Fat-Soluble Vitamins: Overview and Recommendations

In This Article

Woman in bathrobe taking medication in bathroom
CaiaImage/Getty Images

Fat-soluble vitamins are those which disperse and are stored in fat. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins. Some phytonutrients, such as the carotenoids (e.g. beta-carotene) are also fat-soluble. These nutrients are needed to ensure proper maintenance of tissues as well as normal bodily functions and growth.

What Does Fat-Soluble Mean?

Different types of vitamins are stored in the body and they are defined and classified based on their solubility. Some dissolve in fat and others dissolve in water.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

  • Dissolves in fats and oils

  • Stored in the liver and fat cells

  • Overconsumption can be dangerous

  • Requires intake of dietary fat for absorption

  • Come from plant and animal sources

  • Includes vitamins A, D, E and K

Water-Soluble Vitamins

  • Dissolves in water

  • Are not stored in the body

  • Must be consumed daily

  • Over consumption is generally not problematic

  • Come from plant and animal sources

  • Includes vitamins B and C

Fat-Soluble

Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are essential for a wide range of biological processes in the body. In fact, you would not survive without these micronutrients. 

Your body stores the fat-soluble vitamins in the liver and fat cells. Because they can build up over long periods of time, it's possible to develop a toxicity from over-consumption.

If you consume too much of a certain vitamin, you may develop a potentially dangerous condition called hypervitaminosis. The condition is unlikely to occur if you consume vitamins only from food (or in the case of vitamin D, exposure to the sun). But it may happen by consuming large amounts in "mega" vitamin pills or supplements.

Consuming fat-containing foods aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and phytonutrients, however only small amounts of fat are required for this purpose.

Water-Soluble

Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pyridoxine, and B12.

Your body does not store water-soluble vitamins. Instead, they are dissolved in water, carried to the body's tissues for use, and excreted in the urine. Because they are not stored, you must consume these vitamins every day.

Overconsumption of water-soluble vitamins is less likely to be problematic but can still occur. For this reason, there are still upper limits set for water-soluble vitamins.

The 4 Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Each of the four fat-soluble vitamins plays a different role in the body and provides a different range of health benefits. By consuming a wide range of foods, you can increase the chances that you will meet the recommended daily intake of each.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is also known as retinol. Its most active pro-vitamin form can be found in beta-carotene.

  • The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A is 700mcg for adult women and 900 mcg for adult men.
  • Food sources of vitamin A include butter, egg yolks, fish, liver, meats, whole milk, dark green vegetables, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables. 

The vitamin A that is found in foods that come from animal sources, such as fish oils, liver, butter, egg yolks, and cream and is called preformed vitamin A. Carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables are called pro-vitamin A because they are turned into vitamin A in the body.

People with diseases that leave them with fat malabsorption, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or pancreatic disorders, may become vitamin A deficient.

Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency may include visual problems and slowed growth. However, overconsumption of vitamin A can lead to weak bones, birth defects, and liver problems.

Vitamin A has interactions with iron and zinc and deficiencies in these minerals can affect vitamin A metabolism in the body.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, called calciferol, is important for healthy bones and teeth. This vitamin acts as a hormone and is necessary for the absorption and utilization of phosphorus and calcium.

  • The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 IU (International Units) per day
  • Food sources of vitamin D include fish-liver oils, fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks, liver and certain fortified foods (such as dairy products, breakfast foods, and orange juice). In most people, daily exposure to the sun is sufficient to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.

If you don't get enough vitamin D, there is an increased risk of weaker bones. In adults, the condition is called osteomalacia. In children, it's called rickets.

Overconsumption of vitamin D can lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which there is too much calcium in your blood.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects the cells of your body from free radical damage. It's also needed for normal immune system function and blood circulation.

  • The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin E is 15mg per day.
  • Food sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, cereals, and dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin E is also found in pizza, chili, spaghetti sauce, and french fries.

Vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve, muscle and eye problems and a weakened immune system. However, deficiency is rare.

Taking too much vitamin E can cause bleeding problems or interact with certain medications, such as some cancer medications, medications that slow blood clotting, and statins used to lower cholesterol.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K, also known as phylloquinone, assists with the body's normal blood clotting as well as the transport of calcium. Vitamin K may help keep your bones strong as you age.

  • The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin K is 90mg per day for adult women and 120mcg for adult men.
  • Food sources of vitamin K include dark green leafy vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and soybeans. Eating green leafy vegetables like spinach with fat, such as butter or olive oil can increase the uptake vitamin K threefold.

Vitamin K deficiency can happen if you have digestive tract problems, but the condition is rare. Symptoms of a deficiency include easy bruising, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood in the urine or stool, or extremely heavy menstrual periods.

Vitamin K overconsumption is not known to cause problems. However, some forms of synthetic vitamin K can be problematic.

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are red and yellow pigments found in fruits and vegetables that are also fat-soluble nutrients. Americans consume between 40 and 50 of the over 700 available in nature. Some of the major sources of carotenoids are orange-colored fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, carrots, and pumpkins.

A Word From Verywell

Fat-soluble vitamins are an essential part of a healthy diet, as is the dietary fat that is necessary for our bodies to absorb them. By making sure you eat an adequate amount of healthy fat, leafy greens, fruits and vegetables, and meats, you will set yourself up to absorb these important micronutrients.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control. Nutrition Report: Fat-Soluble Vitamins and Nutrients. 
  • Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations.

  • Labeling Daily Values. Dietary Supplement Label Database National Institutes of Health