How to get vitamins?

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The best foods for vitamins and minerals

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

Updated: February 6, 2019Published: September, 2016

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

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

Disclaimer:
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review 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.

Vitamins and minerals

A healthy balanced diet containing a variety of foods should provide all the vitamins your body needs to work properly.

There are 2 types of vitamins, fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are mainly found in foods that are high in natural fat – such as dairy, eggs and oily fish.

You don’t need to eat these types of food every day to get enough of these vitamins. Every time you eat these foods your body stores them in your liver and body fat for future use.

Fat-soluble vitamins include:

  • vitamin A
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K

Vitamin A

Vitamin A (also known as retinol) has several important functions, including:

  • helping your immune system to fight infections
  • helping your vision in dim light
  • keeping your skin healthy

Good sources of vitamin A include:

  • cheese
  • eggs
  • oily fish
  • fortified low-fat spreads
  • milk and yoghurt

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, important for bone, teeth and muscle health.

Vitamin D is made by our skin from sunlight and is also found in small amounts in some foods.

Good sources of vitamin D include:

  • oily fish – such as salmon, herring and mackerel
  • red meat and offal – such as liver and kidney
  • egg yolks
  • fortified cereals, soya products and spreads

Since vitamin D is found in only a small number of foods. In Scotland everyone over the age of 5 should consider taking a supplement with vitamin D, especially over the winter. Therefore, everyone aged over one year – including pregnant and breastfeeding women – should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.

Between April and September, the majority of people aged 5 years and above will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight when they are outdoors. They might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.

Some population groups (with very little or no sunshine exposure) will not obtain enough vitamin D from sunlight and are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. This includes:

  • people who are seldom outdoors such as frail or housebound individuals and those who are confined indoors e.g. in institutions such as care homes
  • people who habitually wear clothes that cover most of their skin while outdoors
  • people from minority ethnic groups with dark skin such as those of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin

These people should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms vitamin D throughout the year.

Given the uncertainty of consistent sunshine in Scotland and the risks of exposing infants 0-6 months to the sun, it may be advisable for pregnant and lactating women to take a daily supplement throughout the year.

Staying safe in the sun

In Scotland, 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure is safe for all. After sunscreen is correctly applied, vitamin D synthesis is blocked.

Staying in the sun for prolonged periods without the protection of sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to:

  • repair damaged cells and protect them from free-radicals
  • keep your skin and eyes healthy
  • strengthen your immune system

Good sources of vitamin E include:

  • plant-based oils – such as olive and rapeseed
  • nuts and seeds
  • cereals and cereal products

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is important for healthy bones and blood clotting, an essential part of healing.

Good sources of vitamin K include:

  • green leafy vegetables – such as broccoli and spinach
  • plant-based oils
  • nuts and seeds
  • meat
  • dairy products
  • soya beans

Water-soluble vitamins

Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, you need to consume water-soluble vitamins more often. Your body can’t store these for future use and gets rid of any excess when you pass urine.

Water-soluble vitamins include:

  • vitamin C
  • B vitamins
  • folic acid

They’re found in:

  • fruit and vegetables
  • grains
  • dairy foods

Being water soluble, these vitamins can be lost or destroyed through heating, dissolving or exposure to air. To keep as many of these as possible, choose to steam or grill these foods instead of boiling (unless you’re making soups or stews with the liquid).

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) helps to:

  • protect and keep cells healthy
  • maintain healthy connective tissue
  • heal wounds

Vitamin C is found in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Good sources include:

  • citrus fruit – including oranges and grapefruit
  • red and green peppers
  • potatoes
  • strawberries, blueberries and blackberries
  • green leafy vegetables – such as broccoli and brussels sprouts

Vitamin B1 (thiamin)

Thiamin is also known as vitamin B1. It helps the other B vitamins to break down and release energy from food and keep your nervous system healthy.

Thiamin is found in most types of food. Good sources include:

  • meat and fish – such as pork and trout
  • vegetables – such as peas, asparagus and squash
  • fresh and dried fruit
  • eggs
  • wholegrain breads
  • some fortified breakfast cereal

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Riboflavin is also known as vitamin B2. It helps to keep your skin, eyes and nervous system healthy and release energy from the food you eat.

Good sources of riboflavin include:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • rice

Vitamin B3 (niacin)

Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. It helps to release energy from the foods you eat and keep your skin and nervous system healthy.

There are 2 forms of niacin – nicotinic acid and nicotinamide – both of which are found in food.

Good sources of niacin include:

  • meat
  • fish
  • wheat flour
  • eggs
  • milk

Pantothenic acid

Pantothenic acid helps to release energy from the food we eat. It’s found naturally in most meats, vegetables and wholegrains, including:

  • chicken and beef
  • potatoes
  • tomatoes and broccoli
  • kidney
  • eggs
  • wholegrains – such as brown rice and wholemeal bread
  • porridge

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Pyridoxine is also known as vitamin B6. It helps the body to:

  • use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates in food
  • form the substance that carries oxygen around the body (haemoglobin) in your blood

Good sources of vitamin B6 include:

  • lean meat – such as chicken or turkey
  • fish
  • whole cereals – such as oatmeal, brown rice and wholegrain bread
  • eggs
  • vegetables
  • soya beans
  • peanuts
  • milk
  • potatoes

Vitamin B7 (Biotin)

Biotin is also known as vitamin B7 and is only needed in small amounts. It helps your body process (metabolise) fat.

As the bacteria in your bowel make biotin, you may not need any additional biotin from your diet. However, it’s still important to eat a healthy and varied diet.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps your body:

  • make red blood cells and keep the nervous system healthy
  • release energy from the food we eat
  • process folic acid

Good sources include:

  • meat
  • fish – such as salmon and cod
  • shellfish
  • dairy foods
  • eggs
  • some fortified breakfast cereals

Vitamin B12 is not found naturally in plants and grains. If you’re vegan, you should consider taking a B vitamin supplement to reduce the risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia.

Folic acid

Folic acid (also known as folate) works with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells.

It can also help to reduce the risk of central nervous system defects – such as spina bifida – in unborn babies.

Good sources of folic acid include:

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • liver
  • spinach
  • asparagus
  • peas
  • chickpeas
  • fortified breakfast cereals

If you don’t have enough folic acid in your diet you’re at risk of developing folate deficiency anaemia.

More about folic acid before and during pregnancy

Vitamins and Minerals

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Breakfast cereals advertise that they’re packed with vitamins and minerals. Sports drinks claim they can rev up your flagging energy with a jolt of vitamins or minerals (sorry, but even powerful vitamins and minerals can’t act that fast!). You know vitamins and minerals are good for you. But which ones does your body really need? And is it possible to get too much of a good thing?

What Are Vitamins and Minerals?

Vitamins and minerals make people’s bodies work properly. Although you get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat every day, some foods have more vitamins and minerals than others.

Vitamins fall into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble. The fat-soluble vitamins — A, D, E, and K — dissolve in fat and can be stored in your body. The water-soluble vitamins — C and the B-complex vitamins (such as vitamins B6, B12, niacin, riboflavin, and folate) — need to dissolve in water before your body can absorb them. Because of this, your body can’t store these vitamins. Any vitamin C or B that your body doesn’t use as it passes through your system is lost (mostly when you pee). So you need a fresh supply of these vitamins every day.

Whereas vitamins are organic substances (made by plants or animals), minerals are inorganic elements that come from the soil and water and are absorbed by plants or eaten by animals. Your body needs larger amounts of some minerals, such as calcium, to grow and stay healthy. Other minerals like chromium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc are called trace minerals because you only need very small amounts of them each day.

What Do Vitamins and Minerals Do?

Vitamins and minerals boost the immune system, support normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs. For example, you’ve probably heard that carrots are good for your eyes. It’s true! Carrots are full of substances called carotenoids that your body converts into vitamin A, which helps prevent eye problems.

Another vitamin, vitamin K, helps blood to clot (so cuts and scrapes stop bleeding quickly). You’ll find vitamin K in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and soybeans. And to have strong bones, you need to eat foods such as milk, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables, which are rich in the mineral calcium.

Fuel for Growth

People go through a lot of physical changes — including growth and puberty — during their teenage years. Eating right during this time is especially important because the body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow, develop, and stay healthy.

Eating a variety of foods is the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals you need each day, as well as the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and calories. Whole or unprocessed foods — like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and poultry — are the best choices for providing the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and grow properly.

It’s OK to eat foods like potato chips and cookies once in a while, but you don’t want to overdo high-calorie foods like these that offer little nutritionally.

