Nutrition

The Best Food Sources For Vitamins And Minerals

What Are Vitamins And Minerals?  

Vitamins and minerals are essential for reaching optimum health. Whilst our bodies can synthesise small amounts of some of these micronutrients, many of these must be taken in through dietary sources to reach the recommended amounts.  

Why Do We Need Vitamins And Minerals? 

Vitamins and minerals have a variety of different functions within the body; these range from transportation of other products, energy creation, support of cell structure, and control of cell channels. Deficiencies in one or more vitamins or minerals can lead to reduced immunity, increased fatigue, and skin breakouts. 

   

Vitamin A 

What Does Vitamin A Do? 

The exact function of vitamin A is unknown; however, vitamin A’s importance; however, the importance of vitamin A in eye health has been established. Vitamin A is needed for night vision and the differentiation of colours. Vitamin A may also play a role in skin health and is often used in topical treatment in the more well-known form of ‘retinol’ products.

Sources Of Vitamin A 

Vitamin A can be found in both animal and plant-based products. Fruit and vegetables that are brightly coloured are often high in vitamin A.

  • Peppers the bright reds and yellows of bell peppers indicate there are high levels of beta-carotene (AKA vitamin A). Other fruit and vegetables high in vitamin A include tomatoes and sweet potatoes.  
  • Dark Leafy Greens – whilst not brightly coloured, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale are excellent sources of vitamin A. Try adding a handful of raw spinach to a smoothie for an extra nutrient boost 
  • Liver – liver and liver pates are the food source highest in vitamin A, as the liver is the storage point for this vitamin. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and requires dietary fat to be correctly absorbed and stored.  
  • Dairy Products – milk, yoghurt and cheese are all good sources of vitamin A. Dairy products also contain other vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamin D.  
  • Eggs – eggs are a source of all vitamins except for vitamin C. Eggs contain omega three fatty acids, which can help to facilitate the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin A.

Vitamin B  

What Does Vitamin B Do?  

There are 8 B vitamins, each of which play a different role within the body. Many of the B vitamins are involved in energy production within cells. B vitamins help to break down amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and also help with the transportation of essential nutrients. If you want to learn more about B vitamins and their function, check out this article:

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Sources Of Vitamin B  

Vitamin B 12 can only be found in animal products, so those following a vegan or plant-based diet will require daily supplementation.

  • Beans & Legumes – different B vitamins can be found in each of the beans and legumes. However, vitamin B1 and vitamin B9 are most commonly found in these foods.  
  • Fortified Cereals – breakfast cereals fortified with B vitamins can often be used to boost daily intake of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B9 (folic acid). Porridge oats, whilst not fortified, are a source of vitamin B2 (riboflavin).  
  • Peanut Butter – whilst peanuts are technically a legume (not a nut), peanut butter is higher in vitamin B3 (niacin). It is also a source of healthy fats and calcium.  
  • Fish B1 (thiamine) can be found in most fish. However, sources of B3 (niacin) are specifically salmon and tuna.
  • Dark Leafy Greensthese types of vegetables are a general powerhouse of nutrients. When it comes to B vitamins, dark leafy greens are a source of B9 (folic acid).  

Vitamin C  

What Does Vitamin C Do?  

Vitamin C is well-known for its immune-boosting properties, playing a role in both the immediate and delayed immune systems. Vitamin C is needed for immune cells to capture and kill invading viruses and bacteria. It is all needed for the clearance of waste products from the immune system. Vitamin C also plays a role in skin health, with lower levels of vitamin C associated with older or damaged skin.

Sources Of Vitamin C  

Fun fact – vitamin C deficiency was first noticed in sailors during the 15-19th centuries when access to fresh fruit and vegetables on board was limited.

  • Dark Leafy Greens – spinach, kale, cabbage and broccoli are all high in vitamin C. Vitamin C can leach into cooking water, so be careful not to over-cook these vegetables.  
  • Berries – strawberries, blackberries and blackcurrants are all sources of vitamin C.  
  • Citrus Fruits – perhaps the most well-known source of vitamin C, citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits can all be utilised as a dietary source of vitamin C.  
  • Kiwi – a surprising source of vitamin C, one medium kiwi contains more vitamin C than a portion of berries.
  • Bell Peppers – red peppers are the food source with the highest levels of vitamin C, beating even citrus fruits. A 70g portion of raw red pepper contains around 100% of your daily vitamin C needs.

Vitamin D  

The role of vitamin D is multifactorial. It is needed to support and balance levels of calcium in the body, which is important for bone health. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to poorer immunity and poorer levels of mental health. Vitamin D is also needed for energy metabolism, and a deficiency can lead to symptoms such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

Sources Of Vitamin D  

The main source of vitamin D is from sunlight. However, many animal-based products contain vitamin D. Whole grain products are often fortified, meaning vitamin D is added to the final product.

