There was a time in my life when you could open up one of my kitchen cabinets and find all sorts of vitamins and supplements in a bottle. I would take Vitamin B-12 for this, Vitamin C for that, Vitamin E for something else, the list went on. I spent an insane amount of money on health supplements – until finally I just came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t sure why I was taking any of them at all. I knew it was good for me to take them if I was deficient in any of them, but were they all really necessary? Should I have taken them for that length of time? Could I just get the vitamins from the real stuff instead?

With so much information overload from one study done at this institution, another study conducted by a famous doctor or the next study proving something in rats, it really is difficult to know what is right for each individual. In order to help you make that decision, here is a breakdown of vitamins, their (natural) sources and how you can identify if you are deficient in any of them.

Keep in mind that vitamins and other health supplements are exactly that, supplements, and they should not replace a balanced diet of real, whole foods and some outdoor fresh air and old fashioned time in the sun. Of course, everyone´s needs are different and based on their health and lifestyle, so before making any decisions, make sure you consult with your doctor.

Vitamin: A

Why you need it: it is important for normal vision, reproduction and your immune system. It helps many organs, such as your heart, kidney and lungs to work properly.

Natural sources:

  • Beef liver and other organ meats (but these foods are also high in cholesterol, so limit the amount you eat).
  • Some types of fish, such as salmon.
  • Green leafy vegetables and other green, orange, and yellow vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, and squash.
  • Fruits, including cantaloupe, apricots, papaya and mangos. (Notice these are mostly orange fruits)

Signs of deficiency: inability to see in low light, changes in skin and teeth

Vitamin: B1 (Thiamin)

Why you need it: plays a critical role in energy metabolism and is vital for the normal functioning of all body cells, especially nerves. Helps the body break down carbs, protein and fat for energy.

Natural sources:

  • People get thiamin from many different foods, including oysters, green peas, brewer´s yeast, oranges, peanuts and peanut butter. As well as lean meats, dried beans and soy foods, and whole grains like wheat germ.

Signs of deficiency: GI problems such as nausea and weakness, loss of appetite and weight loss and fatigue. Extreme cases can include mental confusion and paralysis of the extremities.

Vitamin: B2 (Riboflavin)

Why you need it: Riboflavin is essential for growth, turning carbohydrates into energy, and producing red blood cells.

Natural sources:

  • Eggs, organ meats (kidney and liver), lean meats
  • Milk and milk products
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Whole-grain, enriched breads and cereals

Signs of deficiency: Riboflavin deficiency is extremely rare in the US. Some of the signs and symptoms include skin disorders, edema of the mouth and throat, swollen, cracked lips, hair loss, reproductive problems, sore throat, itchy and red eyes, and degeneration of the liver and nervous system.

Vitamin: C (Ascobic Acid)

Why you need it: Antioxidant; part of an enzyme needed for protein metabolism; promotes the healing of wounds, important for immune system health; aids in iron absorption Natural sources:

  • Found only in fruits and vegetables like kiwi, guava, papaya, oranges
  • Vegetables in the cabbage family, broccoli, sweet peppers, snow peas, cauliflower

Signs of deficiency: frequent nosebleeds and wounds that heal slower than normal, tendency to get black & blues, bleeding gums.

Vitamin: D

Why you need it: to develop strong bones and to maintain a healthy nerve and muscle system.

Natural sources:

  • Sunlight, so go outside and take a stroll
  • Very few foods naturally have vitamin D.
  • Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D: fatty fish (mackerel, tuna and salmon); beef liver and egg yolks; mushrooms; almost all of the US milk supply is fortified with vitamin D and it is added to some brands of OJ, yogurt and soy beverages so you should always check labels.

Signs of deficiency: If you don´t consume or absorb enough in vitamin D from food, through exposure to sunlight, or your kidneys cannot convert vitamin D to its active form in the body, it can lead to osteomalacia, causing bone pain and muscle weakness.

Vitamin: B-12

Why you need it: It is important for metabolism and helps in the formation of red blood cells and in the maintenance of the central nervous system.

Natural sources:

  • Found in a wide variety of animal foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products
  • Plant foods have no B12 unless they have been fortified

Signs of deficiency: anemia, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

The list doesn’t end here, just go into any health food store and look at all the shelves of supplements that are available. The best way to get all your nutrients is always to follow a balanced diet of real, whole foods and some time outdoors for exercise. But since everyone is a little different and we all need a little help sometime, you may want to consider supplementing your healthy lifestyle. Take a look at what you are eating and talk to your doctor about possibly supplementing with some vitamins.

Ana De Castro

Ana is an integrative nutrition health coach, personal trainer, group fitness instructor and bikini world champion. In her free time she is also a mom to a 3 & 4 year old and an agent to celebrity and Michelin-star chefs. She loves to eat and cook and you will often see her posting pictures of food on her twitter and instagram accounts.... Read More

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  • There was a time in my life when you could open up one of my kitchen cabinets and find all sorts of vitamins and supplements in a bottle. I would take Vitamin B-12 for this, Vitamin C for that, Vitamin E for something else, the list went on.

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