What’s the difference between fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins?


All vitamins are essential nutrients that our bodies require to maintain good health.  They are broken down into two categories, water-soluble and fat-soluble, and while the specific amount your body requires of each vitamin will differ, they are all equally important and necessary for your optimal health.

Water-soluble vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins mean they dissolve in water and are not stored in the body; they include vitamin C and all of the vitamin B complex (B1-thiamin, B2-riboflavin, B3-niacin, B5, B6, B12, Biotin, Folic Acid).  For example, if you eat an orange, your body breaks down that orange into all of its nutrients, including carbohydrates for energy, and vitamins and minerals for hormones, growth, tissue repair, and other body functions.  The vitamin C from the orange gets dissolved in the water circulating in your body which then gets delivered to the cells that need it.  Once your body uses up all the vitamin C it needs, the unused amount is then sent to your kidneys to get released from your body when you urinate.

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Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins means they dissolve in the fat in our bodies and are stored in the fat tissue in our bodies, we do not excrete them.  These vitamins include A, D, E, and K.  Because these guys stay in our bodies for longer periods of time, their jobs are more long-term, however as they do their work, your stored up bank account of vitamins decreases.  Therefore, you need to be taking in these vitamins on a daily basis to make sure your body functions efficiently and healthfully. For example, vitamin D is essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones, your body pulls the vitamin D from it’s stored amount for those bones on a daily basis, therefore your stored amount gets used up, if you do not replenish it your body can become deficient and lack the amount needed to keep you and your bones healthy.

When it comes to vitamin D, mother nature might have known that we cannot always be in sunshine!  For example, for those who live in northern latitudes, we can only make vitamin D in our skin during periods of direct summer sunshine. This means that humans have the ability to keep a reserve stash of vitamin D for the cold, darker days when we are not able to make vitamin D on the spot.  So, mother nature gave us the ability to save-up our own vitamin D for a rainy day, when we might need it! Try taking a vitamin D quiz to see how you stack-up on vitamin D.

Staying healthy

The best way to make sure you get all the vitamins you need is to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein throughout the day.  The best source of vitamin D, however, is the sun, which can be tricky during the colder months and if you live in higher latitudes.  So when it comes to keeping up a healthy supply of this one you want to try to eat salmon, tuna, mushrooms, fortified milk, and eggs. Here are some recipes to try.  But diet alone may still not be enough when it comes to vitamin D.

Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN She is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and owner of BZ Nutrition, a private nutrition counseling practice in New York City.

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