There are 13 essential vitamins. Some are fat-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, K) while others are water-soluble (vitamin C and B-group). They work in concert with essential minerals (calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, sulfur) and trace elements (chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, zinc).
Vitamins are found in foods that contain the macro-nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), but vitamins are not responsible for any of the calories. Vitamins do not provide energy, but they do enable all the chemical processes our bodies need to function properly. They play a crucial role in metabolising the foods we eat, supporting our immune system, regulating our cardiovascular system, and maintaining a healthy nervous system. We need vitamins to stay alive.
Foods containing water-soluble vitamins should be eaten every day, as the body can only store very small amounts.
- B1 (thiamine): Yeast, pork, cereal grains, sunflower seeds, brown rice, whole-grain rye, asparagus, kale, cauliflower, potatoes, oranges, liver, and eggs.
- B2 (riboflavin): Asparagus, bananas, persimmons, okra, silverbeet, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, milk, yoghurt, steak, eggs, fish, oysters, and green beans.
- B3 (niacin): Tuna, beef liver, heart, kidney, chicken, beef, milk, eggs, avocados, dates, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, nuts, wholegrains, legumes, mushrooms, and brewer’s yeast.
- B5 (pantothenic acid): Egg yolk, liver, kidney, yeast, meats, wholegrains, broccoli, avocados, royal jelly, and fish eggs.
- B6 (pyridoxine): Chickpeas, streak, navy beans, liver, tuna, salmon, chicken breast, bananas, cottage cheese.
- B7 (biotin): Egg yolk, liver, salmon, spinach, broccoli, yoghurt.
- B9 (folic acid): Leafy green vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, endamame), asparagus, spinach, broccoli, avocado, mangoes, lettuce, sweet corn, liver, baker’s yeast, sunflower seeds, oranges and other citrus.
- B12 (cyanocobalamin): Fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and dairy products, some fortified soy products.
- C (ascorbic acid): Guavas, capsicum, kiwifruit, strawberries, oranges, papayas, broccoli, tomatoes, kale, eggplant, and snow peas. NB: Vitamin C is an antioxidant. It can be destroyed by cooking or by exposing cut fruit to the air. To retain the vitamin C, these fruits are best eaten raw and the vegetables lightly steamed. NB: Fresh juice should be refrigerated and consumed within a few hours, as vitamin content will diminish quickly after exposure to oxygen in the air.
Foods containing fat-soluble vitamins are not needed every day if our usual diet is well balanced, because our bodies can store these in our liver and fat cells. Furthermore, fat-soluble vitamins are not affected by heat or processing, so you can cook these foods any way you like and add them to your favourite dishes. You only need to think about ‘eating the rainbow’ by including different colours of fruit and vegetables to ensure a good mix of vitamins.
- A (retinol, carotenoids): Liver, cod liver oil, carrots, broccoli, sweet potato, butter, kale, spinach, pumpkin, some cheeses, egg, apricot, cantaloupe melon, and milk.
- D (ergocalciferol): Fatty fish, eggs, beef liver, mushrooms. But 15 minutes of daily exposure to sunlight on the skin can produce enough vitamin D.
- E (tocopherols): Kiwi fruit, almonds, avocado, eggs, milk, nuts, leafy green vegetables, unheated vegetable oils, wheat germ, and wholegrains.
- K (phylloquinone): Leafy green vegetables, avocado, kiwi fruit, eggplant. Parsley contains a lot of vitamin K.