You’ve likely heard the expression “you are what you eat.” When it comes to getting enough vitamins, this couldn’t be more true. Eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods ensures that your body gets the vitamins it needs to properly function.

Vitamins are essential to your nutrition and to the healthy functioning of your body. They are good for you in many ways, including:

  • promoting normal cell function
  • encouraging normal growth and development
  • absorbing other nutrients
  • preventing disease
  • adding to your overall well-being

Most men can get their daily recommended intakes (DRIs) of vitamins from the food they eat and don’t need dietary supplements, but certain men may require specific vitamins due to body chemistry, illness, or other condition.

The following vitamins are crucial to proper body functioning:

  • Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyesight and a healthy immune system.
  • Vitamin B-1 (thiamine) helps cells turn carbohydrates into energy.
  • Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin) helps cells make energy.
  • Vitamin B-3 (niacin) aids digestion and nervous system functioning.
  • Vitamin B-6 helps your body produce hemoglobin and several neurotransmitters in the brain, promotes proper nerve function, breaks down proteins, and helps maintain blood glucose levels.
  • Vitamin B-12 aids in the formation of red blood cells, helps maintain the nervous system, and aids metabolism.
  • Vitamin C promotes healthy gums and teeth and helps the body heal wounds and absorb iron.
  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb and maintain proper blood levels of calcium.
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant, and it protects cells from certain types of damage. It also affects Vitamin K.
  • Vitamin K is crucial for blood coagulation (clotting).
  • Biotin helps break down proteins and carbohydrates and is crucial for hormone and cholesterol production.
  • Pantothenic acid aids in the same ways as biotin.
  • Folate (folic acid) aids the formation of red blood cells and is essential for DNA production.
  • Zinc is important for immunity and nervous system development.

Many important vitamins can be found in food sources, for example:

  • eggs: vitamin A, B-1, B-3, B-12, K, biotin, pantothenic acid
  • avocado: vitamin E, B-3, B-6, pantothenic acid
  • milk and fortified milk: vitamin A, B-2, B-12, D, biotin, pantothenic acid
  • cauliflower: vitamin K, C
  • citrus fruits: vitamin C, folate
  • nuts and seeds: vitamin B-3, B-6, E, biotin
  • dark green vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts: vitamin C, E, K, folate
  • dark leafy vegetables: vitamin A, K, folate

If you are a vegetarian, make sure you get enough vitamin B-12 and vitamin D. Fortified cereals and grain products contain B-12, but you may still need a supplement. Vegetarians are also at risk of iron and zinc deficiencies, as these are not easily absorbed from plant materials. If you follow a vegan diet, be sure to eat plenty of dark-colored fruits and vegetables so that you don’t become deficient in vitamin A. Calcium-fortified cereals or soy products can also help supplement for calcium found in dairy products.

There are a certain groups of men who may need to supplement their diets with additional vitamins, but this is rare. According to the American Heart Association, the best way to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs is through the food you eat, not through supplements.

Older men, particularly men over 50, need more vitamins and minerals than young men. If you are over the age of 50, pay special attention to your levels of:

  • vitamin B-12, which helps keep your nerves and red blood cells healthy
  • vitamin B-6, which helps form red blood cells
  • calcium and vitamin D, which both help keep your bones strong

B vitamins also aid in digestion and are important for older men since metabolism slows down with age.

You can get vitamin D from being out in the sun or from supplements. However, your doctor may not recommend you sit out in the sun without sunscreen, because the risks of skin cancer may outweigh the benefits. Instead, your doctor may suggest taking vitamin D supplements.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is less strict in monitoring and regulating supplements than prescription medicines. Currently, regulation of supplements is not standardized, which means there are no guidelines to measure their safety and efficacy. Multivitamins and vitamin supplements may not have some of the qualities they advertise. Be educated and informed when making a decision to use supplements, and always talk to your doctor first.

The American Heart Association recommends you not rely on supplements. It also encourages you to be wary of antioxidant supplements, as evidence suggests they aren’t effective.

Read more: Americans spend billions on vitamins and herbs that don’t work »

Vitamins are essential to the proper functioning of your body. The best way to get them is through the food you eat, but supplements are widely available if you are lacking in any.

Research continues on the effectiveness of vitamin supplements, but results are mixed. Unless instructed by your doctor, most people don’t need to take multivitamins. You can get the proper amount of vitamins with a balanced and varied diet. As always, talk to your doctor if you feel you are lacking vitamins and might benefit in taking supplements.