Vitamins are essential for us to function at an optimum level. What has also become clear over the years is that the way to maximize their benefits is to get them through food, not supplements.

Karuna Chaturvedi, a dietitian at the Jaypee Hospital in Noida, adjacent to New Delhi, and Amreen Sheikh, chief dietitian at the Wockhardt Hospitals in Mumbai, list the important vitamins and some of their best sources.

Spinach: Source of vitamins A and B6
Spinach: Source of vitamins A and B6

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is actually a broad group of related nutrients and includes retinoids delivered from animal sources (like retinol), and carotenoids (alpha, beta, gamma and zeta carotenes) and xanthophylls (astaxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin and many more) from plant sources. All these work together to ensure that our eyes stay sharp, the reproductive system works efficiently, and immunity remains in good shape.

Good sources: Sweet potatoes for carotenoids, spinach for xanthophylls and shrimps or eggs for retinoids.

Sweet potato mash

Boil 2 cubed sweet potatoes until tender (about 15 minutes). Strain and mash. Add one fourth tsp cinnamon, half tsp nutmeg, 1 and half tsp melted butter, 2 tbsp maple syrup and fold in fourth cup almond milk. Stir well. You can have it with rice, bread, roti—pretty much anything.

Sunflower seeds: Source of vitamins B1, B5 and E
Sunflower seeds: Source of vitamins B1, B5 and E

Vitamin B1 (thiamine)

It is required for the proper functioning of the nervous system, heart and muscles, and for the metabolism of carbohydrates. It is also called an “anti-stress" vitamin because it helps control stress-related mood swings.

Good sources: Sunflower seeds and fish like trout and salmon.

Salmon spread

Mix 2 tbsp low-fat cream cheese, 100g smoked salmon, 1 tomato and 1 green onion, both chopped. Chill and spread on a wholewheat toast.

Cheese: Source of vitamin B2
Cheese: Source of vitamin B2

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

B2 is an antioxidant that helps the body fight disease and produce red blood cells.

Good sources: Cheese, almonds and mackerel.

Spinach feta salad

In a saucepan over medium heat, wilt 250g spinach in 1 tbsp butter for a few minutes. Grate in one fourth tsp nutmeg, stir in 200g feta and dig in.

Vitamin B3 (niacin)

It helps the digestive system and nerves to function properly and converts food into energy.

Good sources: Chicken, turkey and peanuts.

Chicken salad

Heat 2 tsp olive oil, fry 1 garlic clove and 2 green chillies. Add 250g chicken breast cut into small pieces and shallow-fry until cooked; season with salt and pepper. Toss 100g rocket leaves and 1 cup pomegranate seeds with 1 tsp olive oil, chicken, salt and pepper. Serve with mustard sauce on the side.

Avocado: Source of vitamin B5
Avocado: Source of vitamin B5

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

It is essential for fat metabolism and energy production, as it helps convert carbohydrates, fats and proteins into fuel.

Good sources: Sunflower seeds, avocado and salmon.

Avocado soup

Combine 2 chopped avocados, 2 cups vegetable broth, 2 tbsp lemon juice, salt and pepper and blend. Chill for a few hours before serving.

Fish: Source of vitamins B1, B2 and B12
Fish: Source of vitamins B1, B2 and B12

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

It helps metabolize foods, form haemoglobin, stabilize blood sugar and make antibodies that fight disease. It is also important for liver detoxification.

Good sources: Tuna fish, chickpea and spinach.

Pasta with chickpeas and spinach

Boil half cup pasta and keep aside. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil (or any oil), add 1 sliced onion and salt to taste. Next, add 1 tsp garlic (chopped). Stir and cook for 3-4 minutes and then transfer to a plate. Put 100g baby spinach, half cup boiled chickpeas, 1 cup water and 1 small chopped tomato in a pan. Simmer till the spinach is done. Add pasta, salt, black pepper and red chilli flakes. Toss till coated. Serve combined with the onion mix made earlier.

Eggs: Source of vitamins A and B7
Eggs: Source of vitamins A and B7

Vitamin B7 (biotin)

It is essential for forming important enzymes in the body and helps strengthen hair and nails.

Good sources: Dalia (bulgur wheat), corn, cashews, eggs and dairy.

