Vitamin D may get more air time, but new research suggests vitamin K is moving up the ranks. According to a recent meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people with lower levels of vitamin K in their blood were found to have a 19% higher risk of mortality over a 13-year period compared to people with higher levels of vitamin K in their blood.
Wondering what makes vitamin K so longevity-friendly? How about ways to get more of the nutrient on your plate? We’ve got you covered. Keep reading for everything you need to know about K.
WHAT IS VITAMIN K?
Vitamin K is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins (along with A, D, and E). Quick refresher: fat-soluble vitamins are those that are better absorbed by the body when consumed along with a source of fat, like olive oil or avocado.
There are a few different types of vitamin K, but the form that’s most commonly found in our food is called phylloquinone. Good bacteria in the gut are also responsible for producing some of the vitamin K that’s present in the body. Pro tip: if you’re taking an antibiotic (which squashes our good gut bugs along with the bad), consider upping your vitamin K intake to account for the decrease in the body’s production of the vitamin.
While other fat-soluble vitamins can lead to toxicity if consumed (usually via supplements) in excess, it’s not as easy to overdo it on vitamin K. This is because the body is efficient at breaking down excess and removing it from our system. Also, the vitamin K found in whole foods is less easily absorbed by the body compared to what comes in supplement form.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF VITAMIN K
Controls blood clotting (in a good way!): Vitamin K is required for the production of proteins involved in blood clotting. That sounds like a bad thing, but it’s actually super necessary. Why? Without adequate levels of K, we’re at a higher risk of losing too much blood after injuries. One note: people who are on blood-thinning medications need to be mindful of the amount of vitamin K they consume. The nutrient isn’t off-limits (we’d never tell you to break up with kale!), rather it needs to be eaten mindfully so it doesn’t counteract the drug’s actions. Talk to your doctor or RD to determine the right amount of vitamin K for your diet if you’re on these types of meds.
Boosts bone health: The nutrient revs up the activity of proteins that are responsible for building and strengthening our bones. Optimal vitamin K levels have been linked to increased bone mineral density as well as reduced fracture risk, both of which are extra important for women since our bone density declines as we age.
Keeps hearts happy: More research is needed, but early studies suggest vitamin K may prevent hardening of the arteries, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
WHERE YOU CAN FIND IT
Let’s just say the “eat your greens” principle definitely applies when it comes to vitamin K. Top food sources of the critical nutrient include green leafy vegetables, such as:
- Collard greens
- Brussels sprouts
WHAT ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS?
It’s extremely rare to be deficient in vitamin K, so there’s no real need to add it to your supplement game without good reason. If you take a multivitamin, K will be included. Also, you may see vitamin K in a vitamin D supplement, since some brands combine the two nutrients to maximize bone health benefits.
HOW TO ADD MORE VITAMIN K TO YOUR DIET
Remember to consume your vitamin K-rich leafy greens with a healthy source of fat to help your body better absorb the nutrient. One easy way is to sneak some baby spinach into your morning smoothie (along with some nut butter or chia seeds for fat!). We love this low sugar berry green smoothie.
Usually a wrap gal at lunch? Swap your usual wheat wrap for a collard green wrap or try these roasted chicken lettuce wraps that serve up lean protein, gut-friendly probiotics (thanks to kimchi) and — of course — vitamin K.
(photo credit: Shutterstock)
Anthea Levi, MS, RD, is a Brooklyn-based registered dietitian and health reporter. She currently works in private practice at Culina Health and contributes to various media outlets, including Livestrong.com and Nutritious Life.
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