By Christina Hernandez Sherwood
WITH AN ALPHABET soup of vitamins on
the market, it’s tough for consumers to determine their best vitamin regimen without
hours of research. From B12 to E, vitamins are
important for everyone’s health—though recommendations for pregnant women might
differ from those for seniors.
To cut through the confusion, three top
vitamin experts provide information on
some of the vitamins most essential for
health. A note: Recommended daily allowance (RDA) is established as the minimal
amount to avoid disease.
Vitamin B12 is important for red cell and
nerve cell development. The RDA for adults is
about 3 micrograms (mcg), says Diane McKay,
an assistant professor of nutrition science at
Tufts University in Massachusetts. Because the
only dietary sources of vitamin B12 are animal
products, she says, vegetarians and vegans
need to work harder to get an adequate dose.
Similarly, adults age 50 and older produce less stomach acid, McKay says, and are
therefore less able to absorb vitamin B12.
Many multivitamins contain vitamin B12
and certain foods are fortified with it, but
some older adults need vitamin B12 shots to
Vitamin C performs double duty as
both a vitamin and an antioxidant, says Dr.
JoAnn Manson, a professor of medicine at
Harvard Medical School. She adds that vitamin C is essential for preventing the nutritional deficiency scurvy, a rare disease that
causes weakness and anemia.
The RDA of vitamin C differs slightly for
men ( 90 milligrams, or mg) and women ( 75
mg). It is included in some multivitamins,
though Manson says most people can meet
their daily requirement by eating five servings of vegetables and fruit, especially citrus,
While bone health is its major function,
vitamin D can also play critical roles in
improving cardiovascular health and controlling cell growth, says Dr. Michael Holick,
author and professor of medicine at the
Boston University School of Medicine.
“It’s basically important from the time
you’re born until the time you die,” says
Holick, a Costco member. Because very few
dietary sources are high in vitamin D, he says
sun exposure is the major source. He recommends safe sun exposure and a supplement to
help adults reach the recommended daily
allowance of 600 IUs.
Vitamin E, which, like vitamin C, has
antioxidant properties, plays a role in neutralizing free radicals in the body, Manson says. In
combination with other vitamins, vitamin E
may contribute to eye health and aid in the
prevention of macular degeneration.
With an RDA of about 15 mg per day,
vitamin E is found in eggs, fortified cereals
and some fruits and vegetables, as well as
The Costco Connection
Costco and Costco.com carry a wide variety
of essential vitamins, minerals and supplements. Members will find vitamin-rich fresh
fruits and vegetables at their local Costco.
Folate (folic acid)
Folate is the form of this essential vitamin
that occurs naturally in food, McKay says,
while folic acid is the term for the vitamin in
supplements or fortified foods. Folic acid is
important for everyone’s cell health, she says,
though it’s particularly critical for pregnant
women. During early pregnancy, she notes,
folic acid aids in the creation of the baby’s nervous system. Without enough of this essential
vitamin, the baby could develop a neural tube
defect, such as spina bifida.
Green leafy vegetables are among the
natural sources of folate, McKay says, and
many refined grain products are also fortified with folic acid. The suggested daily
allowance of folic acid is 400 mcg, she
reports, and a multivitamin is typically recommended, especially for women of child-bearing age. But older adults who eat many
fortified foods, she adds, should be careful
not to get too much folic acid.
As with any diet or supplementation regimen, reminds Manson, it’s important to consult with a doctor before supplementing. C
Christina Hernandez Sherwood is a freelance
writer based in the Philadelphia area.
What are the vitamins
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