‘Dalia’ and roasted vegetables

Cook 50g dalia with water and keep aside. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. In a baking tray, take 1 red and yellow pepper each, 50g babycorn (all chopped into bite-sized pieces), a few cloves of garlic (halved), drizzle a bit of olive oil and roast for 20 minutes. Now add 1 thickly sliced onion, 1 tsp cumin seeds and 5 cashews (chopped), and roast all this for another 15-20 minutes. In a bowl, mix 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tbsp olive oil. Add 2 cloves of thinly sliced garlic and a few chopped mint leaves. Pour this over the vegetables and then toss with dalia.

Vitamin B9 (folate)

It supports nervous system functions, provides support to the cardiovascular system and is needed for the production of red blood cells.

Good sources: Lentils, particularly lobia (black-eyed peas) and mung dal (split green gram), spinach and asparagus.

Beans bruschetta

Mash 1 cup boiled lobia and mix with 3 tbsp curd. Add spices and herbs—a pinch each of mustard, salt, rosemary and pepper—and 1 tsp olive oil. Spread on multigrain bread and top with lettuce, sliced cucumber and tomato. Grill and serve.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)

It helps guard against anaemia, maintains the functioning of the nervous system and prevents fatigue.

Good source: Shellfish, beef, mackerel, tofu and mushroom.

Tofu stir-fry

Stir-fry 125g firm tofu in 1 tsp oil with 1 sliced carrot, one fourth cup chopped celery, one fourth cup chopped onion, 4 large sliced mushrooms, half sliced red bell pepper, and 1 tbsp hoisin sauce. Serve with noodles or rice.

Orange and kiwi: Source of vitamin C
Orange and kiwi: Source of vitamin C

Vitamin C

This is an important source of antioxidants, and an immunity booster. It is also needed for the growth and repair of tissues, healing of wounds and making collagen, and is also important for the absorption of iron.

Good sources: Guava, oranges, bell pepper, kiwi, lime and lemon.

Spiced Sunshine

Shake or blend 100ml tomato juice, 100ml orange juice, 50ml guava juice, 15 drops Tabasco sauce, half tsp Worcestershire sauce, juice of half lime and pour unstrained into a tall glass with a salt-dipped rim. Garnish with a stick of celery.

Vitamin D

Our body makes vitamin D on its own when the skin is exposed to sunlight. This vitamin helps spur calcium absorption and bone growth and is important for cell growth, immunity, and reducing inflammation in the body.

Good sources: Get enough sunlight (20-30 minutes exposure daily), salmon, sardines and egg yolk.

Egg salad

Mix 1 boiled egg, chopped, one fourth cup boiled carrot, finely diced, one fourth cucumber, finely diced, and one fourth cup spring onions, finely chopped. To this mix, add 1 cup boiled and mashed potatoes, season with salt and black pepper powder and finally fold in 2 tbsp of low-fat mayonnaise.

Almonds: Source of vitamins E and B2
Almonds: Source of vitamins E and B2

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a blanket term for eight different, naturally occurring nutrients, the most famous and studied of which is alpha-tocopherol. All eight are powerful antioxidants and help protect body cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are the main cause of cardiac disease and cancers. Vitamin E also saves the skin from ultraviolet radiation and protects against cataract.

Good sources: Spinach, almonds and sunflower seeds.

Spinach and egg scramble

Heat 2 tsp oil. Add 1 cup chopped tomatoes and a few cloves of garlic, cook for about 4 minutes and transfer into a bowl. In the same pan, add more oil (1 tsp), add 2 cups spinach leaves, a pinch of red pepper flakes and half a chopped onion, sauté till the spinach is tender. Now arrange the spinach flat in the pan and scatter blistered tomatoes over it. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in two beaten eggs, stir and scramble on low heat. And dig in.

Vitamin K

This vitamin keeps calcium in the bones and out of arteries (calcification of the heart is just as dangerous as fatty build-up) and prevents both osteoporosis and heart attack. It is also vital for proper kidney function.

Good sources: Kale, spinach and broccoli.

Spinach-broccoli quinoa salad

Cook 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups water. For that, place quinoa in a small pot with vegetable broth. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed. For the dressing, mix together juice of half lemon, 1 clove garlic, minced, 1 tsp ground turmeric, half tsp sea salt, one fourth tsp black pepper and whisk in one fourth cup olive oil.

In a bowl, put together ¼ cup red pepper, chopped; ¼ cup green pepper, chopped; ¼ cup onion, chopped; 1 cup blanched baby spinach; and 1 cup broccoli (chopped, microwaved for 1 minute with 2 tbsp water). Add warm quinoa.

Pour the dressing over all the ingredients and toss to combine.