Fat Soluble vs. Water Soluble Vitamins: What's the Difference?
You’ve likely heard of vitamins being fat-soluble or water-soluble. But you might be thinking ‘what does that even mean?!’, am I right?
Here I’m going to give you an explaination so you never have to wonder again!
What does soluble mean?
Looking to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, it means “susceptible of being dissolved in or as if in a liquid and especially water“.
But there’s fat soluble and water soluble.
Fat Soluble Vitamins vs. Water Soluble Vitamins
If you look at the back of a pack of Berocca tablets, you might notice the ridiculously high amount of vitamin C, this isn’t dangerous because it’s water-soluble.
The water-soluble vitamins include ascorbic acid (vitamin C), thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine), folacin, vitamin B12, biotin, and pantothenic acid (1).
However, supplements have much lower doses of things like vitamin A as it can have adverse effects on the body by taking too much of it.
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are called fat-soluble vitamins, because they are soluble in organic solvents and are absorbed and transported in a manner similar to that of fats (2).
In essence, excess of water-soluble vitamins leave the body through urine, too much can still cause side effects, but it’s much more difficult to overdose on water-soluble vitamins than it would be for fat-soluble ones.
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Safe amounts of each vitamin
In case you were wondering, I’m going to list all the vitamins mentioned above then give some suggestions of how you can achieve that daily intake with regular foods.
(Please note I’ve included both mcg (micrograms) and mg (milligrams) in the information below.)
Let’s start with water-soluble…
- Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) – 65-95 mcg from citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, potatoes.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) 1.1-1.2 mg from cereals, whole grains, meat, nuts, beans, and peas.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – 1.1-1.3 mg from eggs, green vegetables, milk and other dairy products, meat, mushrooms, and almonds.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – 14-15 mg from greens, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – 1.3-1.7 mg from turkey, chickpeas, tuna, salmon, potatoes and bananas.
- Vitamin B9 (Folacin/Folic acid) – 250 mcg – 1 mg from asparagus, avocados, brussels sprouts, and leafy greens like spinach and lettuce.
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) – around 1.5 mcg from meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, yeast extract (such as Marmite) and specially fortified foods.
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin) – 30-100 mcg from meat, eggs, fish, seeds, nuts, and certain vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) – 5 mg from mushrooms, fish, avocados, eggs, lean chicken, beef, pork, sunflower seeds, milk, sweet potatoes, and lentils.
- Vitamin A (retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, beta-carotene) – 700-900 mcg from cheese, eggs, oily fish, milk, yoghurt, liver pâté. Beta-carotene which the body can turn into retinols comes from yellow, red and green (leafy) vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers and yellow fruit, such as mango, papaya and apricots.
- Vitamin D (calciferol) naturally present in fewer foods which is why sunlight is so important. You can get this from oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, red meat, liver, egg yolks, mushrooms, some fortified breakfast cereals. You may have to take a 10 mcg vitamin D supplement if you don’t go outside much.
- Vitamin E (tocopherol or alpha-tocopherol) – 3-4 mg from plant oils – such as rapeseed, sunflower, soybean, corn and olive oil, spinach, pumpkin, red peppers, asparagus, mango, avocado, nuts and seeds, peanut and nut butters, wheatgerm – found in cereals.
- Vitamin K (Phytonadione) – approx. 1 mcg p/kg of bodyweight from green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, parsley, romaine, and green leaf lettuce. Vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Fish, liver, meat, eggs, and cereals.
- A diet including lots of fruits and vegetables of all different colours with a focus on dark leafy greens is ideal
- A lot of our vitamin intake can easily come from animal products so vegetarians, vegans and pescetarians need to pay closer attention to their supplementation
- A multivitamin isn’t always essential but if your diet is quite limited you may need one
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1 – National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 12, Water-Soluble Vitamins. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218756/
2 – National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 11, Fat-Soluble Vitamins. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218749/