To choose healthy foods, check food labels and pick items that are high in vitamins and minerals. For example, if you’re choosing beverages, you’ll find that a glass of milk is a good source of vitamin D and the minerals calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. A glass of soda, on the other hand, doesn’t have any vitamins or minerals.

You can also satisfy your taste buds without sacrificing nutrition while eating out: Vegetable pizzas or fajitas, sandwiches with lean cuts of meat, fresh salads, and baked potatoes are just a few delicious, nutritious choices.

If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll need to plan carefully for a diet that offers the vitamins and minerals found primarily in meats. The best sources for the minerals zinc and iron are meats, fish, and poultry. However, you can get zinc and iron in dried beans, seeds, nuts, and leafy green vegetables like kale.

Vitamin B12, which is important for manufacturing red blood cells, is not found in plant foods. If you don’t eat meat, you can find vitamin B12 in eggs, milk and other dairy foods, and fortified breakfast cereals. Vegans (vegetarians who eat no animal products at all, including dairy products) may need to take vitamin supplements.

If you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about how to plan a healthy, balanced diet.

Common Concerns

Lots of teens wonder if they should take vitamin or mineral supplements. If your diet includes a wide variety of foods, including whole-grain products, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, nuts, seeds, eggs, and meats, then you are probably getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs.

But if you’re skipping meals, dieting, or if you’re concerned that you’re not eating enough items from a particular category, such as vegetables or dairy products, then talk to your doctor or to a dietitian. These professionals can help you create an eating plan that includes the nutrients your body needs.

Check with your doctor before taking vitamin or mineral supplements. Some people think that if something is good for you, then the more you take in, the healthier you’ll be. But that’s not necessarily true when it comes to vitamins and minerals. For example, fat-soluble vitamins or minerals, which the body stores and excretes more slowly, can build up in your system to levels where they could cause problems.

There are hundreds of supplements on the market and of course their manufacturers want you to purchase them. Beware of unproven claims about the benefits of taking more than recommended amounts of any vitamin or mineral. A healthy teen usually doesn’t need supplements if he or she is eating a well-rounded diet.

Your best bet for getting the vitamins and minerals you need is to eat a wide variety of healthy foods and skip the vitamin pills, drinks, and other supplements. You’ll feel better overall and won’t run the risk of overdoing your vitamin and mineral intake.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD Date reviewed: July 2014

How to Eat Your Vitamins

Anita Calero

Pills might seem like an easy fix, but food provides an abundance of nutrients, as well as fiber, that pills lack, says Mary Ryan, a registered dietitian in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
These nutrients are what keep your body functioning at its best―building strong bones; improving brainpower, mood, and memory; and possibly helping the immune system ward off ailments both small (a cold) and large (cancer).
“Vitamins should be used only as supplements to the diet, not substitutes for healthy food,” says Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., director of the antioxidant research lab at Tufts University, in Boston.
While there are hundreds of nutrients, the following information explains the ones you need to consume every day, what they do, and how to get them from your diet.

Vitamins B6 and B12

What it does for you: The B complex of vitamins (especially B6 and B12) keep blood, nerves, and the immune system functioning properly. A deficiency may be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
How much you need daily: The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 1.3 milligrams for B6 and 2.4 micrograms for B12.
Best food sources: B6 is plentiful in whole grains, bananas, beans, nuts, wheat germ, chicken, and fish. B12 is found in beef, pork, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy.
How to eat enough of it: One cup of plain yogurt and a banana, one ounce of sunflower seeds, and three ounces of roast beef will fill your B12 and B6 quotas. B12 is found only in animal products, so vegans should take a supplement.

Vitamin C

What it does for you: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that has been shown to fight DNA-damaging free radicals. It may help to maintain a healthy immune system and boost HDL, the so-called “good” cholesterol.
How much you need daily: Seventy-five milligrams, but some experts recommend getting at least 200 milligrams. As for megadoses of C to prevent colds, there’s no scientific evidence that they accomplish anything.
Best food sources: Citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, red and green peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, kale, and collard greens.
How to eat enough of it: Just one orange almost gets you to the RDA. Eat your recommended five servings a day of fruits and vegetables and you shouldn’t be lacking in C.

Calcium

What it does for you: It is essential for bone health and plays an important role in preventing osteoporosis.
How much you need daily: Up to age 50, women should get at least 1,000 milligrams daily; those over 50 should get at least 1,200. The body can’t absorb more than 500 milligrams of calcium at a time, so small doses are best.
Best food sources: Dairy products are the most calcium-dense foods, but smaller amounts can be found in legumes and dark green, leafy vegetables.
How to eat enough of it: An eight-ounce glass of skim milk, one cup of yogurt, one cup of cooked spinach, and one fig will get you to your calcium goal. If you don’t eat dairy, look for calcium-fortified soy milk or orange juice.

Vitamin D

What it does for you: It enhances calcium absorption. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis and has been linked to certain cancers, as well as to multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.
How much you need daily: Two hundred IUs for women up to age 50, and 400 to 600 IUs for those over 50.*
Best food sources: Although some is found in fatty fishes, like tuna and salmon, most of our vitamin D comes from fortified foods, like milk and cereal. The body also produces its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
How to eat enough of it: If you’re under 50, one 3 1/2-ounce serving of salmon or two cups of fortified milk will give you the RDA. Ten to 15 minutes of sunlight (with no sunscreen) two to three times a week is usually sufficient, too.
*Fat-soluble vitamins, such as D and E, are typically measured in IUs, or international units, instead of milligrams or micrograms.

What it does for you: This vitamin’s major function is as an antioxidant. Recent studies point to positive effects on eye health and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
How much you need daily: Generally, 22.5 IUs. There is controversy about safe upper limits, but most agree that adding 150 to 200 IUs shouldn’t hurt and might help.
Best food sources: Avocados, vegetable oil (such as safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, canola, and olive), wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, and most other nuts.
How to eat enough of it: It’s easy to meet the RDA with food―one cup of raw broccoli plus two ounces of either almonds or sunflower seeds will do it.

Folic Acid (Folate)

What it does for you: Low intake during pregnancy causes a higher-than-normal risk of neural-tube birth defects, such as spina bifida. Deficiencies may be a risk factor for some cancers, heart disease, and stroke.
How much you need daily: Generally, 400 micrograms.
Best food sources: Leafy vegetables, strawberries, wheat germ, broccoli, asparagus, whole grains, beans, and foods that have been fortified with folic acid, such as cereals and breads.
How to eat enough of it: A 3/4-cup serving of fortified breakfast cereal contains 100 percent of what you need. A cup of peas, a cup of cooked spinach, and about five spears of asparagus also add up to the RDA.

Iron

What it does for you: It prevents iron-deficiency anemia. There’s also evidence that it helps support a healthy immune system. A deficiency may be linked to impaired memory and an inability to focus.
How much you need daily: Generally, 18 milligrams. Excess levels of iron are rare but may damage organs, so never supplement iron beyond the amount found in most multivitamins without a doctor’s prescription.
Best food sources: Iron is most plentiful in and best absorbed from red meat, clams, and, in lesser amounts, egg yolks, chicken, and fish. It’s also found in legumes, fortified grains, and cereals.
How to eat enough of it: A large spinach salad, a cup of lentil soup, and a small (three-ounce) serving of red meat will give you adequate iron.

Vitamin K

What it does for you: It helps maintain healthy blood clotting and promotes bone density and strength.
How much you need daily: No RDA has been set. The adequate intake (AI) for women is 90 micrograms.
Best food sources: Dark green, leafy vegetables and vegetable oils, such as olive, canola, and soybean.
How to eat enough of it: One cup of raw broccoli or a spinach salad will provide about all you need.

Magnesium

What it does for you: It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, regulate blood sugar levels, and keep bones strong. A lack of it in your diet may contribute to heart disease or high blood pressure.
How much you need daily: Generally, 320 milligrams.
Best food sources: Whole-grain breads and cereals, legumes, spinach, broccoli, dates, raisins, bananas, almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, and pecans.
How to eat enough of it: Have two slices of whole-wheat toast for breakfast, snack on three ounces of almonds and raisins in the afternoon, and for dinner try three ounces of grilled halibut with a baked potato.

Zinc

What it does for you: It plays an important role in supporting a healthy immune system. Sucking on zinc lozenges several times a day during the first few days of a cold may shorten its duration and lessen the severity of symptoms.
How much you need daily: The RDA for women is eight milligrams.
Best food sources: Animal products, like beef shank and pork tenderloin, as well as oysters and nuts.
How to eat enough of it: A cheeseburger on a whole-wheat bun will get you to the RDA.