  • Oily Fish – good sources of vitamin D include salmon, mackerel, herrings and sardines. It is recommended to eat at least one portion of oily fish per week.  
  • Fortified Cereals –  many breakfast cereals have vitamin D added to help boost vitamin D intake.  
  • Eggs – one egg contains almost 2micrograms of vitamin D. A portion of scrambled eggs using two eggs and fortified bread will take you to almost half your daily vitamin D needs.
  • Red Meat – Beef and lamb are both high in vitamin D and can contribute towards your daily intake. Liver is also high in vitamin D, although it should be avoided in pregnancy due to the high levels of vitamin A it contains.
  • Daily Supplements – it is recommended that everyone in the UK takes a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the winter months.  

Vitamin E  

What Does Vitamin E Do?  

Vitamin E has important anti-inflammatory properties – helping to protect against the damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin E also plays a role in gene expression, especially affecting the immune system and blood vessels.

Sources Of Vitamin E  

Nuts, seeds and oils contain the most vitamin E; it is a fat-soluble vitamin and requires these healthy sources of fat to metabolise correctly.

  • Sunflowers – sunflower seeds have the highest level of vitamin E compared to other seeds. Similarly, sunflower oil can also be used as a source of vitamin E.
  • Nuts –  hazelnuts, almonds and peanuts in both their raw and nut butter variety are all reasonable sources of vitamin E. Peanut butter is also a source of various other vitamins and minerals.
  • Dark Leafy Greens – vitamin E, along with many other vitamins, can be found in dark leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli. However, unlike most other vitamins, levels of vitamin E are higher in cooked spinach compared to raw.
  • Avocadoes – these fruits contain not only vitamin E but also vitamins C, K and B6. Avocadoes are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, potassium and magnesium.
  • Tropical Fruits – Mangoes and kiwis contain more vitamin E than orchard fruits such as apples and pears. Kiwi skin is also an excellent source of fibre and does not need to be removed prior to consumption (just give it a quick wash).

Vitamin K  

What Does Vitamin K Do?  

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, responsible for the correct clotting of blood. Blood requires vitamin K to create stickiness, which is needed for proper wound healing. Vitamin K is also needed for the formation of certain proteins involved with the maintenance of bone structure – deficiency of vitamin K can lead to thinning of bones and increase the risk of fractures.

Sources Of Vitamin K  

Vitamin K can be found in a variety of foods, especially fruit, vegetables, and oil-based products.

  • Dark Leafy Greens – you’ve probably realised by now that dark leafy greens are a source of most vitamins. When it comes to vitamin K, spinach, broccoli, kale and collard greens are all good choices.  
  • Fermented Soybeans (natto) – this is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans. It is often not eaten outside of Japanese culture due to the smell however, the added good bacteria make this food good for your gut, as well as being an excellent source of vitamin K.  
  • Edamame Beans – if natto is not a feasible option for you, then edamame beans can also be used as a source of vitamin K. These can be used to add a colourful crunch to stir-fries and salad, and also count as a source of protein.
  • Dairy Products – small amounts of vitamin K can be found in most dairy products, especially cheese and milk.
  • Oils – vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, and can often be found in oils and salad dressings. 1 tablespoon of olive oil contains around 8 micrograms of vitamin K, whilst canola oil contains around 10 micrograms.  

Omega 3  

What Does Omega 3 Do?  

Omega 3’s a type of unsaturated fatty acid (‘good fat) that can only be obtained through dietary sources. Omega-3 is required for cell functioning and structure, especially the maintenance of blood vessel walls. Omega-3s can also be used to mediate the inflammatory response.

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Sources Of Omega 3  

Foods that contain natural oils are usually the source of omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Algae: most vegan omega-3 supplements contain algae, a natural source of omega-3. Algae is a sea moss and has been used for thousands of years as a nutrient source.  
  • Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil: these products are high in not only omega-, but also omega 6 and 9. Flaxseed is often used to support heart health, as it is also an excellent source of fibre.
  • Oily Fish: salmon, mackerel, cod and oysters are all high in omega-3 fatty acids. Cod liver oil is a popular supplement used to increase the intake of omega-3.
  • Nuts: almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts are all sources of omega-3. Most nuts contain unsaturated fat however, ‘creamier’ nuts such as cashews or brazils contain higher amounts of saturated fat (‘bad’ fats).
  • Chia Seeds: like flaxseeds, chia seeds are high in various types of omegas and fibre. Adding a spoonful of chia or flax to a smoothie or oat bowl is an easy way to boost fibre and omega intake.

Calcium  

What Does Calcium Do?  

