We've all been told about the importance of taking our vitamins. But what exactly is a vitamin? And more importantly, what do they do?

A vitamin is loosely defined as an essential micro-nutrient that an organism needs to function properly. Thirteen of them have been recognized as essential to human health, and this guide will explain the basic functions and the best 123 Diet approved sources of each!

There are two major categories of vitamins: those that are fat-soluble and those that are water-soluble.

Water-soluble vitamins are dissolved in water and thus easily excreted. They can travel to the places in the body where they are needed but cannot be stored there, so it's important to consume them on a regular basis.

Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, are absorbed by fat globules in the intestines and can be stored in fat and in the liver. Be sure to eat plenty of them in food, but don't overdo it with supplements—in rare cases, extreme over-intake of Vitamin A or D can cause health problems.

Fat Soluble Vitamins

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A has 2 components: retinoids and carotene.  These antioxidants are essential for vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell functions, and immune system functioning. Get your retinoids from eggs, shrimp, and beef liver; get your carotene from lettuce and spinach on phase 2 as well as from peppers and apricots on phase 3.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D, also called calciferol, helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorous, which strengthens your bones and reduces your risk of fractures. Get your fill from fish, shrimp, and egg yolks in Phase 2, and from mushrooms in phase 3.

You can also pick some up calorie-free by spending more time outdoors, since your body can synthesize it from cholesterol in a chemical reaction that takes place during sun exposure.

3. Vitamin E

Vitamin E, or alpha-tocopherol, is an antioxidant that neutralizes unstable molecules and helps protect lipids and other vitamins from damage. Get it from salmon, trout, and leafy green vegetables in phase 2, as well as avocados in phase 3.

4. Vitamin K

Vitamin K can come in one of two forms: phylloquinone, which comes from plants, and menaquinone, which comes from animals. It creates proteins that the body uses to maintain healthy bones and normal blood clotting, so a deficiency could lead to increased fractures and abnormal bleeding. Get it from cabbage, liver, eggs, and green vegetables.

Water-Soluble Vitamins

1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as asorbic acid, lowers the risk of some cancers, protects against cataracts, bolsters the immune system, and helps make serotonin, norepinephrine, and collagen. Eat it up in oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and tomatoes.

2. Vitamin B1 (thiamine)

Thiamine helps transform food into energy and DNA/RNA systems to work together. It is also critical for nerve function. Deficiency, which sometimes occurs in the severely malnourished and in alcoholics, can sometimes lead to dangerous lesions of the nervous system known as Wernicke Encephalopathy. Avoid the risk and get your B1 from beef, asparagus, black beans, trout, salmon, and lentils.

3. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

B2, or not B2? We'd say it's best 2B a fan of riboflavin, which is critical for cellular respiration and can also help prevent migraines. Get it from eggs, meat, apples, tomatoes, and green vegetables during phase 2, as well as from mushrooms during phase 3.

4. Vitamin B3 (niacin)

Like other B vitamins, niacin works to convert food into energy. It can also lower your blood cholesterol, ease arthritis, and boost your brain function. Best sources include fish, meat, and chicken in phase 2, as well as avocados and mushrooms in phase 3.

5.  Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

Your body needs pantothenic acid to make lipids, neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, and hemoglobin. Deficiency can cause fatigue, irritability, hypoglycemia, apathy, and, in more serious cases, adrenal insufficiency and hepatic encephalopathy. Eat your B5 in egg yolks, tomatoes and chicken in phase 2, as well as in broccoli and avocados in phase 3.

6. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Don't nix Vitamin B6! It may reduce the risk of heart disease, and it helps convert tryptophan and niacin into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in sleep, appetite, and mood regulation. Vitamin B6 also helps create new red blood cells and influences cognitive abilities and immune function. Pyridoxine's best sources are meat, fish, tofu, spinach, and non-citrus fruits, particularly watermelons in phase 3!

7. Vitamin B7 (biotin)

Biotin for the win! Vitamin B7 can strengthen your hair and nails, improve your skin health, support your metabolism, and even lower your cholesterol. Get it from egg yolk, spinach, and meats in phase 2, plus avocados and mushrooms in phase 3.

8. Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)

Time to delve into Vitamin B12. This critical nutrient assists our bodies in making new cells and breaking down some fatty and amino acids. Cyanocobalamin also protects nerve cells and encourages their normal growth, plus helps make red blood cells and DNA.

Deficiencies can occur in vegans and vegetarians who aren't getting adequate supplementation and in people taking certain medications, like proton pump inhibitors. Symptoms of low B12 include anemia and neurological disturbances,  so be sure to pick up plenty from eggs, beef, salmon, and trout.

9. Vitamin B9 (folate and folacin)

Last but not least, it's time to fill our plates with some folate! Folate combines with folacin to create folic acid, which is vital for new cell creation. It's especially important to get adequate Vitamin B9 if you're pregnant or a woman of childbearing age, since low levels of maternal folate in early pregnancy have been linked to brain and spine defects in infants.

Vitamin B9 can also reduce your risk of heart disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer. Find it in lentils, leafy greens, asparagus, citrus fruits, eggs, and avocados.

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