Changing Your Diet: Choosing Nutrient-rich Foods

You should choose a diet made of nutrient-rich foods. Nutrient-rich (or nutrient-dense) foods are low in sugar, sodium, starches, and bad fats. They contain a lot of vitamins and minerals and few calories. Your body needs vitamins and minerals, known as micronutrients. They nourish your body and help keep you healthy. They can reduce your risk for chronic diseases. Getting them through food ensures your body can absorb them properly.

Try to eat a variety of foods to get different vitamins and minerals. Foods that naturally are nutrient-rich include fruits and vegetables. Lean meats, fish, whole grains, dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds also are high in nutrients.

Path to improved health

You may not get all the micronutrients your body needs. Americans tend to eat foods that are high in calories and low in micronutrients. These foods often also contain added sugar, sodium (salt), and saturated or trans fats. This type of diet contributes to weight gain. It can increase your risk of health issues, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), American adults may not get enough of the following micronutrients.

Nutrient Food sources
Calcium Nonfat and low-fat dairy, dairy substitutes, broccoli, dark, leafy greens, and sardines
Potassium Bananas, cantaloupe, raisins, nuts, fish, and spinach and other dark greens
Fiber Legumes (dried beans and peas), whole-grain foods and brans, seeds, apples, strawberries, carrots, raspberries, and colorful fruit and vegetables
Magnesium Spinach, black beans, peas, and almonds
Vitamin A Eggs, milk, carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe
Vitamin C Oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi, broccoli, and red and green bell peppers
Vitamin E Avocados, nuts, seeds, whole-grain foods, and spinach and other dark leafy greens

All of the above foods are good choices. Below are suggestions for changing your diet to be more nutrient-rich.

Grains

Whole-grain foods are low in fat. They’re also high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. This helps you feel full longer and prevents overeating. Check the ingredient list for the word “whole.” For example, “whole wheat flour” or “whole oat flour.” Look for products that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Some enriched flours have fiber, but are not nutrient-rich.

Choose these foods:

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables naturally are low in fat. They add nutrients, flavor, and variety to your diet. Look for colorful fruits and vegetables, especially orange and dark green.

Choose these foods:

  • Broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
  • Leafy greens, such as chard, cabbage, romaine, and bok choy.
  • Dark, leafy greens, such as spinach and kale.
  • Squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, and pumpkin.
  • Snap peas, green beans, bell peppers, and asparagus.
  • Apples, plums, mangos, papaya, pineapple, and bananas.
  • Blueberries, strawberries, cherries, pomegranates, and grapes.
  • Citrus fruits, such as grapefruits and oranges.
  • Peaches, pears, and melons.
  • Tomatoes and avocados.

Meat, poultry, fish, and beans

Beef, pork, veal, and lamb

Choose low-fat, lean cuts of meat. Look for the words “round,” “loin,” or “leg” in their names. Trim outside fat before cooking. Trim any inside, separable fat before eating. Baking, broiling, and roasting are the healthiest ways to prepare these meats. Limit how often you eat beef, pork, veal, and lamb. Even lean cuts contain more fat and cholesterol compared to other protein sources.

Poultry

Chicken breasts are a good cut of poultry. They are low in fat and high in protein. Remove skin and outside fat before cooking. Baking, broiling, grilling, and roasting are the healthiest ways to prepare poultry.

Fish

Fresh fish and shellfish should be damp and clear in color. They should smell clean and have a firm, springy flesh. If fresh fish isn’t available, choose frozen or low-salt canned fish. Wild-caught oily fish are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. This includes salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Poaching, steaming, baking, and broiling are the healthiest ways to prepare fish.

Beans and other non-meat sources

Non-meat sources of protein also can be nutrient-rich. Try a serving of beans, peanut butter, other nuts, or seeds.

Choose these foods:

  • Lean cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb.
  • Turkey bacon.
  • Ground chicken or turkey.
  • Wild-caught salmon and other oily fish.
  • Haddock and other white fish.
  • Wild-caught tuna (canned or fresh).
  • Shrimp, mussels, scallops, and lobster (without added fat).
  • Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
  • Seeds and nuts, including nut butters.

Dairy and dairy substitutes

Choose skim milk, low-fat milk, or enriched milk substitutes. Try replacing cream with evaporated skim milk in recipes and coffee. Choose low-fat or fat-free cheeses.

Choose these foods:

  • Low-fat, skim, nut, or enriched milk, like soy or rice.
  • Skim ricotta cheese in place of cream cheese.
  • Low-fat cottage cheese.
  • String cheese.
  • Plain nonfat yogurt in place of sour cream.

Things to consider

Most nutrient-rich foods are found in the perimeter (outer circle) of the grocery store. The amount of nutrient-rich foods you should eat depends on your daily calorie needs. USDA’s website ChooseMyPlate.gov offers nutrition information for adults and children.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How can I easily add these foods to my everyday diet?
  • How can I be sure I’m eating enough nutrient-rich foods if I’m on a strict diet, like vegetarian or vegan?
  • Can I take supplements or multivitamins to increase my nutrients?

Resources

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Eat Right, Tips for Choosing a Nutrient-rich Diet

U.S. Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate.gov: Start Simple With MyPlate

How To Get The Most Nutrients From Your Food

If you’re a healthy eater or trying to become one, you know the basic step is to incorporate more fresh and whole foods in your daily diet. But did you know that by preparing your meals in a particular way and combining certain foods, you can maximize nutrient absorption from every bite you eat? Well, now you do!

So, are you ready to take your healthy eating game to the next level? Cool, let’s roll!

First thing first, what kind of nutrients are needed by your body?

There are two types of nutrients: Macronutrients and Micronutrients. Both of them are essential for the upkeep of your physical and mental health.

Macronutrients are the ones that provide energy or calories. They include:

  • Fat: This nutrient is important for blood clotting, building cells, muscle movement and vitamin and mineral absorption and for hormones. “Including healthy fats, which are the unsaturated ones (omega 3s present in fish and flaxseeds and monounsaturated fats found in foods like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados) can be helpful in fighting arthritis, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease since they fight inflammation. Those and much smaller amounts of unsaturated omega 6 fats (found in corn and other vegetable oils) can be consumed to help balance blood sugar, decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as improve brain health,” say Lyssie Lakatos and Tammy Shames, registered dietitian nutritionists, personal trainers and co-founders of The Nutritionist Twins.
  • Protein: Needed for growth, health and body maintenance, protein makes up the building blocks of cells, including bones, muscles and hair. It’s also needed for hormones, antibodies and enzymes.
  • Carbohydrates: They are the source of fuel for your brain, muscle and nervous system. The best carbs to choose are whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.

Micronutrients, on the other hand, don’t provide calories. Instead, they include vitamins and minerals that are critical for good health but are required in small amounts.

“There are 13 essential vitamins that the body needs to function properly and to stay healthy and fight disease. Each vitamin performs a separate, important role. Getting adequate amounts of vitamins is important to boost the immune system, fight against diseases, including cancer, maintain healthy vision, skin and bones,” notes Shames.

Meanwhile, minerals are essential for critical body functions like regulating metabolism, staying hydrated and building strong bones and teeth. “Calcium, for instance, strengthens bones, helps with muscle contraction and relaxation as well as nerve signal transmission. While zinc is important for wound healing and immunity and iron is crucial for creating hormones and making red blood cells,” she adds.

Besides these two kinds of nutrients, we have dietary fiber and water. “Fiber refers to nutrients in the diet that are not digested by gastrointestinal enzymes but still have an important role,” says Lakatos. Mostly found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and pulses, fiber has a host of health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Fiber also keeps the entire digestive tract healthy.

Water, on the other hand, is considered an essential nutrient because “it’s required in amounts that exceed the body’s ability to produce it. Every single process in the body relies on water. Without it, we won’t even be able to metabolize food and the nutrients that come with it,” she explains.

So, what happens if you don’t get enough of these nutrients?

“Your body can’t make nutrients on its own, it must get them from food. So if you don’t get adequate nutrients from food, you’ll develop deficiency syndromes and diseases,” says Lakatos.

“Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies. It affects a quarter of the world’s population,” she tells. Vitamin D deficiency is also quite common. In fact, three-quarters of U.S teens and adults are deficient in the ‘sunshine vitamin’.

“Other vitamin deficiency symptoms include hair loss, brittle hair and nails, bleeding gums, mouth sores and dry skin,” adds the nutritionist.

