As we emerge from a pandemic that the majority of us have never seen before (and hope to never see again), health and wellness are on the forefront of everyone’s mind. One thing the pandemic has helped to shed a light upon is the role and importance of vitamins and minerals in our daily lives. Vitamins D and C were touted by just about every health expert as a way to get a boost in the fight against COVID-19 – and people listened (both were touted by Dr. Anthony Fauci as important to take preventively).
Our bodies need all vitamins and minerals for many different functions. But what are they, what do they do, and what are their best (natural) sources?
These organic substances are present in natural foodstuffs. Having too little of any individual vitamin may increase the risk of developing health issues. (Having far too much can also cause health issues, but instances are rare.) Our bodies use vitamins in a myriad of ways specific to each. Vitamins are either fat-soluble (dissolves in fats) or water soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins get stored in fatty tissues and the liver, and reserves can stay in the body for weeks or months. Water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored; because of this, people need a more ready supply of them. Vitamin C and all of the B vitamins are water-soluble. There are 13 essential vitamins.
1. Vitamin A (Retinoids & Carotene) – essential for healthy vision, tissues, skin and bone growth. Adequate amounts are shown to lower cancer risk. The best food sources are eggs, fish, cheddar/Swiss cheese, carrots, spinach, squash and pumpkins. The recommended daily amount
RDA = 900mcg for men, 700mcg for women (mcg = microgram)
2. Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) – essential for healthy skin, hair, muscles, brain and nerve function. Pork, brown rice, soy milk and watermelons are the best food sources.
RDA = 1.1mg (mg = milligram)
3. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – essential for healthy skin, hair, blood and brain. The best food sources are milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, and green, leafy vegetables.
RDA = 1.3mg for men, 1.1mg for women
4. Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – essential for healthy skin, blood cells, brain and nervous system. Meat, poultry, fish, mushrooms, potatoes and peanut butter are the best food sources.
RDA = 16mg for men, 14mg for women
5. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – essential for the synthesis of lipids, neurotransmitters, steroid hormones and hemoglobin. The best food sources are chicken, egg yolk, grains, mushrooms, broccoli and avocados.
RDA = 5mg
6. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – essential for healthy immune function and the synthesis of red blood cells and neurotransmitters. Most people lack a sufficient quantity of B6. Meat, fish, poultry, tofu, soy, bananas and watermelons are the best food sources.
RDA = 1.3mg (more for people
7. Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid) – essential for new cell generation and the prevention of birth defects; may reduce the risk of cancer. Most people are deficient in vitamin B9 and pregnant women should take supplements early in pregnancy. The best food sources are fortified grains, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, peas and tomato juice.
RDA = 400mcg
8. Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) – essential for nerve cell growth and synthesis of red blood cells and DNA. Older adults and vegetarians are generally deficient in B12 and supplements are recommended. Meat, poultry, fish, cheese and eggs are the best food sources.
RDA = 2.4mcg
9. Biotin – essential for healthy bones and hair and the synthesis of glucose. The best food sources are whole grains, organ meats, egg yolks, soybeans and fish.
RDA = 30mcg
10. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) – essential for a healthy immune system and synthesis of collagen and neurotransmitters. The best food sources are fruits, fruit juices, strawberries, tomatoes, spinach and potatoes. RDA = 90mg for men, 75mg for women
11. Vitamin D (Calciferol) – essential for healthy teeth, bones and immune system. Most people are deficient in vitamin D, especially those living in northern climates. Fatty fish, fortified milk and fortified cereals are the best food sources. The body utilizes sunlight to synthesize vitamin D.
RDA = 15mcg
12. Vitamin E (Alpha-tocopherol) – neutralizes unstable molecules to protect cells, vitamin A and lipids from damage. Diets rich in vitamin E may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The best food sources are fish, vegetable oils, wheat germ, leafy green vegetables, whole grains and nuts.
RDA = 15mg
13. Vitamin K (Phylloquinone) – essential for healthy blood clotting. Intestinal bacteria provide about half the daily recommendation. Cabbage, liver, eggs, milk, spinach, kale and greens are the best food sources.
RDA = 120mcg for men, 90mcg for women
Minerals are earth elements that the body needs in order to run efficiently. There are two kinds of minerals: macrominerals and trace minerals. Your body needs larger doses of macrominerals such as calcium and magnesium and less of trace minerals such as iron and copper. Most people get the correct amount of minerals through natural foods, but supplements are available for those who have certain health problems. Too much of any one mineral in the body can cause general side effects like muscle weakness, stomach bleeding, uneven heart rate, confusion and worse.
1. Calcium – essential for healthy bones, teeth, blood clotting and nervous system, it also plays a large role in hormone secretion and enzyme activation. The best food sources are yogurt, cheese, milk, tofu, salmon, broccoli and kale. RDA = 1,000mg
2. Chloride – essential for balanced fluid levels, stomach acid and digestion. Salt (sodium chloride), soy sauce and processed foods are highest in Chloride. RDA = 2.3g
3. Chromium – essential for the usage of insulin and to maintain normal blood glucose levels. The best food sources are cheese, nuts, potatoes, meat, poultry, fish and eggs. RDA = 35mcg
4. Copper – essential to metabolize iron and to the immune system. Liver, shellfish, nuts, beans, prunes and black pepper are the best food sources. RDA = 900mcg
5. Fluoride – essential for strong bones and teeth, fluoride can be harmful to young children in excessive amounts. The best sources are fluoridated water, marine fish, teas and toothpaste with fluoride.
RDA = 4mg men, 3mg women
6. Iodine – essential for thyroid function, nervous system function, reproduction and growth. Iodized salt, processed foods and seafood are highest in iodine.
RDA = 150 mcg
7. Iron – essential for chemical reactions needed to make amino acids, neurotransmitters and hormones, it also helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Red meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, fortified grains and green veggies are the best food sources. RDA = 8mg men, 18mg women
8. Magnesium – essential for strong bones and teeth and integral for many chemical reactions. The best foods are green veggies, cashews, whole wheat bread and milk.
RDA = 420mg men, 320mg women
9. Phosphorus – essential for bones, teeth, DNA and RNA. Dairy products, meat, poultry, eggs, peas, broccoli and potatoes are the best food sources.
RDA = 700mg
10. Potassium – essential for muscle contraction, a steady heartbeat and nerve impulses. The best food sources are meat, milk, fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes.
RDA = 4.7g
11. Sodium – essential for muscle contraction, blood pressure maintenance, nerve impulses and balanced fluids. Most Americans ingest nearly double the recommended amount daily. Salt, soy sauce, processed foods and vegetables are the best food sources.
RDA = 2,300mg
12. Sulfur – essential for healthy nails, skin, hair and protein structure. Deficiencies occur only with a severe lack of protein. The best food sources are meats, fish, poultry, nuts and legumes.
RDA = Unknown
13. Zinc – essential for the senses of taste and smell, wound healing and a healthy immune system. Vegetarians are often zinc-deficient and should consider a supplement. Red meat, poultry, oysters, beans and nuts are the best food sources. RDA = 11mg men, 8mg women
Harvard Health Publishing. (2020). Listing of vitamins. Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from: health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/listing_of_vitamins
Medline Plus. (2021). Minerals. U. S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: medlineplus.gov/minerals.html
Perez, A. (2021). What are vitamins, and how do they work? Medical News Today. Retrieved from: medicalnewstoday.com/articles/195878