It’s impossible to exaggerate how important vitamins and minerals are. Our bodies use them to develop and function. Many are essential for staying healthy and we get side effects if we’re deficient in a key nutrient. Because our bodies can’t produce many of these compounds, vitamin and mineral rich foods are essential.
But, where do you begin? There are many important vitamins and minerals out there, along with countless types of food. The whole field can quickly feel overwhelming. That’s why many people turn to supplements, but supplements have their limitations.
Focusing on healthy, whole foods is a good area to look at first You’ll get more nutrients from these foods than from processed junk. But, eating healthily won’t always be enough. You could still miss out on key vitamins and minerals.
Iron and vitamin B12 are examples of nutrients that people are often lacking in. There are others too. So, let’s take a look at vitamin rich foods. These will help you to keep on top of your health, without making mealtime too stressful.
There are many vitamins and minerals to talk about, so we’re going to break down the topic in two ways. First, we’ll talk about the key foods for some of the most important nutrients, then we’ll highlight a selection of foods that are rich in many vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin and Mineral Rich Foods By Nutrient
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B3
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin D
In this section, we’re focusing on some of the most notable vitamins and minerals. But, that doesn’t mean we’ve covering all of them, as that would take all day. Instead, we’re talking about the ones that are particularly important, are a little difficult to get, or that people are easily deficient in.
Vitamin B12 is a fat soluble vitamin that’s mostly found in animal products. Key vitamin B12 rich foods include fish, shellfish, cheese, liver, and red meat.
While vegetarians can rely on dairy products and eggs for their vitamin B12, vegans will need to turn to fortified foods instead. Options include fortified nutritional yeast, cereal, and some plant-based milk products. Vitamin B12 may also be added to products that are developed for vegans, as there are no vegan food sources for the nutrient.
Calcium is often linked to bone health, although the mineral can have other benefits too, including the ability to improve heart health and help your nerves to function well.
Many calcium-rich foods are dairy products of some type, including yogurt and milk. Thankfully, there are some non-dairy sources too, including leafy greens like kale and bok choy, legumes like soybeans, and various types of fish and shellfish.
Vitamin B3 more commonly goes by the name niacin. It’s often used as a way to help keep cholesterol in control, especially for people who do not want to rely on statins. The vitamin has other benefits too and is essential for our basic functioning.
Fish is a particularly good type of niacin rich food, with yellowfin tuna and salmon being two of the best choices. Meat tends to offer niacin too, including chicken, turkey, pork, beef, and many other examples.
There are also plant-based sources, including avocados, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, chia seeds, and guavas. Many of the plant-based options aren’t amazing for niacin, but they are still giving you some niacin and small amounts add up over time.
Vitamin E is a little unusual, as we’re talking about a collection of compounds, rather than a single one. Of these compounds, alpha-tocopherol is the most notable for humans, so many discussions of vitamin E just focus on that.
The vitamin E compounds have features in common, like being fat soluble and acting as antioxidants.
Getting enough vitamin E in your diet isn’t hard, as there are many vitamin E rich foods out there. Sunflower seeds, pine nuts, almonds, and peanuts are all easy choices. You can also turn to some leafy green vegetables, fish, and some types of shellfish.
And, while it isn’t technically a type of food, wheat bran oil can be very important too. A single tablespoon of the oil provides more than your daily vitamin E requirements.
Iron is a very important nutrient, partly because it’s easy to be iron deficient – especially if you’re a woman. Women who have regular periods need around 18 mg of iron each day, while men need much less than this. Your activity level could increase your iron requirements too.
Fatigue is one of the most obvious symptoms of iron deficiency. Chest pain, dizziness, and headaches are symptoms too.
Iron comes in two forms – heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal products (including seafood), while non-heme iron is found in vegetarian sources instead. Heme iron is easier to absorb, but vegetarians may need to turn to non-heme sources.
Key choices for iron include red meat and poultry (including organ meats), seafood, dark leafy greens, baked beans, chickpeas, dark chocolate, and pistachio nuts.
Vitamin C is another important one. It’s often thought to help boost your immune system. It is also an antioxidant, helps with iron absorption, and plays other roles in our body.
While most of us probably hit our vitamin C targets without a problem, getting extra vitamin C may provide more benefits.
Fruits are the most well-known sources of vitamin C, with guavas and kiwis being potent choices. Vitamin C is present in some veggies too. We’re not just talking about the brightly colored ones either – as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes all contain some of the vitamin as well.
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that’s been linked to the immune system and eyesight. It’s generally best to get vitamin A through your diet, if at all possible, as it’s easy to consume too much with supplements and high doses of vitamin A can be dangerous.
Thankfully, vitamin A is common enough that getting it in your diet should be easy.
Liver is easily the most notable vitamin A rich food, to the extent that pregnant women need to be careful of the amount that they eat. Fish offers plenty of vitamin A too, with tuna, salmon, and king mackerel all being attractive choices.
Other foods might be less predictable, including sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, and dried apricots. Just be aware that plant-based sources contain provitamin A, which does not have the same biological activity as preformed vitamin A.