Now that we’ve established how crucial it is to have a balanced, nutritious meal. Let’s focus on how you can get the most nutrients from your food:

“Although eating raw or less processed food is better, surprisingly, its not always the healthiest option. For instance, canned tomato products have four times the cancer-fighting lycopene as fresh ones,” Lakatos points out.

Similarly, eating cooked eggs is healthier than eating them raw. This is because it’s safer and improves the digestibility of nutrients like protein. Research suggests you can get more than 90% of the protein from cooked eggs, as opposed to 51.3% from raw ones.

If you love mushrooms, science says the best way to eat them is in grilled form. Boiling or frying them could destroy their nutritional value. Meanwhile, a 2007 study highlights that eating microwaved broccoli is better than eating it steamed or boiled for maximum Vitamin C retention. Microwaving is also considered a better method for cooking veggies like artichokes, beans and beets.

Water-soluble vitamins (Vitamins C and B Complex) are susceptible to water and heat. So, for cooking vegetables like asparagus, beans, winter squash and leafy greens, use little water and low heat to prevent loss of nutrients. And make any leftover cooking water into soup, as it contains vitamins leached from the food.

In case of meat, generally, roasting and baking are considered healthier cooking methods as they result in minimal loss of Vitamin C. “However, during long cooking times at high temperatures, up to 40% of B vitamins may be lost in the juices that drip from the meat. Gathering these juices and serving them with the meat can help minimize nutrient loss,” notes Franziska Spritzler, nutritionist and author of The Low Carb Dietitian’s Guide to Health & Beauty, in an article.

Moreover, follow The Nutritionist Twins’ red, green and orange rule to up your nutrients intake. “Focus on including one red, green or orange piece of produce at every meal. Think of adding one of these colors to each of your meals”, says Tammy Shames. For example, add spinach, peppers or zucchini in omelets and on top of a pizza, mix berries in cereal, stack sandwiches with lettuce and tomatoes and add broccoli, snow peas and cabbage to stir-fries, suggests the nutritionist.

In addition, pairing certain foods together also facilitates nutrient absorption. Here are a few tips on how to get it right:

  • Eating a Vitamin C-rich food enhances iron absorption of nonheme iron. “Nonheme iron is less readily absorbed by the body and is found in foods such as fortified cereal, rice, black beans, soybeans, eggs, wheat, and spinach compared to heme iron found in meats, poultry and fish,” explains Lakatos. So think of squeezing lemon over spinach, or having your black beans in a burrito with Vitamin-C rich salsa or include Vitamin C-packed bell peppers and tomatoes in your iron-rich lentil tacos, she suggests.
  • Pair fatty foods with ones that contain fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, and K and antioxidants like lycopene). For example, “drizzle your salad with a little olive oil. The fat in the olive oil will assist the absorption of beta-carotene in orange or red peppers,” notes Lakatos.
  • Combine foods rich in Vitamin D and calcium as this vitamin helps with calcium absorption. So, have your vitamin-D rich salmon or eggs with a source of calcium, like yogurt or a glass of milk, suggests the wellness expert.

Lastly, note that your lifestyle choices also play an important role, when it comes to nutrients’ intake.

Certain habits and lifestyle factors can adversely affect the process of nutrient absorption. Consuming alcohol, for instance, “reduces gastric enzymes. So your food may not be absorbed as well, which is especially the case for regular drinkers,” says Shames. Similarly, “tea, although packed with antioxidants and polyphenols, can interfere with vitamin and mineral absorption,” she points out.

Following a very low-fat diet, on the other hand, can limit the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Medication is yet another factor. “Some medicines reduce absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. For example, acid-blocking medications affect the absorption of Vitamin B12. Low B12 levels can lead to anemia and neurological problems,” says Lakatos. “While taking antibiotics can destroy helpful bacteria in your intestines that aid in vitamin and mineral absorption,” adds the nutritionist and personal trainer.

·

If you’re feeling a bit tired and rundown, or are concerned about the effects of ageing on your health, it can be tempting to just stock up on supplements as it feels like the easy option.

But, there are simple ways to get all the nutrients you need from a healthy diet and lifestyle alone. We spoke to Dr Sarah Brewer, medical nutritionist and author of Eat Well, Stay Well, to get her expert tips.

1. Get your 5-a-day

“As you get older, your ability to absorb some vitamins and minerals decreases, so you need to ensure you follow a nutrient rich diet,” Dr Sarah advises. “Fruit and veg are key sources of vitamins, minerals and anti-ageing antioxidants, as well as fibre. Don’t feel you need to stick to five, either – the Health Survey for England (which followed 65,000 people for an average of eight years) found that people who ate at least seven portions of fresh fruit and veggies a day were significantly less likely to develop cancer, heart disease or stroke than those eating less than one portion per day. Take inspiration from the French diet and try having a large salad with each meal.”

2. Eat fish at least twice a week

NHS guidelines recommend that we eat at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish. “Fish is a great source of minerals, such as iodine, potassium and magnesium, and also supplies vitamin D, protein and the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that are important for the circulation and brain,” Sarah explains.

If you’re after a meal that’s tasty, quick to make and a source of one-of-a-kind health benefits, wild Alaska seafood is a great, sustainable option. From salmon to pollock, to the impressive king crab and black cod, it contains high quality protein which helps to repair and rebuild muscle. It also benefits the heart in many ways. It’s low in saturated fat and sodium, known dietary risks for heart disease, while being high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation and strengthen heart health.

Although most of us aren’t getting enough in our diet, for certain types of fish, there are recommendations about the maximum amount you should eat, plus additional advice for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding – you can find out more here.

Image: wild Alaska salmon

3. Enjoy a smoothie

Sarah says:”Unsweetened 100% juice and smoothies count as one of your 5-a-day, but you should not have more than 150ml in one day, according to official advice from the NHS. Smoothies are a better choice than juice as they contain the whole fruit and supply fibre as well as vitamins and minerals.” She also suggests adding a few kale leaves for a nutrient boost that doesn’t affect flavour. She adds: “I’m a great fan of coconut water, too, which is an excellent source of minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Check labels, however, as some brands add extra sugar which is totally unnecessary.”

4. Have steamed or raw veg

Sarah explains that food processing and cooking can destroy vitamins. “Where possible, only steam vegetables lightly, or eat them raw where practical (eg crudités, salads, home-made coleslaw) and reclaim the nutrient-rich water from cooking veg to make gravy and sauces,” she suggests.

5. Don’t avoid dairy

“Good intakes of calcium from dairy products, dark green leaves, nuts, seeds, pulses and wholegrains are important for healthy bones and teeth, muscle contraction and nerve conduction, as well as having beneficial effects on blood pressure. There’s even strong evidence that dairy products help to protect against gout. Aim to have the equivalent of one pint of milk per day which will supply almost all your daily calcium needs,” Sarah says.

6. Relax in a magnesium bath

Sarah explains: “Magnesium relaxes muscles, reduces arterial spasm and lowers blood pressure. Research involving over half a million people found that those with the highest dietary intakes of magnesium were a third less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than those with the lowest intakes. Food sources include nuts, seeds, dark green leaves, beans, fish, wholegrains – and dark chocolate. You can also absorb magnesium through the skin – so add magnesium flakes to your bath and, as a bonus, get a good night’s sleep too!”

7. Buy fresh and local

“Fruit and veg that are picked prematurely and allowed to ripen off the plant will not absorb optimal levels of minerals from the soil in which they were grown,” Sarah says. “Their vitamin content is also diminished compared to produce that ripens naturally and is eaten really fresh. Buy from hedge stalls and farmers’ markets. Organic produce also has a higher level of antioxidants.”

8. DASH your diet

“Based on the Mediterranean way of eating, the Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) diet supplies plentiful amounts of beneficial olive oil, garlic, fruit, vegetables, nuts and low-fat dairy products,” explains Sarah. “It also supplies protein in the form of fish and chicken rather than red meat, and is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and refined carbohydrates – just don’t over-indulge in pizza and pasta. The DASH diet is also believed to lower blood pressure by reducing intakes of sodium while increasing intakes of potassium, calcium, magnesium, antioxidant vitamins and fibre.”

An easy way to embrace the Mediterranean diet is to get more protein-rich fish into your meals. At lunchtime, you could try swap your usual chicken in salads and sandwiches for canned Alaska red (also known as sockeye) salmon, for an extra burst of colour and one of the highest amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids of any type of fish. In the evening, try swapping meat for fish in your favourite dishes – for example, wild Alaska salmon works really well in fajitas or tacos instead of beef.

