Maybe you’ve noticed a lack of oomph as you go through your day. Perhaps you’ve ordered delivery (again) and realized you’re not exactly sure of the last time you ate a vegetable. No judgment — but making sure you’re getting a regular dose of the vitamin alphabet is a good way to feel your best.
Important note: As much as we care about you, we don’t know you personally and can’t offer proper medical advice. If you have any doubts about your health or you’re worried you aren’t getting the nutrition you need, please see a doctor. They’ll be able to answer your specific questions and help you put a wellness plan in place.
How many vitamins are there?
Your body relies on 13 essential vitamins to grow and function properly. Vitamins play different roles in your body. You can get most vitamins in pill form, but it’s generally preferable to get your daily dose through whole foods or — in the case of vitamin D — from time in the sun.
If you’re low on a particular vitamin, you may eventually notice signs of deficiency. Here are the vitamins you need, what they do for you, how to spot a deficiency, and how to incorporate them into your diet.
If you’re a skincare fanatic, you might know vitamin A by one of its aliases, retinol. Vitamin A is essential for cell growth, vision, immunity, and reproductive health, among other things.
Vitamin A deficiency could lead to the following complications:
- Trouble seeing in the dark (an early sign of deficiency)
- Dry or scaly skin
- Vision problems, including blindness
- Growth problems in children
The good news is vitamin A deficiency is rare in the U.S. — partly because many widely available foods are rich in vitamin A:
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach
- Orange or yellow produce like cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potato
Thanks to its infection-controlling powers, Vitamin C is everyone’s go-to when they’re feeling under the weather. It also helps your body absorb iron, make collagen (hey there, youthful skin), and produce certain hormones.
If you’re deficient in vitamin C, you might experience some of these symptoms:
- Anemia (due to your body having a more difficult time absorbing iron)
- Increased vulnerability to infection
- Hair loss
Vitamin C deficiency is rare because it’s easier to megadose. Citrus fruit, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and more are loaded with vitamin C. A single kiwi gets you more than 70% of the way to your daily recommendation. Make sure you regularly incorporate these foods into your diet, and you’ll be good to go.
Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and healthy bone growth. While it doesn’t occur naturally in many foods, sunlight is its most plentiful natural source.
Over 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have vitamin D deficiency. A lack of vitamin D can lead to the following issues:
- Muscle aches or cramps
- Bone aches
- Mood symptoms like depression
- Or, possibly no symptoms at all
Add foods fortified with vitamin D to your diet or spend more time in direct sunlight to avoid deficiency. Supplements are also available over the counter or with a prescription (but be sure to talk to your doctor before adding supplements to your routine).
Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant. It helps protect cells against damage, boosts your immune system, widens blood vessels, and keeps cells functioning smoothly.
Vitamin E deficiency may lead to symptoms or issues, such as:
- Nerve and muscle damage
- Muscle weakness
- Vision problems
- Weakened immune system
Certain conditions, like Crohn’s or cystic fibrosis, can be linked with vitamin E deficiency. To add more vitamin E to your diet, eat more peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, broccoli, spinach, sunflower oil, safflower oil, fortified cereals, and more.
Vitamin K plays a crucial role in healthy blood clotting. If you have kids, you’ve probably heard doctors recommend a dose of vitamin K for newborns to ensure their blood clots effectively.
The most important sign of vitamin K deficiency is excessive bleeding. Although rare in adults, deficiency may occur more frequently in newborns and babies because not much vitamin K crosses through the placenta or breast milk.
Good sources of vitamin K include eggs, soybeans, spinach, and broccoli (we’re starting to understand why our parents and doctors hype these up so much).
The B vitamin family includes the following:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Pantothenic acid
- Folic acid
These vitamins work together to help you convert the food you eat into energy. They also help maintain healthy blood and brain cells and are part of complex workings to help your systems function properly.
Different vitamin B deficiencies can lead to various health conditions. For example, a lack of vitamin B1 can lead to beriberi, and a lack of niacin can cause a condition called pellagra.
Deficiency in various forms of vitamin B can present symptoms, such as:
- Weight loss
- Confusion or depression
- Swollen cracked lips
- Sores or cracks at the corner of the mouth
- Sore throat
- Hair loss
- Heart palpitations
- Nerve symptoms like numbness or tingling
Mental changes, anemia, weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness, or tiredness are common symptoms for multiple types of vitamin B deficiency. This makes sense because these vitamins work together to give you energy, so they can cause similar issues if you don’t have enough in your system. Other symptoms may be more specific to particular vitamin types.
You can usually get the necessary range of B vitamins from your diet, either through fortified foods or foods that are naturally rich in various types of vitamin B. Some exceptions could be if you have any of these conditions:
- Crohn’s disease.
- Celiac disease.
- Other conditions affecting the small intestine.
- Certain immune disorders.
- Severe morning sickness (it can make it difficult to get all your nutrients and the demands of supporting a pregnancy or infant call for more vitamins than usual)
If you need to up your intake of vitamin B, you’ll want to resort to black beans, lentils, eggs, citrus fruits, asparagus, meat, poultry, fish, and other foods fortified with a range of B vitamins (like many kinds of cereal).
From (Vitamin) A to Zinc
Even though the actual amount of vitamin you consume is tiny (daily doses are measured in micrograms or milligrams), these nutrients play a powerful role in keeping your body healthy and functioning. Enjoying a wide range of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and certain meats is a great way to boost your nutrition and vitamin intake. If you’re feeling off, talk to a doctor. A medical professional can help you take specific steps to identify any vitamins you may be missing (or minerals, like iron and zinc, but that’s a whole other topic!).