Vitamin K is another slightly complicated vitamin. For one thing, the vitamin comes in multiple forms. The first, vitamin K1, is mostly found in leafy greens and other vegetables. The other, vitamin K2, is found in animal products instead, including eggs, cheese, and meat.
Both types are important, but vegans will need to mostly rely on vitamin K1. However, they can get some vitamin K2 from fermented foods. While the vitamin K2 subtypes are different in fermented foods compared to animal products, this difference might not be a bad thing.
The other complication is how vitamin K helps with blood clotting. This role is important, but does mean that vitamin K can interact with anticoagulant medication like warfarin.
Taking warfarin doesn’t mean you need to cut down your intake of vitamin K rich foods, but it’s best to keep your vitamin K levels consistent. This way your medication can be adjusted to the amount of vitamin K you’re consuming.
Zinc is a mineral rather than a vitamin – and it’s a trace mineral at that. The term trace mineral means that we don’t need much zinc to avoid deficiency. But, this doesn’t make zinc any less important, as the mineral plays many important roles in the body.
Besides, zinc deficiency isn’t appealing. It comes with symptoms like a lack of appetite, decreases in immune system function, and lower testosterone levels.
With plenty of zinc rich foods to choose from, getting enough zinc shouldn’t be an issue at all. Red meat and shellfish are common choices, but you can also turn to dairy, some seeds, nuts, kale, and many more foods. Even dark chocolate provides you with zinc.
Like zinc, magnesium can be found in many foods. This is a good thing, as the mineral is a cofactor in more than 300 biochemical reactions. So, we certainly need the mineral and we don’t all get enough of it. Muscle pain can sometimes be a symptom of magnesium deficiency. This is something to watch out for.
Most magnesium sources are plant-based and include options like almonds, avocados, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and artichokes.
Most of us will think about bananas when asked for a source of potassium. And, it’s true, bananas are a decent source of the mineral. They’re also high in sugar and aren’t even your best potassium option anyway.
Other foods for potassium include guava, Swiss chard, avocados, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and various types of beans. That’s only a small selection of options. There are plenty of others too.
To round off this section, let’s talk about an unusual vitamin. Vitamin D is different than the other vitamins in this list because our bodies can make vitamin D themselves – in the presence of sunlight.
Despite this, it’s easy to end up deficient in vitamin D. That’s particularly true if you spend a lot of time indoors or if you’re always covered up when you go out.
Vitamin D rich foods won’t meet all your daily vitamin D needs, but they can still help. The main foods to consider include fish, meat, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified foods. Salmon is an especially good source, one that offers you many other important nutrients at the same time.
Most Powerful Foods for Vitamins and Minerals
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Nuts and Seeds
- Bell Peppers
- Dried Fruit
The healthiest approach is always a varied diet that relies heavily on whole foods, including plenty of plant-based foods. Doing so gives you access to many different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant-based compounds. If your diet has a narrow focus instead, then it’s too easy to be deficient in key compounds.
But, if you do need to dramatically boost your nutrient intake, there are some key foods that you can turn to, ones that feature on many of the nutrient rich lists that we linked to earlier.
Fish might be best known as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but there are many nutrients present too. You often get notable amounts of 5 of the 8 essential minerals, along with 9 of the 14 essential vitamins. Key compounds include vitamin A, vitamin B12, potassium, and magnesium.
Tuna, trout, and salmon are particularly significant for their nutrient content. Salmon remains one of the most popular choices, partly because it is high in omega-3 fatty acids. The taste and texture of salmon is another reason that the fish is loved, even by people who don’t enjoy other types of fish very much.
Be sure to pay attention to the type of fish that you choose and your portions, as fish accumulates mercury. You’ll need to be especially wary of high mercury species, like tuna.
Sardines are another notable choice. These small fish have two main advantages. One is that you can easily eat the entire fish, bones and all, so you’re getting more nutrients than with other fish.
The other is that sardines are low on the food chain. This means that they’re not accumulating much mercury and are safer to eat.
But, while tuna, trout, salmon, and sardines are all especially good for their nutrient content, any type of fish is rich in nutrients.
Shellfish make our list too. They can even be higher in nutrients than fish, which isn’t so surprising, as you’re normally just eating the flesh of fish, while you may be eating the whole animal for some types of shellfish.
Clams and oysters are often recommended for their nutrients. The vitamin B12 in clams is one of the main claims to fame, while oysters are well known for the zinc and copper content.
Other types of shellfish have their own advantages. Crabs, for example, often feature on nutrient rich food lists, with Alaskan king crab being one of the best choices.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens are nutritionally dense too. They’re low in calories too and can be easily added into your diet.
Spinach and kale are the most nutrient-dense options, but other greens are important too, including collard greens and Swiss chard. The nutrient balance varies from one type of leafy green to the next, so it’s best to get a variety of them in your diet.
A word of caution though – be careful with spinach. While this leafy green is important for nutrients, it is high in oxalates, which can contribute to kidney stone development.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds have two key advantages. The first is their nutrient content and the second is how easy they are to snack on. There’s no prep work to worry about at all. You can often just eat nuts and seeds by the handful or perhaps as part of a trail mix.