9. Get enough sunshine

Sarah says: “As well as allowing you to make vitamin D, sensible sun exposure increases your production of nitric oxide – a gas which dilates arteries. After exposing your skin to sunlight for twenty minutes, you produce enough nitric oxide to lower your blood pressure for at least one hour. Vitamin D is also important for immunity and bone health. Public Health England do advise that everyone takes a vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter, however, when UV levels are too low for its synthesis.”

10. Avoid sugar-sweetened and fizzy drinks

“Fizzy drinks tend to contain phosphoric acid which leaches calcium from your bones,” Sarah warns, adding: “A study of older women who drank colas daily found they had a lower bone mineral density than those who avoided them. Sparkling mineral water is fine, however.”

Find out more about how Alaska seafood can help you increase your nutrient intake naturally here

All images: Getty

As you sit here reading this, you may not realize that you’re over-supplementing!

The best way to get vitamins and minerals is to have a well-balanced diet. Nonetheless, many people unnecessarily take supplements that contain vitamins and minerals. However, those supplements may not actually help. Rather, they actually may be detrimental to the person taking them.

This article presents findings and conclusions from recently reported research discussing vitamin and mineral supplements. Although it is not an exhaustive discussion of the research, this article presents a good case for why individuals, including athletes, should focus on having a well-rounded diet instead of taking vitamins.

That’s the best way to get vitamins and minerals.

Why, then, do so many people mess this up?

As reported by researchers in Pittsburgh studying athletes and nutrition:

“. . . nutrition is mistakenly left out of their plan, or an afterthought post-event . . .”

For non-athletes, many people may have misconceptions about nutrition, supplements, and their body’s needs. Moreover, due in part to aggressive marketing tactics from food and diet brands, it may be difficult for lay people to know what and how to eat.

Indeed, researchers from Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sport and St. Andrews University published a report. It is entitled “Athletes and Supplements: Prevalence and Perspectives.” In it, they say that many of the supplement brands make false and illegal claims on their websites about health benefits. Contrary to U.S. marketing regulations,

. . . a study of 443 websites of 8 bestselling herbal products showed that 81% made one or more health claims . . .

. . . 55% claimed the product treated, prevented, diagnosed, or cured specific diseases . . .

. . . and 52% of those making claims omitted the federal disclaimer.

. . . 75% of the most popular herbal supplements did not include on the label the key safety messages about warnings for medical conditions, drug interactions, and side effects . . .

https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/full/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0429
(internal citations omitted)

Plus, for most of us, we were never taught how to eat a well-balanced meal.

Don’t worry. We’ve got your back!

In addition to discussing some research, this article provides easy-to-follow, tried-and-true tips that will help guide you. Those tips are:

Consume an appropriate number of calories

Eat nutrient-dense foods

Eat a variety of foods

Minimize the amount of added sugars

Avoid trans and saturated fats

Minimize sodium intake

Develop a regular eating pattern

By following those steps, as described below in more detail, you will have a well-balanced diet. Therefore, you will get the vitamins and minerals you need!

The Best Way To Get Vitamins And Minerals: Some of the Research

In 2018, the researchers mentioned above from the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sport and St. Andrews University found that athletes and non-athletes alike are more than likely to take some form of supplement:

“Between 40% and 100% of athletes typically use supplements, depending on the type of sport, level of competition, and the definition of supplements . . .”

“. . . more than 40% of the adult population used dietary supplements in the period from 1988–1994, and this had increased to over one-half during 2003–2006.”

https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/full/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0429
(internal citations omitted)

That’s crazy! More than half the population is taking supplements.

Indeed, many (if not most) of us have no need to take nutritional supplements. As these authors point out, and consistent with other reports, you should only take supplements if you have a diagnosed health issue that requires it:

“. . . food and supplements containing essential nutrients (e.g., vitamins) are mainly used for health reasons, with performance effects being secondary to better health.”

Despite the prevalence of supplements, the authors caution that people should take supplements only if they have a nutrient deficiency.

“. . . unless the athlete has a nutrient deficiency, supplementation may not improve performance and may have a detrimental effect on both performance and health.”

https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/full/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0429

Most people taking supplements, however, are not necessarily taking them to correct a nutrient deficiency. Rather, they’re taking supplements to generally improve overall health, increase energy, or fill holes in their diet:

“. . . 71% of US adults (more than 170 million people) report use of dietary supplements for the following reasons: ‘an overall health/wellness benefit’, ‘to get energy’, and ‘to fill nutrient gaps in my diet’. . .

“The most used supplements were vitamin and mineral products.”

“Dietary supplements may not be promoted for the prevention or treatment of illness, but it is obvious that many consumers use them for this purpose.”

https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/full/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0429

It appears that taking nutritional supplements should be the exception, not the rule. However, people seem to be taking supplements as a rule, not an exception. What’s worse, the trends suggest that more and more people are taking supplements. As reported by the Norwegian researchers, in 2016, 71% of those surveyed reported using dietary supplements, and in 2015

“. . . 68% reported intake of dietary supplements . . .”

“. . . users aged 18–34 years reported in 2015 that they anticipated their supplement use to increase over the next 5 years.”

“. . . the 2016 survey suggest that this projection is likely to be realized, as young adults are increasing their use of dietary supplements.”

https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/full/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0429

Why are so many people taking nutritional supplements despite not needing to?

The Norwegian researchers report that athletes and non-athletes take supplements based on a misguided belief that food alone is insufficient.

“Sport-specific reasons for supplement use include a belief that the stress of intense training/competition cannot be met by food alone, and that supplements can offer a specific advantage in either training or competition.”

“In the general population, consumption of nutritional supplements is often driven by a belief that they confer health benefits above and beyond those that can be achieved by eating normal foods.”

“These reasons are more often based on unfounded beliefs than on any understanding of the issues at stake.”

https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/full/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0429

These findings are troubling. Athletes and non-athletes alike shouldn’t take supplements unless they have a legitimate health reason to do so.

“. . . legitimate concerns regarding the widespread assumption that supplement use confers health benefits on the consumer and that it is free from any risk of adverse health outcomes.”

“Unless an athlete has a nutrient deficiency, supplementation is unlikely to improve health or performance and can in fact have a detrimental effect on both performance . . .”

https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/full/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0429

A List Of The Best Way To Get Vitamins And Minerals

Consume an appropriate number of calories

Eat nutrient-dense foods

Eat a variety of foods

Minimize the amount of added sugars

Avoid trans and saturated fats

Minimize sodium intake

Develop a regular eating pattern

Looking for a snack with 21 vitamins and minerals, 10 fruits and vegetables, 16 grams of organic protein, and 250 calories?

The Best Way To Get Vitamins And Minerals Is To:

Consume an appropriate number of calories

By eating an appropriate number of calories, you will maintain a healthier weight, ensure you’re getting an appropriate amount of nutrients, and reduce your risk of becoming obese or developing other chronic illnesses. To help, look at food labels to see how many calories are in your food.

Furthermore, as explained more below in “develop a regular eating pattern,” plan out a daily eating schedule. For instance, plan to eat 6 times per day. At each meal, target a certain number of calories. For instance, meal one eat 200 calories; meals two through five, eat 400 calories each; meal 6, eat 200 calories. That gets you to 2000 calories. By planning how many calories to eat at each meal, you can control how many calories you consume in a day.

Also, buy a food scale. It will help you stay within your calorie goals. Plus, as you research online how many calories per pound of food, you will learn more about your food. Hence, you’ll be armed with better information for making better food decisions.

When you first start using the scale, you may be surprised to learn how many calories are in your food. For instance, weigh out one serving of pasta. See how it compares to your expectations. By counting calories, you are one step closer because the best way to get vitamins and minerals is to count calories as part of your dedication to having a well-balanced diet.

Eat nutrient-dense foods

Eating nutrient-dense foods will help ensure you’re getting meaningful calories. Nutrient-dense foods are those that are packed with calories and nutrients in a small volume. Examples of nutrient-dense foods are nuts, nut butters, seeds, salmon, avocado, quinoa, hemp hearts, leafy greens like arugula, and eggs.

One way to incorporate nutrient-dense foods into your diet is to start with a nutrient-dense food as your base, and then add other healthy foods to add flavor and calories. For instance, starting with one serving of quinoa as your base, you can add vegetables and fruits for flavor, calories, and vitamins and minerals: one serving of quinoa with diced carrots, arugula, and avocado. Yes! This is a healthy, flavorful, and nutrient-dense meal. Easy to make, too.

By eating nutrient-dense foods, you will inevitably eat less of the unhealthy foods, like fried, process, and high-sugar foods. Therefore, the best way to get vitamins and minerals is to focus on eating nutrient-dense foods.

