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What vitamins should I take?

Ramzi Yacoub, Pharm.D. By | February 18, 2020

The body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to perform at its best. Some of us get most of what we need from a well-balanced diet. Others need supplements to reach the recommended daily amount. If you’re asking yourself, “What vitamins should I take?”, these guidelines can help you determine if the foods you eat are giving you all the nutrients you need. 

What vitamins should I take as supplements?

  1. Vitamin A for vision
  2. B vitamins for energy
  3. Vitamin C for immunity
  4. Vitamin D for strength
  5. Vitamin E for antioxidants
  6. Vitamin K for healthy blood clotting

Vitamin A

Vitamin A plays an important role in red blood cell and bone growth along with vision health. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 5000 international units (IU). The RDA is a way of quantifying how much of each vitamin you typically need, though that amount can vary from person to person depending on many factors. 

Some dietary sources include fish, liver, and eggs. Liver may contain up to 250% of the RDA for vitamin A, but it’s not a food everyone enjoys. A typical filet of salmon may contain up to 50% of your daily recommended ration of vitamin A.

B vitamins

The B vitamins play a key role in the conversion of food into energy for your body. Different types of B vitamins are in different types of food, and have different RDAs. In general, the B vitamins can be easily obtained from fortified cereals and grains, as well as many types of seafood. As a pharmacist, I get many questions on vitamin B12 specifically. There are many products on the market with “super” doses of vitamin B12 labeled as energy boosting supplements. The recommended daily amount of B12 is 6 mcg, but you will find products as high as 5000 mcg on the store shelves. While taking a super dose occasionally is probably fine, be sure to consult with a physician or pharmacist before taking these kinds of doses daily.

Folic acid is another very important B vitamin. It is found in green vegetables, avocados, beans, and enriched grain foods. The RDA for most people is 400 mcg; however, for pregnant women, most professionals recommend up to 1 mg. Folic acid plays a critical role in preventing birth defects, and it is very important for a pregnant woman to ensure she is consuming enough folic acid as early in the pregnancy as possible. It’s wise to begin supplementing with folic acid as soon as you start trying to conceive. One half-cup of spinach provides about 30% of the RDA for folic acid.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is vital for your immune system function. It is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits and juices. The RDA is 60 mg. One medium-sized orange contains approximately 70 mg of vitamin C, and more than meets the RDA for vitamin C.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important to calcium absorption and bone growth, among other functions. It is found in fish and fortified dairy products. The RDA for vitamin D is 400 IU. A three ounce filet of salmon contains more than 400 IU and meets the total RDA, whereas one cup of fortified milk will contain about 33% of the RDA.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that supports immune function and blood vessel development. It is found in green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fortified cereals. The RDA is 30 IU. One ounce of sunflower seeds provides about 7 IU, or roughly one-third of the RDA for vitamin E.

Vitamin K 

Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting. Its best source is green, leafy vegetables. The RDA is 80 mcg. One cup of raw spinach, as an example, contains about 145mcg. That is almost twice the RDA. Some patients on certain blood thinners must make sure their vitamin K intake is consistent to ensure that it does not interfere with their medication.

How to take your daily vitamins

You may be getting many of these vitamins from your diet, but if you are not, what do you take? 

One of the most common ways people supplement their vitamin intake is with a single multivitamin product. There are many multivitamins on the market, and the formulation for any given one is set by the manufacturer. In general, multivitamins attempt to provide most of the vitamins, likely along with other minerals, at a level near the RDA for each ingredient. As a consumer, it is important to read the label to understand if it is providing the vitamin you need at the appropriate level. If you have any questions or need help determining what you need, pharmacists and nutritionists are great resources.

If you feel that you are getting most of the vitamins you need from your diet, you can buy individual vitamin products to supplement a few. Just make sure you are aware of how much you need to add to your intake, as many of these vitamins are available in a variety of doses. While rare, it is possible to take too much of a vitamin, so always check with a health professional before taking doses above the RDA.

Certain factors such as age, pregnancy, and other immune or health conditions will affect how much of each vitamin you need. Your healthcare provider may make specific recommendations for your condition.

A well-balanced diet is a great way to get your daily vitamins, but if your diet is falling short of your needs, supplementing with vitamin products helps provide your body with the necessary tools to live a healthy life.