Calcium is important for maintaining the structure of bones and teeth – without calcium, our bones would become brittle and soft, leading to an increased risk of fractures. Calcium is also important for many cell functions including muscle contraction, maintaining a regular heartbeat, and transportation of hormones.

Sources Of Calcium 

Calcium is mostly found in dairy products, however, some vegetables, nuts and beans also contain a reasonable amount of calcium per serving.

  • Milk both whole and semi-skimmed milk are good sources of calcium. A 250ml serving of milk contains approximately 270-290mg of calcium.  
  • Yoghurt –Y another dairy product high in calcium, a small container of yoghurt contains around the same amount of calcium as a serving of milk.  
  • Soy Milk whilst many plant-based milks are fortified with extra calcium, soy milk has the highest calcium content. It contains a similar amount of calcium to cow’s milk, with around 250mg of calcium in a 250ml serving.  
  • Cheese depending on the variety of cheese, a 130g portion can contain 200-225mg of calcium. Adding a sprinkling of grated cheese to a soup or salad is a good way to add a boost of calcium to a meal.  
  • Tinned Sardines this may be surprising, but an 85g portion of tinned sardines contains a whopping 325mg calcium, more than any of the dairy sources. Oily fish are also high in omega fatty acids.

Iron  

What Does Iron Do? 

Iron deficiency is the most commonly experienced nutrient deficiency; which can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath and fatigue. Iron is required for the transportation of proteins and oxygen within the body. Iron requirements are generally higher in women, as iron can be lost during menstruation. Iron requirements are also higher in pregnancy and lactation due to the increased demand from the baby’s blood supply.   

Sources Of Iron 

There are two types of available iron, haem and non-haem. Haem iron is generally found in animal products and can be more easily absorbed. Non-haem iron can be found in a variety of foods, both plant-based and animal products. 

  • Red Meat – red meats are the most common source of easily absorbed haem iron. However, high red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease and certain cancers. It is recommended to eat no more than 70g of red meat per day.  
  • Beans and Legumes – most beans contain both iron and protein. The iron from these types of food can be more difficult to absorb due to the phytate compounds that are also present.  
  • Dried Fruit – dried fruits such as dates and apricots are a surprising source of iron. Furthermore, when these fruits are often high in fibre and can be used to help maintain regular bowel habits.

Zinc  

What Does Zinc Do?  

Zinc plays an important role in skin health, especially moisture levels. Without zinc, skin is prone to becoming dry, scaly and itchy. Zinc is also needed within the gut for the correct formation of bowel movements. Furthermore, zinc has a role in both immunity and energy metabolism.

Sources Of Zinc

Zinc supplementation may be useful in the management of inflammatory skin conditions however, most zinc can be obtained through a balanced diet.

  • Meat – zinc can be found in most meats and animal-based products. The meat highest in zinc is beef, followed by pork and turkey.
  • Shellfish – of all the shellfish and seafood available, oysters contain the greatest amount of zinc. Crabs, shrimps, sardines and salmon also contain zinc, as well as other nutrients such as omega fatty acids.
  • Dairy Products – most dairy products contain around 1mg of zinc per serving. Dairy is also important for calcium and vitamin A.
  • Wholegrains – many breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc. However, oats, rice, and wholegrain bread also contain reasonable amounts of zinc, especially when consumed in their wholegrain rather than processed form.
  • Nuts and Seeds – pumpkin seeds are especially high in zinc, containing 2.2mg of zinc per 30g serving. Peanuts (and peanut butter) contain slightly less, at just under 1mg per 30g serving

Magnesium  

What Does Magnesium Do?  

Magnesium acts as a cofactor in many cellular reactions within the body. This means it acts as a ‘helper’ cell for enzymes, usually for the energy production process. More recently, magnesium has been used as a supplement to help relieve stress and anxiety, possibly due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Sources Of Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is unlikely if a diet is healthy and balanced; however, deficiency in magnesium can lead to low levels of other minerals such as calcium and potassium.

  • Nuts – most nuts are an excellent source of magnesium – a 30g portion of mixed nuts contains almost 50mg of magnesium. Of these, almonds are the highest in magnesium, containing 80mg per 30g portion.  
  • Spinach – like most vitamins and minerals, magnesium can be found in dark leafy greens, especially spinach.  
  • Potatoes – the humble potato is often overlooked when it comes to nutrient content. However, when eaten with the skin left on, a medium jacket potato contains 48mg of magnesium.
  • Beans and Legumes – as mentioned previously, beans and legumes are a source of protein, as well as various other vitamins and minerals. Pinto beans and lentils are also notable for their magnesium content.
  • Bran – usually found as ‘bran flakes’ or ‘wheat bran’, this food is not only high in fibre but also contains a generous 60-90mg of magnesium per serving (depending on the type of bran eaten).

Potassium  

What Does Potassium Do?  

Potassium is essential for heart health and without potassium, the membrane surrounding the heart will function improperly, leading to abnormal rhythms and palpitations. An excess of potassium can also lead to similar symptoms. Potassium is also used in the process of energy production of cells.

Sources Of Potassium 

Potassium is typically found in most fruit and vegetables and is often found in conjunction with other vitamins and minerals.

  • Bananas – this fruit is probably the best-known source of potassium – there’s a reason that many athletes choose bananas as their mid-game snack of choice! One medium banana contains around 420mg of potassium.  
  • Potatoes – not only a good source of magnesium, but baked potatoes (eaten with the skin) are also an excellent source of potassium. A medium-sized potato contains 738mg, which makes this the highest-potassium-containing food source.
  • Orange Juice – whilst most foods’ sources of vitamins and minerals are listed in their whole food form, it is the juice of the orange that is noted to be highest in potassium.
  • Green Peas – whether frozen or fresh, green peas are a source of both potassium and protein. An 80g portion of peas contains just over 200mg of potassium.
  • Tomatoes – similarly to orange juice, tomato juice and other tomato-based products are listed as being high in potassium. This includes tomato puree, which is highly versatile and can be found in a variety of dishes.

Chromium  

What Does Chromium Do?  

Whilst chromium is generally considered to be an essential nutrient, little is known about its function within the body. An ‘essential’ nutrient is one that must be included as part of the diet in order to reach adequate amounts – the body is unable to synthesise the amount it needs for optimum functioning.

Sources Of Chromium  

Chromium can be found in most foods and is also available as a dietary supplement.  

  • Marmite – whether you love or hate this food, marmite is an excellent source of chromium, containing just over 3 micrograms per serving. Marmite is a type of brewer’s yeast and is a byproduct of beer production.  
  • Tomatoes – tomatoes and tomato-based products all contain small amounts of chromium. Tomato juice and tomato ketchup both count towards your daily chromium intake.  
  • White Meats – white meats such as turkey breast and chicken are lower in fat and calories compared to red meats but still act as a source of chromium.  
  • Bananas – this simple fruit packs a nutritional punch – not only is it high in potassium but also contains vitamin C, B6, and chromium.  
  • Other Fruits – it is well known that most fruits contain vitamins, fibre and antioxidants. However, grapes, oranges and apples are also noticeable for their chromium content.

Talk To Your Nutritionist  

This article is for educational purposes only – it is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice. If you have concerns regarding your health, please contact your GP or another relevant healthcare professional.

Take Home Message  

In summary, our bodies require a variety of vitamins and minerals to function. Adequate levels of each of these will help to optimise health and help you feel your best on a daily basis. Supplements can be used for maintenance, or as a way to boost low levels of vitamins and minerals.

FAQs

What vitamins should I eat every day?  

During the winter months, it is recommended that everyone in the UK takes vitamin D. Those following a plant-based diet are advised to supplement with vitamin B12. Other daily supplements should be used according to individual needs.  

Can we get all vitamins from food? 

Whilst we can get most of our vitamins from our diet, this assumption is based on a ‘perfect’ diet. In reality, most people don’t have a perfect diet, so may require supplementation. Vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iron are the most commonly needed supplements. However, an easy way to cover most bases is to choose a daily multivitamin: Multivitamins | Essential Everyday Vitamins | Myvitamins

How can I get all my vitamins?  

Myvitamins has a range of supplements available to help you reach all of your nutritional needs. Whether you need a single supplement such as vitamin D, or a multivitamin, Myvitamin has you covered: Essential Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements | Myvitamins

How can I get omega-3 without eating fish?  

Plant-based sources of omega-3 usually contain algae. This is a type of plant that grows in the sea and other water-based locations. Myvitamin stocks omega-3 supplements that avoid the use of fish products:

What foods are highest in minerals?  

Dark leafy greens contain the most diversity when it comes to vitamins and minerals. Many of these can be eaten raw as well as cooked, which in some cases can maximise nutritional absorption.  

How can I get healthy minerals? 

A healthy balanced diet will cover most of your mineral needs. Essential minerals (meaning dietary intake of these is needed) include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and sulphur. This list is not exhaustive, and other minerals such as selenium, zinc, chromium, copper and manganese are also important for health. Essential Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements | Myvitamins


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rachelgreene

rachelgreene

Nutritionist

Rachel is a qualified Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) who holds an MSc in both Applied Human Nutrition and Physician Associate Studies. Over the last year, Rachel's been working as a freelance nutrition writer and coach, with her areas of interest including weight loss and specialist dietary requirements. As well as this, she's contributed towards published research on weight loss, and is currently studying the role of plant-based diets in health-conscious individuals.