Ask the Expert: Your Guide to Essential Vitamins

by Melissa Chichester

Understanding the array of vitamins in the nutritional alphabet can be challenging. 

Whether it’s understanding how Vitamin C supports immune health or Vitamin D’s role in bone health, knowing these nutrients can help you make healthy decisions for yourself and your family. 

We asked the Puritan’s Pride Manager of Nutrition & Scientific Affairs, Cory Davidson to answer some frequently asked questions about some of the most talked-about essential vitamins and where to find them. 

What are “essential” vitamins? 

You may see vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients labeled as “essential” or “non-essential.”

An “essential” nutrient is one your body needs to live but can’t make on its own.

A “non-essential” nutrient can be made in sufficient amounts by the human body. However, they aren’t “non-essential” in a classical sense. They are still important for health and wellness. 

For example, there are nine essential amino acids: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, tryptophan, methionine, phenylalanine, histidine, threonine, and valine. Because they can’t be made by the body (or are only made in limited amounts), they must be consumed in the diet. On the other hand, there are 11 non-essential amino acids. 

Some nutrients may be labeled as “conditionally essential.” This means they’re not usually essential, but might be during stressful times or while experiencing a certain illness. 

How many essential vitamins are there?

There are 13 essential vitamins: Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate).

B-complex vitamins and Vitamin C are water-soluble. This means they dissolve easily in water. 

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning they are absorbed with fats in the diet. 

What does Vitamin A do?

Vitamin A is a generic term that refers to fat-soluble compounds found as preformed vitamin A (retinol) or as provitamin A carotenoids in fruit and vegetables. It is an essential nutrient and can be found in a ready-to-use form in animal food. 

Beta carotene from plant sources serves as the precursor of vitamin A.  

Beta carotene converts to Vitamin A inside of the body to support eye health.** 

I live in a northern environment without a lot of sunlight. How can I get enough Vitamin D?

Vitamin D plays a role in immune health and bone health and assists with calcium absorption.** Sunlight is necessary to make Vitamin D, which isn’t always easy for people living in climates that have long, dark winters. 

>>How to Get Enough Vitamin D in the Winter

There are many ways to get Vitamin D, such as using special sunlamps and eating Vitamin D-rich foods.

Why are there so many B vitamins in one group?

Not all B vitamins were discovered at the same time. In their initial study, thiamin was discovered first (also known as Vitamin B1). Vitamin B-1 helps maintain nervous system health and supports energy metabolism.**

As research and time progressed, more and more connections and distinctions were made between these vitamins. This is why the current B complex group exists today. 

Does Vitamin B-12 really support energy?

Vitamin B-12 is a popular supplement for energy metabolism, but many people wonder if taking it will give them an energy boost similar to drinking a cup of coffee. B-12 actually works in a different way, as it supports the normal metabolism of energy within your cells.

Therefore, you should not expect to feel a rush of energy as you may get with a typical energy drink. Instead, B-12 provides daily support to help your body continue to convert the food you eat into cellular energy.

Vitamin B-12 supports energy metabolism.** It is also essential for the normal formation of blood cells, contributes to the health of the nervous system, and helps maintain circulatory health.** 

If you want to support energy metabolism, you can add Vitamin B-12 to your Personalized Vitamin Pack. 

Does cooking destroy Vitamin C?

Both heat and light can break down Vitamin C. Cooking foods at high temperatures can reduce the Vitamin C content. This is why it is recommended to consume a good amount of Vitamin C in raw foods, such as fruits and leafy greens. Vitamin C can be preserved with some cooking methods, such as blanching, steaming, and stir-frying. 

In 2018, one study found that “steaming and microwaving retained higher concentrations of vitamin C than boiling.” The same study also reported that shorter cooking periods will retain the nutrient. 

This is important because Vitamin C helps neutralize cell-damaging free radicals in cells and supports immune health.** Vitamin C is also necessary for the production of collagen, an important type of connective tissue.** 

How can I make sure I’m getting the essential nutrients I need?

I know 13 essential nutrients may seem like a lot to think about. You also need to consume other vitamins and minerals for good health. However, you are likely consuming a decent amount of most of these nutrients through your diet daily and may not even know it. 

To make sure you’re getting the essential nutrients you need, you can:

  • Eat the rainbow of fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens 
  • Ask your doctor for specific blood tests if you’re concerned about your levels 
  • Consider a multivitamin to fill in any gaps

It’s also important to note that your needs are likely to change throughout your lifetime. This is why it is so important to work with your doctor on the quest to achieve peak health. 

** These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.