Water-soluble vs. Fat-soluble Vitamins: What You Need to Know
Not all vitamins are created equal. This can make supplementation a bit of an art form. You have to know something about the vitamins to be able to apply them in an effective way. Because if you don’t, you’re essentially pouring your dollars down the drain.
The body needs vitamins and minerals, and we get many of them from the foods we eat. Fruit, vegetables, grains, even meat and dairy products, contain wealthy storehouses of essential vitamins. But with the rise of packaged convenience foods and on-the-go living, good nutrition has become harder to manage, and a healthy life harder to achieve. That is until wellness companies started catering to the new normal with edible or powdered vitamins and fast-fixes for healthy living.
But even with the growing on supplementation, vitamin depletion happens—often simply because people don’t understand that there’s a method to it.
What is solubility and why does it matter?
Different vitamins are absorbed (and behave) in different ways in the body. Some are readily absorbed in the presence of water, which is easy to achieve since the body is made of up to 70% water. There’s water in the foods we eat, and often times we swallow down supplements with water. So vitamins that depend on water for absorption can easily enter the bloodstream and your system to do what they were meant to do.
But fat-soluble vitamins can be a bit trickier, and they are also usually the vitamins that we are deficient in. Low-fat diets and some prescription drugs have made it harder for these vitamins to make it into our systems. When taken in supplement form, these are most readily absorbed when you consume some fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts or seeds with them.
Fat-soluble vitamins also tend to remain in the body for longer because they aren’t needed every day. Instead, they get stored in the liver and fatty tissues to be released as the body needs them. But this means that taking more than the recommended dosage of certain vitamins can lead to toxic buildup in the body.
Water-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, don’t get stored. Any excess of these vitamins is excreted from the body through urine. These vitamins tend to be more sensitive to external conditions, and can be destroyed in the cooking process.
Without further adieu, here’s a quick list of water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins, and what they do for you.
The water-soluble vitamins
- Vitamin C
As an antioxidant, this water-soluble vitamin protects your cells, boosts your immunity and promotes collagen production. It’s essential for strong bones, skin, teeth and healthy blood vessels.
- B vitamins
The B vitamin family is necessary for proper functioning of everything from the immune system and nervous system, to the metabolic system and skin. The B family includes:
- Thiamin (B1) helps keep nerves healthy, breaks food down food into energy and metabolizes carbs.
- Riboflavin (B2) plays a vital role in skin, eye and nerve health. Its presence can help optimize the function of other B vitamins.
- Niacin (B3) in plentiful amounts can help keep the digestive system healthy, improve skin and help lower cholesterol.
- Pantothenic acid produces necessary hormones and enables the body to harvest energy from carbs, proteins and fats.
- Vitamin B6 is a co-enzyme that aids chemical reactions in the body. It helps break down stored glucose and metabolize proteins, fats and carbs.
- Folic acid is vital for pregnancy and can help prevent birth defects.
- Vitamin B12, along with folic acid, helps form red blood cells and aids metabolic processes.
- Vitamin A
Vitamin A is vital to healthy vision, skin and immunity. It’s often used topically as well for skin issues.
- Vitamin D
The only vitamin produced by the body, this vitamin is crucial to strong bones and healthy immune systems. Because it can be formed when the skin is exposed to UV rays, and readily absorbed through the skin, it’s vital to stick to recommended doses to avoid overdoing it.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that has been studied as a preventative measure against heart disease and cancer. Some research suggests that those who supplement with this vitamin may be less prone to those diseases than people who don’t.
- Vitamin K
Generally found in green, leafy veggies, this vitamin is essential to blood clotting and preventing hemorrhaging. It also promotes healthy bones and produces necessary proteins needed by the blood, bones and kidneys.
While taking vitamins in through food is always the preferred method, many times this simply isn’t possible. Such is the case with many vegetarians, who can tend to be deficient in some essential vitamins like Vitamin A because of their generally lower-fat, animal-free diets.
In these cases, supplementing vitamin intake in pill form is a great way to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need—especially in an age of nutrient-depleted convenience foods.
The next time you go to take your supplement, take note of its water or fat solubility, and drink it down accordingly.