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Do you catch a cold often? Have you been noticing cold sores on your lips every few months? Does your hair appear lifeless and do your nails turn brittle? Or do you keep observing unexplained bruises or fractures? If yes, then this means that you are suffering from vitamin deficiency.

Vitamins: An Overview

Vitamins are very important to carry out essential body functions without a problem. They help in digestion, metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. These complex organic molecules also help build strong bones, teeth and healthy skin.

What do Vitamins Do for the Body?

There are two types of vitamins in our body. These include fat soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins. The group of fat soluble vitamins are stored in our body. Thus, it is okay if one does not include these vitamins in the daily diet everyday. The water-soluble vitamins are soluble in water and are not stored in the body fat. Thus, one needs to include these vitamins at least 2 to 3 times a week in their diet. Let's have a look at why vitamins are needed in our diet according to these two groups.

Fat Soluble Vitamins
Fat soluble vitamins include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K. Let us go into the details of their uses and food sources in the paragraphs below.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is very important for the growth and repair within the body. It helps in formation of bones and tissues. If you crave for a healthy, smooth skin, vitamin A should be included in your diet. Those suffering from night blindness will be benefited by more of vitamin A in their diet. It is also an antioxidant that helps in protecting the body cells from the effects of free radicals. This vitamin also helps in building a strong immune system.

Where Do We Get It?
As it is a fat soluble vitamin, it is stored in the liver. Thus, it is found in livers of other animals in form of retinol. Eggs, fish, butter and milk also contain retinol. The plant derivative of vitamin A is called beta-carotene. Thus, one should eat plenty of vegetables containing beta-carotene like carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, etc.

Vitamin D
The most important vitamin for a growing child is vitamin D. It is very essential for bone growth and maintenance of healthy and strong bones. It also helps in development of strong teeth. Deficiency of vitamin D can cause rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. Other essential functions of vitamin D include suppression of autoimmune disorders as well as controlling and balancing our moods.

Where Do We Get It?
The best source of vitamin D is early morning sunlight. The rays from the sun help our skin produce vitamin D in our body. Animal sources of vitamin D include fish, liver, fortified breakfast cereals, margarine, baby mild formula and eggs. In plants, the only source of vitamin D includes mushrooms.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E helps in maintenance of healthy cells, tissues and growth of the body. It also helps in proper functioning of eyes, liver and skin. Lungs are protected from external damage due to air pollution with the help of vitamin E. Apart from this, vitamin E helps in protection of cell membranes, prevents enzymes and DNA from damage and forbids premature aging. It is a very important vitamin as it functions as an antiblood clotting agent.

Where Do We Get It?
Vitamin E is easily available in nuts and seeds. Olive oil and corn oil too contain vitamin E. One should also eat green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, egg yolks, wheat and oats for intake of this vitamin in their diet.

Vitamin K
Vitamin K is very important for helping the blood clot in time. Any injury or bleeding heals in time, due to the presence of vitamin K. It is also very important for formation of bones and kidney tissues.

Where Do We Get It?
Vitamin K can be included in diet by eating green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli, cereals, cheese and vegetable oil. Milk and yogurt also contain a fair amount of vitamin K.

Water Soluble Vitamins
Moving on with what do vitamins do for the body, we shall have a look at the functions of water-soluble vitamins. These vitamins cannot be stored in our body and are eliminated from the body through urine. Hence, our body requires an incessant supply of water-soluble vitamins in our diet. These vitamins and their uses include:

Vitamin C
The most powerful antioxidant is vitamin C. It helps in increasing the immunity of the body and prevents recurrence of infections such as common colds. It is used for production of collagen that helps build healthy skin, joint cartilage and hair. Vitamin C also helps in improving the iron uptake in the body as well as blood cells. Vitamin C helps in healing wounds, regulation of blood pressure as well as reduction of cholesterol levels in the body.

Where Do We Get It?
Vitamin C is easily available in different types of vegetables and fruits, especially citrus fruits. You should eat sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, peppers, guavas, cranberries, oranges, kiwis, etc. to get your daily dose of vitamin C.

Vitamin B1
Thiamin (vitamin B1) is very important for the metabolism of carbohydrates into energy. It helps in strengthening of the immune system. Thiamin also improves the body's capacity to function and withstand stressful conditions.

Where Do We Get It?
The food sources of vitamin B1 include whole grain cereals, rice, legumes, bran, wheat germ, yeast, blackstrap molasses, organ meat, etc.

Vitamin B2
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) helps convert glucose to energy. It also works as an antioxidant and gets rid of free radicals. Riboflavin helps the body convert vitamin B6 and folate into their active forms. Another important function includes growth and production of red blood cells.

Where Do We Get It?
Vitamin B2 can be included in diet by consumption of almonds, organ meats, whole grains, mushrooms, soybeans, yogurt, eggs, broccoli, spinach, milk, etc.

Vitamin B3
Niacin or vitamin B3 helps in metabolism of cholesterol. Thus, it helps in lowering the chances of developing heart diseases.

Where Do We Get It?
Niacin can be included in diet by consuming wheat, flour, eggs, milk, beef, chicken, etc.

Vitamin B5
Pantothenic acid or vitamin B5 helps in metabolism and production of energy within the cells.

Where Do We Get It?
One needs to eat chicken, beef, potatoes, tomatoes, wholemeal bread, brown rice, broccoli, organ meats, etc. to get vitamin B5.

Vitamin B6
Metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates is carried out by pyridoxine (vitamin B6). It is very important for synthesis of serotonin and norepinephrine for formation of myelin.

Where Do We Get It?
The major food sources of vitamin B6 include cereals, legumes, carrots, spinach, peas, potatoes, milk, cheese, eggs, meat, liver and fish.

Vitamin B9
Folate or folic acid is required for cell division, production of red blood cells and prevention of neural tube defects during pregnancy. It helps in production of DNA and RNA, proper brain functioning and maintenance of balanced emotional and mental health.

Where Do We Get It?
Natural sources of vitamin B9 or folic acid include broccoli, spinach, cereals, chickpeas, brown rice, oranges, bananas, yeast extract, etc.

Vitamin B12
Cobalamin or vitamin B12 helps in production of red blood cells, cell division and proper functioning of the nerves.

Where Do We Get It?
It is found in milk, cheese, eggs, shellfish, dairy products, yeast extracts, etc. Plant sources for this vitamin are not available as this vitamin is not stored in plant cells.

From the above uses, you must have understood why do we need vitamins in our diet. Without vitamins, most of the basic cellular functions in our body will come to an abrupt halt. This will cause a lot of health problems and complications. So, the next time you are asked to eat your veggies, do not plucker your nose. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and include animal protein as well as dairy products in your diet. Vitamins help make a whole lot of difference for a healthy body as well as mind.