Nutrition Basics, Part 3: Vitamins

When we're social distancing, it can be really hard to get an appointment with a Registered Dietitian or take a nutrition class. 

Everyone should have access to basic nutrition information to help them make informed decisions. 

Photo by Louis Hansel

In my Nutrition Basics blog series, I have already talked about the Macronutrients--carbohydrates, protein, and fat. I also singled out Omega-3s fats to discuss in more details. 

Today, I start to tackle the Micronutrients or nutrients we need in small amounts. You probably know them as Vitamins and Minerals

There is a lot to talk about, so I will focus on Vitamins for now...
Vitamins or "Vital Amines"
Vitamins are essential compounds that our bodies cannot make but that are naturally present in small amounts in foods. 

There are many vitamins and often multiple forms of each. To add to the confusion, they have scientific names in addition to their letter and number names. For example, you may have heard of Thiamin, which is vitamin B1. 

Fat-Soluble Vitamins
The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D2, D3, E, K1, K2, and K3. They are called fat soluble vitamins because they are better absorbed when taken with fat. This is one reason that it's important to eat fat, like butter or whole milk. 

These vitamins are also stored in fat in our bodies. Because these vitamins can be stored in our bodies, we do not have to eat them daily. That's why some people only take vitamin D3 once weekly. 

Add a little butter to your meal to help absorb Fat-Soluble Vitamins.
Photo by Jude Infantini.

Vitamin A can be found in fish, liver, milk, and eggs. Pre-formed vitamin A is not found in plants, but the carotenoids in plants can be converted into vitamin A by our bodies. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid found in orange plants, like mangos, pumpkin,  carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. Other carotenoids can be found in green veggies, like broccoli and spinach.

Photo by Maddy Baker
Vitamin D is unique because it can be made by our bodies in the right conditions. However, most of us do not get enough sunlight to make vitamin D. Vitamin D can be found in fortified foods, like milk or non-dairy milk substitutes. 

Vitamin K is found mostly in green vegetables. People on certain medications may be told to limit their intake of green leafy vegetables if vitamin K can interact with their medication. 

Photo by Dan Gold

Water-Soluble Vitamins
The Water-Soluble Vitamins include vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, and C. These do not need to be consumed with fat. They are not usually stored in the body, with the exception of vitamin B12.  

The B Vitamins often go by their names. In numerical order, they are thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folate or folic acid, and cyancobalamin or methycobalamin.

Water-Soluble Vitamins are often found in grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Often times, there is more than one present in a food. For example, kidney beans contain folate, riboflavin, and niacin.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryschenko

FAQ: Why Does the List of B Vitamins Skip Numbers?
It didn't always! In the past, there were many other compounds that were thought to be part of the B Vitamin family. However, as research evolved, scientists decided they weren't true vitamins. 

You may have heard of some of these by their names. For example, Choline was once called B4 and inositol was known as B8. 

Although they are no longer classified as vitamins, they can still play important roles in our bodies. Choline, for example, can be found in our cell membranes. It is also required to produce the neurotransmitters, which play a role in many things, such as appetite, memory, mood, sleep, hormones, temperature regulation and muscle function. 

Sources of choline include eggs, meat, fish, dairy, brussel sprouts, broccoli, peas, oats, and wheat bran. 

Photo by Jakub Kapusnak

FAQ: Should I Take a Multivitamin?
Probably. Most Americans don't get enough vitamins from food. People with some medical conditions and surgeries may also need more than the standard Recommended Daily Allowance for their age and gender. If you have kidney failure, for example, your physician can prescribe a renal mulitvitamin specific to your needs. 

Photo by Angel Sinigersky
Disclaimer: The information provided above is for educational purposes only. Please talk to your dietitian or another healthcare provider for individualized advice. To find a dietitian, visit

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The information provided in this blog is not intended to replace individualized medical advice provided by your own doctor, dietitian, or other healthcare professional.
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