All vitamins fall into one of two categories: water-soluble or fat-soluble.
Both are absorbed by the body during digestion. But while fat-soluble vitamins are stored for a long period of time in the liver and fatty tissues, water-soluble vitamins are mostly flushed out of your body. That means you need to consistently consume water-soluble vitamins through your diet.
This article talks about what water-soluble vitamins are, what they do, and how you can make sure you are getting enough.
What are water-soluble vitamins?
"Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water, and are absorbed in our small intestines," says Amanda Izqueirdo, RD, a nutrition consultant with a personal practice in Chicago.
Once dissolved and absorbed, these vitamins are carried through your bloodstream to nourish your body, and any excess that isn't absorbed is eliminated through your urine. That's why you need to consume them daily. This is also why you are much less likely to experience vitamin toxicity with water-soluble vitamins than fat-soluble ones.
There are nine types of water-soluble vitamins: those in the B-vitamin family and vitamin C.
There are eight compounds in the B vitamin family, all of which are water-soluble.
Vitamins that are part of the B vitamin family include:
- Thiamin (vitamin B1)
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- Niacin (vitamin B3)
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
- Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
- Biotin (vitamin B7)
- Folate or folic acid (vitamin B9)
- Cobalamin (Vitamin B12, which is the only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored in the liver for years.)
All eight of these vitamins support your metabolism by helping the body convert food into energy. However, each type of B vitamin also serves a specific function in your body.
For example, B12 helps your body make red blood cells, B3 helps maintain normal nervous system function, and B2 keeps your skin and eyes healthy.
"Most B vitamins are found in a variety of foods, and deficiency is rare," says Izqueirdo. Foods that are high in B vitamins include:
- Bananas, a good source of vitamin B6
- Chicken, a good source of vitamin B6
- Pork, a good source of vitamin B6
- Peanuts, a good source of vitamin B6
- Eggs, a good source of vitamin B2
- Almonds, a good source of vitamin B1
- Avocados, a good source of pantothenic acid
While most people do not need to take a B vitamin supplement, vegetarians and vegans are one of the few exceptions. That's because "vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal foods like cheese, yogurt, meat, and eggs, although many grains and cereals are also fortified with B12," Izqueirdo says.
Vitamin B supplements can also become important during pregnancy. Folate is essential for neural tube development, says Izquierdo. The neural tube eventually becomes the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is crucial for a variety of processes in your body.
For example, vitamin C plays a crucial role in the production of the protein collagen. "Collagen is for more youthful-looking skin," says Izquierdo. "It also plays a vital role in wound healing."
Vitamin C is also important because it acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants help limit cell damage from free radicals — compounds produced both by normal cell processes and by outside sources like pollution. When there are too many free radicals in the body, they can cause aging and health conditions like cancer.
"Citrus is probably the most well-known food source of vitamin C, but bell peppers actually have more vitamin C per serving," says Izquierdo.
Other great sources of vitamin C include:
Since vitamin C is water-soluble, there is no evidence that taking a vitamin C supplement with more than the recommended daily value will help you. That's because your body will simply flush out the excess dosage through your digestive tract. In fact, excessive vitamin C from supplements can cause diarrhea and nausea.
There are two main types of water-soluble vitamins: those in the B vitamin family and vitamin C. They provide a host of health benefits like stimulating cell production, supporting the immune system, and converting food into energy.
Since your body can't store these vitamins, it's important that you consume them each day through foods you eat or by taking dietary supplements.
Related articles from Health Reference:
- The different types of fat-soluble vitamins — and how to get enough of them
- 7 science-backed benefits of vitamin B6
- The best vitamins to help your hair's growth, thickness, and overall health.
- 5 science-backed benefits of vitamin B12 and how to get enough of it
- What does vitamin c do? 5 science-backed benefits of vitamin C