What Are The Essential Vitamins and Minerals?
Vitamins and minerals are found in an endless amount of sources — food, drink, plants… Even the sun! You’ve probably heard of vitamins A, B, C, D and the benefits each one provides. It’s also likely you’re familiar with calcium, iron, and potassium. Well, they are just a few essential vitamins and minerals that are part of a much bigger list. Unfamiliar with other essential vitamins and minerals? Not to worry! We’ve put together a guide that includes a number of highly beneficial vitamins and minerals you need every day. In fact, you’ll be quick to realize the amount of uncommon vitamins and minerals that are part of your regular diet!
Each and every one of these essential vitamins and minerals are vital for a healthy lifestyle. From Vitamin A to Zinc, there’s no shortage of benefits, as these essential ingredients provide much-needed nutrients for your body.
Kick back, relax, and enjoy this essential vitamin and mineral guide, it’s as easy as Vitamin A, B, C!
1. Vitamin A
If you find yourself struggling to see at night, you may be deficient in Vitamin A. Known for its ability to preserve eyesight, Vitamin A plays quite an important role in maintaining vision, especially when the sun goes down. The reason for this is Vitamin A helps your eyes produce pigments in order to sustain a healthy retina. Without these pigments, your ability to see at night is compromised.
Food Sources of vitamin A include vegetables like spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Even mangoes and papayas provide Vitamin A!
2. Vitamin B: Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Pyridoxal (B6), Cobalamin (B12), Biotin, and Folate/Folic Acid
Unlike other essential vitamins, Vitamin B is a bit more involved when considering the many types and forms it comes in. For organizational purposes, we’ll list each essential B Vitamin below:
One of the more versatile in the B-Vitamin family, Thiamin helps the body function by serving as a key nutrient found in tissue. According to the National Institutes of Health, Thiamin is crucial for energy metabolism and the growth and development of cells throughout the body.
Thiamin, also commonly referred to as “thiamine”, is a water-soluble vitamin. Found in whole grains, meat, and fish, this vitamin is present in a variety of healthy food options.
Skin disorders, hair loss, and chapped lips are all signs of a Riboflavin deficiency. This vitamin is needed in order for your body to break down fats and carbohydrates. Riboflavin, or “B2,” also helps sustain health by providing consistent skin growth. This is why a daily intake of Riboflavin helps prevent chapped lips and skin issues.
Mornings are opportune for Riboflavin intake, as eggs, low-fat milk, and healthy cereal are all great-tasting sources for this vitamin.
Primarily used to treat high blood cholesterol and Pellagra, a skin-based disease, Niacin is utilized in healthcare all across the globe.
Foods that are high in niacin include chicken breast, tuna, and liver — all of which help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Found in a wide variety of plant and animal foods, Pantothenic Acid is known to absorb in the intestine and redirect into the bloodstream. This particular B vitamin is not regularly measured in people and is perhaps considered the least recognizable of the essential vitamins Pantothenic Acid ‘s job is to produce “coenzyme A” a key energy molecule for cellular metabolism.
Food sources that contain Pantothenic Acid are versatile: beef liver, breakfast cereal, and sunflower seed all provide over 2.5 mg per serving.
This high-powered vitamin is involved in over 100 enzyme reactions, with an emphasis on protein metabolism. Oregon State University Health states a decrease in late-life depression may be linked to vitamin B6 intake, according to recent studies. This versatile vitamin is impossible for humans to produce and must be found within external food supplemental sources.
Like other B vitamins, pyridoxine is found in a wide variety of foods. B6 is readily available in turkey, chicken, and pork.
Known as the primary nutrient for energy metabolism, