What do vitamins do? | BBC Good Food

Water-soluble vitamins: As their name suggests, these dissolve in water and include vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, biotin and folate. They only remain in the body for a short time before being excreted by the kidneys (apart from B12 which may be stored in the liver), which means we need a regular intake. When we cook foods that contain these vitamins, we need to consider the cooking method we use because some vitamins may be lost in the cooking liquid.

Fat-soluble vitamins: These are best eaten with some fat or oil because they are absorbed with fat through the intestine. Any of the vitamins not needed are stored in the liver for future use. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K.

Which vitamins should I supplement?

For most of us, a balanced, varied diet should provide all the vitamins we need, with the potential exception of one – vitamin D. Approximately 60-70% of the UK adult population have insufficient levels of vitamin D during the winter and spring, and 16% of us are considered deficient. For this reason, the UK government recommends everyone, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement containing 10 micrograms during the autumn and winter months (October to March).

The UK government also recommends that all children from the age of six months to five years be given a vitamin supplement containing vitamins A, C as well as D every day.

Speak to your GP or healthcare provider if you are concerned about nutritional deficiencies, or are considering taking a supplement.

Find out more about healthy eating including what supplements should I take?

Follow our expert guide on the vital vitamins we all need:

1. Vitamins for immunity

Strawberry green goddess smoothie with a straw

Certain nutrients help support our immune system – vitamin C is a well-known example, as it may help prevent illness as well as give your body the strength to fight colds and flu, especially if you’re already physically stressed.

Citrus fruits are a fabulous source but you can also top up with berries, tomatoes, bell peppers and green vegetables.

The next time your defences are down try our tomato penne with avocado or our health-packed strawberry green goddess smoothie.

2. Vitamins for skin and hair

Indian chickpeas with poached eggs in a white bowl

If your locks look limp and your skin lacks radiance then you could be deficient in key vitamins such as vitamins B2 and B6. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with these vitamins because they are important for our general health as well as for healthy skin, hair and nails.

Other good sources include milk, cheese, fish and vegetables. Vitamin D is also important for healthy hair growth and helps minimise hair loss.

Get a good dose of B vitamins with our Indian-inspired chickpeas with poached eggs or our haddock and spinach cheese melt.

3. Vitamins for energy

Minty griddled chicken & peach salad on a white plate

Fatigue can be a sign that your body is lacking essential vitamins and, after just a few days of eating well, you may find a renewed spring in your step.

Being low in vitamins including folate and other B vitamins as well as vitamin C may leave you feeling lethargic and tired. Focus on getting these key nutrients in your diet with energy-boosting recipes such as our minty griddled chicken and peach salad, which also hits all of your five-a-day.

4. Vitamins to lift your mood

Sesame salmon and broccoli with sweet potato mash on a plate

If you’ve lost your sparkle and you experience mood swings you may be low in vitamin D. We produce most of our vitamin D from the action of sunlight on the skin – this means during the winter months with little sun and very few food sources, it’s easy to be low in this mood-boosting vitamin.

That said, it’s not just the feel-good factor that makes this vitamin so important. Vitamin D plays numerous roles in the body including helping to keep our bones strong, support our immunity and even regulate our sleep.

The best food sources are oily varieties of fish such as mackerel, salmon and trout as well as eggs and mushrooms.

Try our sardines with Sicilian fennel salad, sesame salmon with purple sprouting broccoli and sweet potato mash and our baked eggs with beans, mushrooms, tarragon and crème fraîche.

5. Vitamins for kids

It’s important for children to eat a wide and varied diet to make sure they’re getting all the energy and nutrients they need to grow and develop. In addition to a balanced diet the UK government recommends all children aged six months to five years are given a daily supplement containing vitamins A, C and D.

Support your child’s health with our healthy kid-friendly recipes.

6. Vitamins for a reset

Guilty of over-doing things? Repair rather than despair by replenishing vitamins that may be depleted by one too many late nights.

Too much alcohol can affect how we absorb certain nutrients, including vitamin B1, B2 and B6 – the result may be lack of focus and low energy. Egg yolks are a great source of the B group of vitamins so start the day with our poached egg, smashed avocado and tomatoes.

Find more practical tips with our expert guide on how to cure a hangover.

How to optimise your vitamin intake

Employing some savvy tricks may help enhance your vitamin uptake, so follow these easy tips:

  • Eat fruit, such as apples, with the skin intact
  • Prepare fruit and veg just before eating to prevent air and light reducing their vitamin content
  • Leave mushrooms out on your kitchen counter in full daylight to boost their vitamin D levels
  • Opt for frozen peas – they are often richer in vitamin C than the fresh equivalent
  • When boiling or steaming vegetables, save the cooking liquid to add to a sauce or soup
  • Cook fresh produce for shorter time periods – many vitamins are heat and light sensitive so levels are reduced by long, high temperature cooking
  • Enjoy a salad with an oil-based dressing to optimise your absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • If you are vegan or plant-based, choose fortified versions of plant milks and dairy alternatives these are enriched with vitamins like vitamin B12 and D

If you’re concerned your diet may not be sufficient for your needs consult your GP or a registered dietician.
Find out more about what vitamins and minerals do for you body at NHS Choices.

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All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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