Eat a variety of foods

Eating a variety of nutrients will help ensure you’re getting a variety of nutrients. Although many nutrient-dense foods are packed with significant amounts of multiple vitamins and minerals, each food is unique in terms of the overall combination of types and amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Therefore, the best way to get vitamins and minerals is to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods. That said, you can definitely repeat the same nutrient-dense foods throughout the week. Just don’t eat the same exact things for every meal.

Minimize the amount of added sugars

The general consensus these days is to avoid added sugars. Too much added sugar can cause you to consume too many empty calories and therefore gain weight. Also, too much sugar over an extended period of time can cause people to develop diabetes, heart issues, and other chronic diseases. Natural sugars, however, don’t seem to have the same negative impact as added sugars. So, for instance, eating a banana is okay, whereas drinking a soda is not. A banana has about 14 grams of natural sugar. In contrast, a soda can have as high as 35-40 grams of added sugar. Not only is the amount of sugar a big difference, so is the source. The banana sugar is considered a natural sugar. But the soda sugar is not natural; it’s added.

As you pay attention to sugar quantities in labels, you’ll start to notice how so many foods and beverages have so much sugar. Simply cutting out high-sugar drinks and high-sugar snacks from your diet will make a huge positive impact. You’ll also notice, however, how your food and beverages are less tasty. Find clever ways around that. Like, for instance, adding sweet food to otherwise bland food. Rather than adding “added sugar,” you’re adding natural sugar.

The best way to get vitamins and minerals is to minimize the amount of added sugar you eat and drink.

Avoid trans and saturated fats

By minimizing the amount of bad fats, like trans and saturated fats, you avoid increasing your risk of developing chronic illnesses. For instance, eating too much trans fat can increase inflammation throughout your body. This happens in part because of an increased amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in your circulatory system. The increased inflammation can contribute to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Similarly, eating too many saturated fats can cause an increase in harmful LDL cholesterol. This may result in clogged arteries.

Looking for ways to stay hydrated? Read this.

Accordingly, you should eat foods that are low in the bad fats. Instead, you should eat foods with healthy fats — monounsaturated fats. Yes, some fats are healthy for you. You need them for energy, cellular structure, and proper nerve function.

For good fats, eat vegetables, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, nuts, and seeds. Also, avocados, high-oleic safflower oil, high-oleic sunflower oil, flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, and unhydrogenated soybean oil are good examples. You can also eat fish. For examples of fish, eat salmon, mackerel, and sardines.

By eating foods with less bad fats, you will likely find yourself eating more foods with healthy fats. Also, the opposite is true. By eating foods with more healthy fats, you will likely find yourself eating less foods with bad fats.

Therefore, the best way to have a balanced diet is to eat foods that are low in trans and saturated fats. Accordingly, the best way to get vitamins and minerals is to follow a diet that minimizes the amount of bad fats you consume.

Minimize sodium intake

You should minimize your sodium intake because it will help you avoid unnecessary health issues. Specifically, too much sodium will increase your blood pressure. Your blood pressure increases because your body retains extra fluid to account for the greater concentration of sodium present. The increase blood pressure negatively impacts your heart.

Also, too much sodium is associated with an increased risk of other serious illnesses. For instance, osteoporosis, heart failure, kidney disease, and stroke are all diseases that you are at an increased risk for if you regularly consume too much sodium.

Therefore, to eat a well-balanced diet, you should eat an appropriate amount of sodium. To do so, don’t add salt to your food other than occasionally for light flavoring. Choose foods that have a variety of sodium amounts. Although you should not over-do the sodium, you still need to consume some sodium. So don’t avoid it. Just be sure to eat foods with a varying amounts of sodium.

The best way to get vitamins and minerals is to minimize the amount of sodium you eat and drink because it will help you have a well-balanced diet.

Develop a regular eating pattern

You should eat according to a regular schedule or pattern. As mentioned above, you should plan out a general eating strategy. In the example above, it says to target a certain number of calories at eat meal. For instance, divide your total calories for the day into 6 meals. At meal one, eat 200 calories; meals two through five, eat 400 calories each; meal 6, eat 200 calories.

Here’s one way to help simplify your planning. Keep around the house four to five food options that are roughly 200 calories each. That way, for meals one and six, you have a few well-planned and convenient options. Similarly, keep around the house five to six food options that are roughly 400 calories each. This will prepare you for meals two through five. Plus, you can mix and match the 200 calorie options to help with these meals.

In addition to having a thoughtful eating schedule, make Tips 1-6 above are part of your everyday routine. Otherwise, by following these tips only occasionally, you are at greater risk of developing chronic diseases. For instance, instead of just winging it for breakfast in the morning (you know, by going to Starbucks and picking something that just looks good), buy a box of healthy protein bars that you can grab each morning on your way out the door.

Looking for healthy protein bars? Read this.

It helps to have a variety of protein bars so that you don’t grow tired of one kind. Plus, as your appetite varies each morning, you’ll have several options to choose from.

Another example is have a variety of healthy yet convenient mid-afternoon snacks. For instance, low-sugar yogurt with a spoonful of sunflower butter is delicious and healthy:

By having a daily eating plan, you are more likely to successfully maintain a well-balanced diet. Such a plan, therefore, will help you get the vitamins and minerals you need for living a healthy life. Accordingly, the best way to get vitamins and minerals is to implement a regular and thoughtful eating schedule..

Conclusion

Throughout your lifetime, your eating and drinking decisions add up. Therefore, each of your food and beverage decisions are important. By making these tips part of your routine and establishing a regular eating pattern, you won’t have to rely on what is merely convenient. You can rely on something that is convenient and meaningful. For instance, when you grocery shop or explore restaurants in your neighborhood, keep these principles in mind. The more you practice, the easier it gets.

Don’t give up. You can do this. Keep trying, even if you get off track. Your persistence and patience will pay off!

Getting your vitamins and minerals through diet

The benefits of multivitamins are looking doubtful. Can we do without them?

Updated: April 30, 2018Published: July, 2009

The answer is a qualified yes – we can do without them, as long as you eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

In the past, doctors often suggested a standard multivitamin with minerals each day. They don’t cost much, and earlier studies had shown some benefits. For example, it appeared that folic acid and other B vitamins might lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and possibly cancer. But more recent studies have shown no added benefit of multivitamins for healthy people that eat a balanced diet.

Experts agree that the best way to get the nutrients we need is through food. A balanced diet — one containing plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — offers a mix of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients (some yet to be identified) that collectively meet the body’s needs. Maybe what counts is the synergistic interactions of these nutrients — which might also help explain why trials of single nutrients often don’t pan out.

Still, there are some reasons for certain people to take vitamins.

Women should take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day during their childbearing years. This is the amount in a standard multiple vitamin. Taking in enough folic acid helps prevent pregnant women from having a baby born with spina bifida.

Also, people that aren’t exposed to sunlight too often — which can cause a lack of vitamin D — may benefit from a multivitamin. We need sunlight to change the inactive form of vitamin D in our skin to the active form. Most people in the upper half of the northern hemisphere don’t get enough sunlight during winter and most of spring and fall as well. Also, we have been told to avoid sunlight because it ages our skin and causes some types of skin cancers.

Here’s another reason to take multivitamins: it may help slow down macular degeneration. This eye disease is seen mainly in older people. But it’s not clear whether vitamins actually prevent the disease.

Strict vegetarians should take vitamin B12. They may also need an iron supplement.

The doses in standard multivitamins are safe. If your diet has too little of any vitamin or mineral, multivitamins are still a very low-cost way to protect yourself against vitamin deficiencies.

For those trying to keep down the calories while making sure they get the vitamins and minerals they need, here are some nutrient-dense foods*:

  • Avocados
  • Chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Mushrooms (crimini and shiitake)
  • Baked potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cantaloupe, papaya, raspberries, strawberries
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower)
  • Dried beans (garbanzo, kidney, navy, pinto)
  • Lentils, peas
  • Almonds, cashews, peanuts
  • Barley, oats, quinoa, brown rice
  • Salmon, halibut, cod, scallops, shrimp, tuna
  • Lean beef, lamb, venison
  • Chicken, turkey

*Foods that have a lot of nutrients relative to the number of calories.

Disclaimer:
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review 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.

Essential Nutrients

  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Water

Experts classify nutrients as “essential” because your body cannot make them, yet requires these nutrients for growth, maintenance, repair, and so much more.

