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What are essential vitamins and why are they good?

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Vitamins are a buzzword in the health world, however there are so many different types of vitamins it can be hard to know which ones you need for what function of the body. That’s why we’ve created an easy guide for you! Here are some of the most essential vitamins to get into your vegan diet and why they are good for us!

What are vitamins?

A vitamin is an essential micronutrient that our body needs in order to function properly. You can obtain vitamins naturally through a variety of foods including vegetables, fruits and grains. The vitamins we get from food are divided into two categories: fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat, which is why they’re stored in the liver instead of being immediately excreted from the body. Alternatively, water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and can be flushed out of your body quickly if you take too much at once.

Outside of your diet, you can also obtain vitamins through other natural sources like the sun. However, in a country like the UK where the sun likes to hide, it’s important to monitor your vitamin intake. If you are not getting enough vitamins naturally then there are modern solutions like vitamin tablets or drinks. Vitamin supplements can also be useful to those new to a vegan diet whilst you are learning where to get your vitamins from without meat.

What’s the difference between vitamins and minerals?

The main difference between vitamins and minerals is that vitamins are organic compounds that we obtain via plants, whereas minerals are inorganic compounds that come from the earth. Examples of minerals include calcium, potassium and iron which can be obtained through foods and have a wide number of health benefits which is why they often get clumped together with vitamins. However, all vitamins are considered essential for the body, whereas not all minerals are needed.

What vitamins do vegans need?

When switching to a vegan diet you need to ensure you’re still getting your essential vitamins after you stop eating certain foods. In particular, vegans need to ensure they are getting enough B12. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish and dairy products – the foods those on a plant-based diet don’t eat. However, there are some fortified foods like plant milks that have B12 added to it. You can also take B12 supplements to ensure you are getting enough of this vital vitamin into your body as a B12 deficiency could lead to health problems like anaemia.

Vegans also need to ensure they are getting enough Vitamin D because it is not found in many plant-based foods. However, we can gain Vitamin D naturally from sunlight which our skin absorbs and our bodies convert to the hormone calcitriol. This can help strengthen our bones, muscles and teeth, as well as help our bodies to regulate calcium and sulphate. The NHS recommends 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day which you can ensure you are getting by taking Vitamin D supplements during those grey winter months!

Read our blog on Natural Sources of Vitamin D to find out all of the other vegan sources of Vitamin D you can try!

Types of vitamins

Now you know the two main vitamins you have to keep on eye on as a vegan (B12 and Vitamin D), it’s time to learn about all the other incredible essential vitamins and why they are good for us:

1. Vitamin C – A fat-soluble vitamin which helps the body to build and repair tissue which is important for healing wounds and preventing infections. It’s also a great immune boosting vitamin which can have anti-inflammatory effects as well as help to fight infections. Some vitamin C sources include oranges, strawberries, grapefruit, potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, blackcurrants and papaya.

2. Vitamin E – Found in a wide variety of plant based foods like nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. It’s a great vitamin for skin health as it has antioxidant properties that can help to reduce the harmful effects of UV exposure and protect the damaged cells that are linked to ageing.

3. Vitamin A – There are two types of Vitamin A, Retinol which the body can use straight away, and Provitamin A which needs to be converted into Retinol before we can reap the benefits. Vitamin A is important for helping to keep your skin and eyes healthy, as well as keeping the immune system working well! You can find this essential vitamin in many different types of food like green leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach.

4. Vitamin K – Found in nutritious green vegetables like brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage. It’s important that our bodies get Vitamin K because it helps wounds to heal. This healing property can also help with the likes of bruising, stretch marks, scars and other skin conditions. Studies have also found that Vitamin K can be good for bone health by having a protective role. For example, some bone fractures have been linked to a Vitamin K deficiency.

5. Vitamin B – This group of water-soluble vitamins play an important role in cell metabolism as well as having a whole host of other benefits. There are many different types of Vitamin B which include:

  • Vitamin B1 or Thiamine which is great for our digestive system and metabolism. This is found mainly in wholegrains like oats and pasta, as well as nuts and pulses.
  • Vitamin B6 is found in nuts, chickpeas and tofu. It helps our bodies to release energy from food as well as keeping our skin healthy.
  • Folic acid is a man made version of Vitamin B9 that the NHS recommends taking during pregnancy because it can reduce the risk of birth defects.

There you have it – a guide to essential vitamins that our bodies need to keep healthy! Although most of us naturally get a good amount of vitamins by eating a balanced and varied diet, it’s important to note which vitamin is good for what so that you can listen to your body if it’s signalling that you might need to up your intake. Of course, always listen to the NHS recommended daily amounts to ensure you don’t have too much of a good thing!

For even more useful articles checkout our Guide To Vegan Calcium Sources and Immune Boosting Foods. Or for more delicious vegan foods to add to your diet be sure to pick up a nākd. bar today!

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