Some nuts and seeds work well in meals too. Flax seeds, for example, can be found ground up as flaxseed meal, which can be mixed in with a meal to provide extra nutrients without changing the texture or flavor of the food very much.
The softness of cashews makes them easy to use too. They’re popular in stir-fries, along with many other dishes.
Seaweed is basically a vegetable from the sea. It’s commonly used to wrap sushi, but you can use seaweed in other meals too or even eat it as a snack.
Key minerals in seaweed include calcium, magnesium, and iron. There are various vitamins present too, along with iodine and a variety of plant-based compounds.
Plus, if nothing else, seaweed offers a different nutrient balance than what you find with land plants.
You don’t need to eat it as a type of food either. Seaweed supplements are easy to find. These provide the same advantages as seaweed itself.
While meat is a potent source of many nutrients, organ meats like liver are even more remarkable. For example, a 3-ounce serving of beef liver gives you far more than 100% of your daily intake for vitamin A, vitamin B12, and copper, along with plenty of protein and other nutrients.
While organ meats can seem unappealing or difficult to use, many people rely on them regularly. Liver can be an excellent place to begin, as it is relatively easy to find and to prepare, and is one of the best choices for nutrients.
Plus, you don’t need a large amount of liver to see benefits. You can easily use a small serving and then bury it in a richly flavored meal. For example, why not include some kidney as part of your meatloaf or a rich beef stew? The taste and texture of the liver are likely to get lost among all of the other ingredients.
Eggs have been controversial because they are high in cholesterol.
But, dietary cholesterol isn’t as significant as you might think. For healthy people, there isn’t a connection between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, and most people don’t experience changes in blood cholesterol from the cholesterol in their diet anyway.
So, eggs can be a good part of a healthy diet. The advantages are easy to see, as eggs are rich in many important nutrients, along with antioxidants, healthy fats, and protein.
These nutrients are found in egg yolks, so you need to eat the whole egg or at least the egg yolk, rather than sticking to the whites. Still, there’s no need to stress about the calories in eggs. The protein in eggs means that they can help you to lose weight, rather than making you gain it.
Red meat and pork are much better for you than you might expect. Sure, red meat has become controversial, but most recommendations focus on cutting down red meat intake, rather than not eating the meat at all.
Meat isn’t just a good source of protein. It’s also packed with nutrients, including plenty of essential vitamins and minerals. This includes all of the B vitamins and iron, along with many others.
You can reduce your calorie intake by focusing on the leaner cuts of meat rather than fatty ones. Pay attention to the way that you cook the meat too. Grilling meat at a high temperature may increase cancer risk, especially if you’re burning the meat. Relying on safer methods of cooking most of the time is a better approach.
Mushrooms mightn’t be the most nutrient-dense food out there, but they’re still powerful, especially they’re low in calories. You can easily add mushrooms to a meal to provide some extra nutrients without changing the calorie content much at all.
Besides, mushrooms taste delicious.
The nutrient profile varies depending on the type of mushroom. Portobello and shiitake mushrooms are some of the best choices.
White button mushrooms are surprisingly good too. They still provide many important nutrients, plus they can be easier to find and use than the other types of mushroom. So, don’t stress too much if these mushrooms are your only option.
With their bright colors, the antioxidant content of bell peppers shouldn’t be surprising. The peppers are all good sources of plant-based compounds, although the specific balance varies from one to the next.
For example, red peppers are a powerful source of beta-carotene, which is also called provitamin A, as the body can turn it into vitamin A (fun fact – there is more beta-carotene in red peppers than in orange ones).
There are also plenty of other nutrients present, including vitamin C. Plus, peppers are a great way to add extra pep to your meals.
Beans tend to be high in minerals rather than vitamins, but this doesn’t make them any less important. Key minerals include copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Once again, the nutrient distribution varies depending on the type that you choose. White beans, kidney beans, and soybeans are especially great choices, although you’ll get some vitamins and minerals from any type of bean.
Other legumes can be important too, including chickpeas and lentils. These types of legume can be easier to use too, which is another advantage.
The drying process removes most of the moisture from fruit, making the fruit lighter and denser. This means you get many more nutrients per gram than you do with fresh fruit.
However, the change isn’t all positive. Dried fruit contains more sugar per gram than fresh fruit too, so you need to be careful with your portion sizes.
A Word On Supplements
Supplements are a common way to boost vitamin and mineral intake, with multivitamin supplements being the most common type. In fact, an estimated 76% of American adults take at least one dietary supplement.
It’s easy to see why supplements are so popular. Taking a pill or two is much easier than dealing with multiple types of food, many of which need some preparation or cooking.
However, supplements are never as powerful as real food. You’re missing out on many important plant-based compounds, along with macronutrients like protein and fat.
Then there’s the issue of absorption. Some nutrients may not be absorbed as well when you’re consuming them in supplement form, especially if they are fat soluble.
Finally, supplements make it easy to end up with too much of a given nutrient. This isn’t good at all. Having too much of some nutrients can be just as bad as not getting enough. It’s much easier to get a healthy balance when you’re focusing on whole foods, as the nutrient quantities in food are rarely excessive.