“Essential nutrients are compounds that the body can’t make or can’t make in sufficient quantity,” says Mandy Ferriera. “According to the World Health Organization, these nutrients must come from food, and they’re vital for disease prevention, growth, and good health.”

Essential nutrients can be grouped into six categories: Carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water.

  • Carbohydrate, protein, and fat are macronutrients because they make up most of your diet.
  • Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients because you need them in much smaller amounts. Smaller doesn’t mean unimportant: Deficiencies in specific vitamins and minerals can create massive problems. Interestingly, experts classify water as a micronutrient, even though you might drink liters or gallons daily.

As you’ll see with this overview, all six categories of essential nutrients play unique fundamental and often overlapping roles in health and wellbeing.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates encompass three categories: Fiber, starch, and sugar. Among macronutrients, they frequently become oversimplified or miscategorized. Will carbohydrates make you fat, or should you make them 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends?

Experts and media reports don’t help. One day, you’ll read that the right carbs can keep you lean and healthy; the next, you’ll hear that some celebrity avoided carbs and lost 50 pounds.

Simple or Complex Carbohydrates?

To further complicated matters, dividing carbohydrates into simple or complex subcategories (as experts once did) has become outdated.

“The whole complex simple carb idea has retired to the dustbin of history,” says Mark Hyman, MD, in What the Heck Should I Eat? “What matters is how much a particular carb raises your blood sugar.”

Hyman says two slices of “healthy” whole wheat bread — a complex carbohydrate — raise your blood sugar more than eating two tablespoons of table sugar!

True, healthy carbohydrates contain more nutrients and fiber. Because your body digests them more slowly, they fill you up faster.

Sugar, on the other hand, absorbs quickly, spiking blood glucose levels to give you a short-term boost that soon leaves you crashing.

If you’ve ever had a cola or candy bar and got a “quick fix,” but quickly felt tired (and oddly enough, craving more sugar), you know that feeling. Because sugar contains no nutrients, experts call it an “empty-calorie” food.

Many processed foods and drinks contain more sugar than you might realize. A 12-ounce cola (small, by today’s standards) contains a whopping 10 teaspoons. Those numbers add up quickly.

Some surveys show the average American consumes about 152 pounds of sugar and 133 pounds of flour that converts to sugar annually, says Hyman. That’s about a pound of sugar every day!

Choosing the right carbohydrates, then, becomes fundamental to having steady blood sugar levels and getting sufficient nutrients for vital health. In general, the least-processed carbohydrates make your best sources.

These nature-packaged foods — low-sugar fruits like berries as well as leafy and cruciferous greens — don’t have barcodes or ingredient lists, and they come intact with the correct ratio of nutrients.

Protein

Protein — or more accurately, the 20 amino acids your body derives from protein — provides your body the building blocks for muscle, bone, skin, hair, and so much more.

Protein helps build hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. DNA and important antioxidants like glutathione require protein. In fact, every cell in your body contains and requires protein.

You can understand, then, why “protein” comes from the Greek word meaning primary. Unlike carbohydrate or dietary fat, your body so we must get this macronutrient from food or supplements.

Protein breaks down into two categories: Essential and non-essential amino acids.

  • The nine essential amino acids are those your body cannot make. You must get them from food or supplements.
  • The remaining 11 amino acids your body can synthesize, making them non-essential.
  • Of those 11 non-essential amino acids, six classify as conditionally essential. In other words, some people must get these amino acids from food or supplements.

How much dietary protein you need depends on numerous factors including your age, level of physical activity, and your overall health. Certain demographics — including people with chronic illnesses, athletes, and pregnant or breastfeeding moms — require additional protein.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Your body goes through 300 – 400 grams of protein daily, but that doesn’t mean you need that much since you can recycle used proteins.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends the average adult get about 0.36 grams of protein per pound. For a 150-pound person, that would be about 54 grams of protein per day. Some experts believe that number is too low, especially considering the numerous roles protein plays.

Protein comes from many sources including cold-water fish, grass-fed beef, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Whereas most animal foods contain all the essential amino acids, many plant foods are low or absent in at least one essential amino acid. Some plant proteins are also less bioavailable than animal protein.

That doesn’t mean vegans and vegetarians can’t get sufficient protein from plant foods. You just need to be more mindful and incorporate plenty of protein-rich foods like nuts and seeds.

Fat

For decades, health experts believed fat was unhealthy. After all, eating fat makes you fat, right? Not quite. As with carbohydrates, the answer is more complex.

Three Types of Fat: Saturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated

Dietary fat (scientifically called lipids) falls into three categories:

  • Saturated fats are generally solid or waxy at room temperature. You mostly find them in animal products and a few oils such as coconut oil.
  • Monounsaturated fats have a “heart-healthy” glow because research shows many foods rich in them (including olive oil) can reduce your risk for cardiovascular-related problems. They contain one double bond, hence the name monounsaturated. Many sources of monounsaturated fat are rich in the fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin E.
  • Polyunsaturated fats contain more than one double bond, making them more unstable than other fats. That fishy smell? Fish are high in unstable polyunsaturated fats, which can go rancid quickly. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which are considered essential for brain function, cell growth, and more because your body cannot make them.
    • You’ll find omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts. The primary omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid, which your body can theoretically convert to the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
    • You’ll find omega-6 fatty acids in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. The primary omega-6 is linoleic acid, which your body converts into longer-chain omega-6s.

Very few foods contain just one type of fat. A grass-fed steak contains some saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat.

You Need Fat

Your body requires healthy fats for many roles, including:

  • Absorbing vitamins and minerals, building cells, muscle movement, and blood clotting.
  • Balancing your blood sugar levels.
  • Keeping your brain operating at peak levels.
  • Lowering your risk of arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

So why did dietary fat get a bad rep? That answer is complicated and involves politics as well as nutritional misunderstanding.

But fat can make you fat? Well, foods rich in dietary fat are more calorie-dense: Whereas protein and carbohydrate contain four calories per gram, fat contains nine per gram.

Hormones, Good Fats, and Bad Fats

While too many calories can contribute to weight gain, hormones matter more. And overall, healthy dietary fat positively impacts hormones that regulate satiety and appetite.

Some dietary fats — including saturated fat — are still hotly debated. For these, the source matters: The saturated fat you get in healthy foods like coconut oil is different than what you eat in a fast-food cheeseburger.

Likewise, omega-3 fatty acids get classified as good while omega-6 fatty acids are bad. That’s not always the case: A few omega-6 fatty acids, like gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), are actually anti-inflammatory.

Additionally, many healthy foods including nuts and seeds contain omega-6 fatty acids. Many of us simply eat too many omega-6 fatty acids — about 20 times more, in fact — and not enough anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Balance becomes key with these two fatty acids.

The one dietary fat nearly everyone agrees is bad: Trans fats. But there’s an exception within every rule: Some dairy and meats contain naturally occurring trans fats. The truly bad ones are “partially hydrogenated” fats you find in some vegetable oils and processed foods.

Vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds you require in small quantities, either because your body does not produce enough or doesn’t make that nutrient at all.

Your body can synthesize vitamin D from sunlight, and gut bacteria produce some vitamin K, but for the most part, you need to get vitamins from food or supplements.

Water-soluble and Fat-soluble

The 13 known vitamins fall into two categories: Water-soluble or fat-soluble. The body cannot store water-soluble vitamins, which quickly excrete in your urine and need to be replaced more often than fat-soluble vitamins.

Many vitamins carry alternate names or come in different forms:

  • Researchers sometimes refer to vitamin C as ascorbic acid.
  • Vitamin D comes as ergocalciferol (D2) or cholecalciferol (D3).
  • Vitamin E comes in eight isomers: Four tocopherols and four tocotrienols.
  • The eight B vitamins work as a team, and you’ll often find all of them in a B-complex formula.

When you read a food or supplement label, the nutrient breakdown will typically be clear as to amounts of specific vitamins. In other words, it might read “vitamin D (as D3).”

Deficiencies in any specific vitamin can create widespread problems that span from mild to life-threatening.

For instance, intaking insufficient pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) can create a “pins and needles feeling.” On the other hand, vitamin B6 deficiencies can create anemia, peripheral neuropathy, or damage to parts of the nervous system other than the brain and spinal cord.

Most vitamin recommendations come largely from guidelines set by the Institute of Medicine, which typically recommends amounts in milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg), or until recently international units (IU).

Some experts believe these vitamins recommendations are too low, making supplementing necessary. Even with a healthy diet, cooking, storage, and exposure to air can deactivate these fragile compounds.

