells and nerve function. In addition to meat, fish and poultry, you can find it in bananas, cereals, soybeans, potatoes and green leafy vegetables.
- Biotin (B7): Biotin is essential for healthy bones and hair. Like the rest of the B vitamins, it helps support your metabolism and convert food into energy. Many people take biotin to improve their hair and nail growth. Eggs, seeds, nuts, whole grain, fish, sweet potatoes, spinach and broccoli are good sources.
- Folate (B9): Folate or folic acid is important for making DNA, RNA and red blood cells. It synthesizes some amino acids and helps prevent birth defects. Pregnant people are especially encouraged to get plenty of folate. Find it in orange juice, avocados, legumes, liver, yeast, leafy green vegetables and even fortified flour.
- Cobalamin (B12): Finally, cobalamin supports DNA and RNA production as well as nerve function. It’s available in all animal products, such as meat and dairy.
These 13 essential vitamins can be found in the foods mentioned. If you have a more restrictive diet, suffer from food intolerances or are vegan/vegetarian, you may need to get some of these vitamins from a supplement.
Adult men and women have different nutritional needs, so be sure to consult your doctor to find the right daily allowance for your height, weight, age and other considerations. They will also be able to recommend reliable supplements that contain each of these 13 essential vitamins.