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The best foods for vitamins and minerals

February 06, 2019

How to ensure you get the right vitamins and minerals in the right amounts

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Vitamins and minerals are as essential for living as air and water. Not only do they keep your body healthy and functional, they protect you from a variety of diseases.

Vitamins and minerals get thrown together, but they are quite different. Vitamins are organic substances produced by plants or animals. They often are called "essential" because they are not synthesized in the body (except for vitamin D) and therefore must come from food.

Minerals are inorganic elements that originate from rocks, soil, or water. However, you can absorb them indirectly from the environment or an animal that has eaten a particular plant.

Two types of each

Vitamins are divided into two categories: water soluble—which means the body expels what it does not absorb—and fat soluble where leftover amounts are stored in the liver and fat tissues as reserves. The water-soluble vitamins are the eight B vitamins (B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, B-6, B-7, B-9, and B-12) and vitamin C. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K.

There are many minerals, but certain ones are necessary for optimal health. Minerals are split into two groups: major and trace. Major ones are not necessarily more important than trace, but it means there are greater amounts in your body.

The top food sources

Federal guidelines suggest minimum daily amounts for vitamins and key minerals. However, unless you need to increase your intake for specific ones because of a deficiency or other medical reason, following so many numbers can be confusing.

The best approach to ensure you get a variety of vitamins and minerals, and in the proper amounts, is to adopt a broad healthy diet. This involves an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, low-fat protein, and dairy products. The good news is that many common foods contain multiple mineral and vitamin sources, so it is easy to meet your daily needs from everyday meals.

Here are some of the best foods for vitamins and minerals from the Harvard Medical School Special Heath Report, Making Sense of Vitamins and Minerals: Choosing the foods and nutrients you need to stay healthy:

Vitamin Sources

Water soluble:

B-1: ham, soymilk, watermelon, acorn squash

B-2: milk, yogurt, cheese, whole and enriched grains and cereals.

B-3: meat, poultry, fish, fortified and whole grains, mushrooms, potatoes

B-5: chicken, whole grains, broccoli, avocados, mushrooms

B-6: meat, fish, poultry, legumes, tofu and other soy products, bananas

B-7: Whole grains, eggs, soybeans, fish

B-9: Fortified grains and cereals, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, legumes (black-eyed peas and chickpeas), orange juice

B-12: Meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, fortified soymilk and cereals

Vitamin C: Citrus fruit, potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts

Fat soluble:

Vitamin A: beef, liver, eggs, shrimp, fish, fortified milk, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, spinach, mangoes

Vitamin D: Fortified milk and cereals, fatty fish

Vitamin E: vegetables oils, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts

Vitamin K: Cabbage, eggs, milk, spinach, broccoli, kale

 

Minerals

Major:

Calcium: yogurt, cheese, milk, salmon, leafy green vegetables

Chloride: salt

Magnesium: Spinach, broccoli, legumes, seeds, whole-wheat bread

Potassium: meat, milk, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes

Sodium: salt, soy sauce, vegetables

Trace:

Chromium: meat, poultry, fish, nuts, cheese

Copper: shellfish, nuts, seeds, whole-grain products, beans, prunes

Fluoride:  fish, teas

Iodine: Iodized salt, seafood

Iron: red meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, green vegetables, fortified bread

Manganese: nuts, legumes, whole grains, tea

Selenium: Organ meat, seafood, walnuts

Zinc: meat, shellfish, legumes, whole grains

By Matthew Solan
Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Image: © Maksym Yemelyanov | Dreamstime.com

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As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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