Mind & Body

There Are 13 Essential Vitamins. Here's How to Get Them

As much as you may love potato chips, you know you can't survive on them for the rest of your life. Beyond just plain getting sick of them, these beloved salty crisps won't give you the vitamins you need to live a long, healthy, happy life. Sure, maybe that's obvious. The actual functions of the essential vitamins in question, however, are probably a little hazier.

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Very Vital

Vitamins are necessary for normal cell function, growth, and development. And we're not talking about those chalky Flintstones chews you had as a kid. Unless you have a condition that prevents it, a healthy diet will provide you with the 13 essential vitamins you need to survive. Vitamins are one of four groups of essential nutrients you need, the others being minerals, essential fatty acids, and essential amino acids. As far as essential vitamins, those fall into two categories:

Fat-soluble vitamins. These, which include vitamins A, D, E, and K, are stored in the body's fatty tissue. They're absorbed more easily in the presence of dietary fat.

Water-soluble vitamins. The body must use these nine vitamins right away since any leftover water-soluble vitamins will get flushed out through the urine. Vitamin B12 is the only one in this group that can be stored in the liver for years.

Break It Down

The two vitamin groups comprise 13 essential vitamins. And like a sports team, they all have different roles in achieving one common goal: a healthy you. Here are the players, and exactly what they do:

Vitamin A

It helps to form and maintain healthy teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucous membranes, and skin.

How to get it: dark leafy greens, dark-colored fruits, egg yolks, fortified dairy products (some cheese, yogurts, butters, and creams — check the label), liver, fish, beef.

Vitamin B6

Also called pyridoxine, it helps form red blood cells and maintain brain function.

How to get it: avocado, bananas, legumes, poultry, meats, nuts, whole grains.

Vitamin B12

Like the other B vitamins, it's important for metabolism and helps form red blood cells and maintain the central nervous system.

How to get it: eggs, meat, milk, organ meats (especially liver and kidney), shellfish, poultry, fortified foods (like soy milk).

Vitamin C

Also called ascorbic acid, it's an antioxidant that promotes healthy teeth and gums, as well as wound healing. It helps the body absorb iron and maintain healthy tissue.

How to get it: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, citrus fruit, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, strawberries.

Vitamin D

It helps the body absorb calcium, which you need for the normal development and maintenance of healthy teeth and bones.

How to get it: your body (humans produce it in response to sunlight), fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel), fish liver oils, fortified dairy products and cereals.

Vitamin E

It's an antioxidant also known as tocopherol that helps the body form red blood cells and use vitamin K.

How to get it: avocado, dark-green veggies (spinach, asparagus, broccoli), oils (safflower, corn, sunflower), papaya, mango, seeds, nuts, wheat germ.

Vitamin K

It helps the blood coagulate, and may be important for bone health.

How to get it: cabbage, cauliflower, dark-green veggies (broccoli, asparagus, Brussel sprouts), dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards), fish, liver, beef, eggs.


It's essential for the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates, and in the production of hormones and cholesterol.

How to get it: egg yolks, legumes, milk, nuts, organ meats (especially liver and kidney), pork, yeast, chocolate, cereals.

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

It's a B vitamin that helps maintain healthy skin and nerves. It also has cholesterol-lowering effects at higher doses.

How to get it: eggs, avocado, fish (especially tuna and other saltwater fish), legumes, nuts, potatoes, poultry, fortified cereals and breads.


It works with vitamin B12 to help form red blood cells. It is needed for the production of DNA, which controls tissue growth and cell function.

How to get it: asparagus, broccoli, beets, dried beans (pinto, navy, kidney, lima), leafy greens (spinach, romaine), oranges, lentils, peanut butter, brewer's yeast, fortified cereals, wheat germ.

Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)

It's essential for the metabolism of food and plays a role in the production of hormones and cholesterol.

How to get it: avocado, kale, broccoli, eggs, legumes, lentils, mushrooms, organ meats, poultry, sweet potatoes, whole-grain cereal, milk.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

It works with the other B vitamins to promote growth and the production of red blood cells.

How to get it: eggs, organ meats, lean meats, milk, green vegetables, fortified grains and cereals.

Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

It helps your cells change carbohydrates into energy.

How to get it: eggs, lean meats, nuts, seeds, legumes, organ meats, peas, whole grains.

Less Is More

Don't let all this vitamin talk get you too amped up on supplements and pills. You most likely don't need to be taking a multivitamin or vitamin supplements at all if you're a thoughtful grocery shopper, according to studies. In fact, when it comes to vitamins and minerals, too much of a good thing can be very bad. Loading up on vitamins can quickly build up to toxic levels of the stuff in your body. According to MedlinePlus, "The best way to get all the daily vitamins you need is to eat a balanced diet that contains a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, fortified dairy foods, legumes (dried beans), lentils, and whole grains."

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Written by Joanie Faletto June 19, 2018

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