Minerals

While both are micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals differ in that minerals are inorganic and hold onto their chemical structure. This makes minerals more stable, but other obstacles, including soil depletion, mean we might not get sufficient amounts from food.

Like vitamins, minerals support numerous bodily functions, including building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth, supporting muscle function, optimizing immunity, and energy production.

Major and Trace Minerals

Minerals fall into two categories: Major and trace minerals.

  • Your body requires and stores large amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other major minerals. You’ll often find these in milligrams (mg).
  • Trace minerals come in smaller amounts (usually micrograms or mcg), but they are equally important. Trace minerals include chromium, selenium, and zinc.

Mineral deficiencies can create widespread problems. Take magnesium, which plays a role in over 300 enzyme systems, including protein synthesis, muscle, and nerve function, controlling blood glucose, and regulating blood pressure. Chronic diseases, medications, and getting insufficient amounts from food are among the reasons many people are at risk for magnesium deficiencies.

Like vitamins, minerals interact with each other. Too much of one mineral can create imbalances in another. Too much manganese, for instance, can trigger iron deficiencies. Others, such as magnesium or chromium, perform therapeutically on their own in higher doses for specific conditions.

Note: Consider conferring with a healthcare practitioner before using larger amounts of individual nutrients.

Water

You can survive for weeks without food, but water? While some experts speculate up to a week, and three or fours days might be more accurate. (Note: Don’t try this science experiment at home!)

Overall, about 60 percent of your body is water. Your brain and heart are about 73 percent water. Muscles and kidneys, about 79 percent. Your skin is about 64 percent water. But the top organ? Your lungs are about 83 percent water.

Sufficient water intake becomes vital for nearly every bodily function. “Water can improve energy, increase mental and physical performance, remove toxins and waste from your body, keep your skin healthy and glowing, and may even help you lose weight,” says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.

Your body constantly loses water via sweat, urinating, and even breathing. Dehydration can occur more easily than you might imagine, and its repercussions can jeopardize your health and even become fatal.

How Much Water Do You Need?

How much water you require depends on numerous factors including age, gender, health status, and physical performance. The average adult man needs about three liters per day, whereas an adult female needs about 2.2 liters daily.

Yes, you can get some of that from food, but you’ll want to get most from clean, filtered drinking water.

Emphasis on clean and filtered. “There are hundreds of chemicals, pollutants, and toxic metals (mercury, arsenic, etc.) that have the potential to wind up in our water,” says Bowden.

A good rule of thumb is half your body weight in water ounces every day. If you weigh 160 pounds, that’s about 80 ounces of water. Keep a BPA-free canteen nearby filled throughout the day to meet that quota.

Essential Nutrients 101 – The Science of Why

Looking at the six essential nutrients reveals their complexity, but also underlies one particular conclusion: We often don’t typically consume nutrients in isolation. (There are some exceptions, such as taking amino acids like L-glutamine therapeutically or consuming a protein powder.)

Instead, we usually consume nutrients together in food and supplements. And for the most part, the six macronutrients and micronutrients work synergistically.

While calcium often gets touted for strong bones, this major mineral works synergistically with vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, and phosphorus to protect your bones against fractures.

Some vitamins and minerals — including vitamins C and E, as well as selenium — work separately and synergistically as antioxidants.

Macronutrients also work together. You don’t usually eat protein, fat, or carbohydrates individually. You eat wild-caught salmon, which contains protein and fat. Or you eat lentils, which are mostly fiber (carbohydrate) along with protein. And of course, those foods come loaded with vitamins and minerals.

Dietary fat and protein work together to support your muscles, brain, bones, skin, and so much more. Dietary fat helps your body optimally absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Along with protein, dietary fat slows the absorption of carbohydrates so you feel full longer.

The nutrient-rich, whole foods in our Core and Advanced plans incorporate all of these nutrients in optimal amounts to stay lean and healthy. The plans differ slightly. Our Advanced Plan, for instance, includes more moderate amounts of protein and limits certain carbohydrates like higher-sugar fruit.

Even then, meeting your nutrient quota from food alone can be challenging. That means supplementing with a solid nutrient foundation may be necessary, even with an ideal diet.

Consider these foundational supplements:

  • Multivitamin (Men’s or Women’s)
  • Vitamin D3 + Probiotics
  • Optimal Omega
  • Magnesium Glycinate

Discuss including these and/or any other additional supplements with your healthcare practitioner. Never modify any medications or other medical advice without your healthcare practitioner’s consent.

5 Essential Nutrients to Maximize Your Health

The phrase “you are what you eat” dates back to the 1800s, but it’s taken decades of research since then to determine exactly what to eat to be as healthy as possible.

“Food is our body’s fuel,” says Rebecca Solomon, RD, CDN, director of clinical nutrition at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City. “If we don’t use high-grade fuel, we can’t expect high functioning.”

Healthy eating not only helps you live longer by preventing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, but it also boosts energy and mood, increasing overall quality of life, says Natalie Stephens, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus and president of the Ohio Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And, a smart diet helps you maintain a healthy weight and get a good night’s sleep.

The first step to reaping the benefits of healthy eating: understanding which nutrients your body needs and how to get them every day.

The 5 to Stay Alive

The human body needs a long list of nutrients every day. The essentials, though, are called “macronutrients,” and your body needs them to stay healthy and perform optimally. They include the following five:

1. Carbohydrates

Main function: Provide energy

“Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source and the brain’s only source of fuel,” says Kate Patton, MEd, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Your body breaks carbohydrates down into glucose, which cells require to create energy.

Get more: The best sources of carbohydrates are whole grains and foods made from those grains, such as whole-wheat bread, bulgur, barley, oatmeal, brown rice, and cornmeal. Limit your intake of sugar and refined grains (including white pasta, white rice, and white breads), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends.

2. Protein

Main function: Build and repair tissue

“Protein is another important source of energy for the body,” Solomon says. Protein consists of amino acids that act as the body’s main building blocks for tissues, such as muscle, skin, bone, and hair. Proteins also assist in many reactions in the body, including the production of enzymes (the catalysts that keep all body processes running smoothly), hormones, and antibodies, Solomon explains.

Get more: The best protein sources are lean meats, poultry and seafood, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, eggs, and soy products, according to the USDA.

3. Fats

Main function: Provide backup energy

“Your body uses fats for energy when carbohydrates aren’t available,” Patton says. “You also need fats as insulation, to help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and to protect your organs.”

Get more: Fats come in both liquid and solid forms. The USDA notes that the best sources of healthful fats are the liquid monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados, as well as fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Limit foods high in unhealthy saturated fats (red meat, cheese, butter, and ice cream) and trans fats (processed products that contain partially hydrogenated oil), which increase your risk for disease.

4. Vitamins and Minerals

Main function: Maintain optimal health

“You need vitamins and minerals for numerous physiological functions that help you survive,” Patton says. They’re essential for normal growth and development, and each one plays a unique role in helping to maintain optimal health. For example, calcium and vitamin D are necessary for healthy bones, and the B vitamins help support the nervous system, explains Tricia L. Psota, PhD, RDN, president-elect of the DC Metro Area Dietetic Association.

Get more: Vitamins and minerals come from a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and lean protein sources. “Eat a selection of colorful fruits and vegetables every day, and vary the types of proteins you eat,” Solomon says.

5. Water

Main function: Enables vital bodily functions

You’ve probably heard that you can live for weeks without food but only days without water. That’s because water is the most important essential nutrient. It is involved in many of your body’s vital functions, and it distributes other essential nutrients to your cells.

Get more: The Institute of Medicine recommends that men consume about 125 ounces of water a day and women 91 ounces per day. About 20 percent can come from foods, and the remaining 80 percent should come from drinking water — about 12 cups a day for men and 8.8 cups for women.

The Easy Way to Get Your Daily Nutrients

The amount of each nutrient you need depends on your age, height and weight, and activity level. “You can see a dietitian to get your own personalized plan, or go online and use the USDA’s My Weight Manager tool to determine your needs,” Stephens suggests.

In addition, an easy, memorable way to balance what you eat is to fill your plate at each meal using the USDA’s Choose My Plate method. This strategy involves dividing the space on your plate at each meal this way:

  • 1/2 for fruits and vegetables
  • 1/4 for grains, preferably whole grains
  • 1/4 for lean protein

Then round out each meal with 1 cup of milk (or 1 serving of other type of dairy) on the side.

“This method is balanced in carbohydrates and adequate in protein — Americans tend to overeat protein — and provides the vitamins and minerals we need every day,” Stephens says. “Add a glass of water to each meal to stay hydrated and prevent overeating, and you’re all set.”