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What Are Fat-Soluble Vitamins? (Complete Breakdown)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: January 27, 2022

From a digestion point of view, vitamins can be classified as either water or fat-soluble. And your dietary intake of these vitamins impacts a whole load of body functions that are especially important for athletes.

As a personal trainer, I don't just look at my clients' exercise routines but also make sure they fix their diets and micronutrients.

And to help them get the right mix of vitamins, I researched fat-soluble ones as my dietitian pointed out that many people might not be getting enough of them.

Here's what they're about.

Quick Summary

  • There are four types of vitamins that dietitians class as fat-soluble.
  • These types of vitamins need to be taken with some form of healthy fat for them to be absorbed in your stomach.
  • Deficiency in any of these vitamins could lead to bone health, immunity, and blood clotting issues.

Which Vitamins Are Classed As Fat-Soluble?

food sources rich in fat

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are the four types that fall into the fat-soluble category.

These vitamins are mainly found in fat-rich foods, and by that, I don't mean junk food burgers, pizza, and fries.

These vitamins are very similar to fat and will behave the same way as a drop of oil does in a glass of water.

They will bundle together and float, making it difficult to absorb [1].

But when they are mixed with dietary fat, it becomes a lot easier for the stomach to process and absorb them alongside the fat.

That's why it's important to carefully plan your intake of vitamin E supplements, for example [2].

4 Fat-Soluble Vitamins

stack of vitamins in a yellow plate

Here are some more details about these important nutrients.

Vitamin A

This is one of those nutrients that has all sorts of important roles in your body, from cell growth to vision and immunity to detox [3]. In natural foods, it's often referred to as beta carotene, and not surprisingly, it's common in carrots.

On supplements, you might see it marked as retinol, again because it plays such a key role in your eye health.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the commonly termed sunshine vitamin, and your body produces it in the skin when exposed to sunshine [4]. You'll typically see it on supplements marked as D2 and D3 and how much vitamin D you need, depending on how much sunshine you're exposed to.

Because of its role in your immune system and bone density [5], avoiding vitamin D deficiency is critical.

Vitamin E

This mainly plays a role as an antioxidant, which means that it may help you remove free radicals and toxins that we're all constantly exposed to. Combined with vitamin C, it may help with general detox efforts [6].

While vitamin E deficiency can be a problem, you also need to be careful to avoid the blood-thinning effect of taking too much [7].

Vitamin K

You may have found this a lot more commonly in health food stores. Because it's mainly found in fermented vegetables, it's actually quite common for people to have a vitamin K deficiency, which could lead to bone and heart issues [8].

“Vitamin K is naturally produced by the bacteria in the intestines, and plays an essential role in normal blood clotting, promoting bone health, and helping to produce proteins for blood, bones, and kidneys.” - Colorado State University.

You may be able to find it in fish oil supplements, where it's mixed with the right substance for your body to absorb.

What Happens If You Don't Get Enough Of These Vitamins

woman experiencing pain

Several things can happen if you consistently have a deficiency in these vitamins.

The problem is that many of them develop slowly and might go unnoticed until it's too late [9]:

  • Reduced immune system functionality
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Reduced bone density
  • Heart disease
  • Arterial calcification
  • Partial blindness

Now, it would take quite a significantly poor diet to become consistently deficient in all of these vitamins.

But with Americans increasingly relying on junk food and highly processed nutrients, the risks are becoming increasingly real.

How To Get More Of These Vitamins

woman in a beach getting sun baited and a bowl of salad

Let me show you some options for dietary supplements like vitamin D supplements and also natural things you could eat more of.

Vitamin A Sources

I mentioned above that carrots are full of this vitamin, and if you eat a large carrot, you could be getting 1 mg in a purely natural way [10].

Vitamin E Sources

Boosting your vitamin E intake is actually reasonably easy through your diet. Vegetable oils, seeds, and nuts are full of vitamin E [11]. Simply add some fresh oil to salads and a few spoons of seeds to your breakfast oatmeal.

Vitamin D Sources

To boost your vitamin D intake during the winter months, make sure you spend 20 minutes in direct sunlight whenever possible. In many places, that's difficult, and that's where a supplement is the best option.

Vitamin K Sources

Vitamin K supplements are becoming more available, but if you'd like to get a natural boost, you'll need to look into fermented vegetables like soybeans or leafy greens [12].

FAQs

What Are Better Fat or Water-Soluble Vitamins?

Both fat and water-soluble types of vitamins are important, and it's not a good idea to prioritize one over the other. Monitoring your diet for all of them should ensure that you stay healthy and support your fitness goals.

Are Fat-Soluble Vitamins Toxic?

No, fat-soluble types of vitamins are not generally toxic. But some of them may become toxic if you take a very high dose through supplements. That's why it's always best to stick with the recommended dose on the bottle.

Are You Getting Enough Fat-Soluble Vitamins?

When it comes to all vitamins, it's important to make sure that you don't run low on them.

You can get a full blood test done to show you which ones you might be low on.

Pay close attention to A, D, E, and K, as it's not uncommon for people not to get enough of them, and then either see if you can easily adapt your diet or consider taking some multivitamin supplements.


References: 

  1. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/fat-soluble-vitamin
  2. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/fat-soluble-vitamins-vs-water-soluble-vitamins
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-a/art-20365945
  4. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-get-vitamin-d-from-sunlight/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23857223/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6830261/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24166490/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22489224/
  9. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fat-soluble-vitamins
  10. https://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/food-and-nutrition-21/food-and-nutrition-news-316/vitamin-a-647430.html
  11. https://tools.myfooddata.com/nutrient-ranking-tool/Vitamin-E/Nuts-and-Seeds/Highest
  12. https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/50921

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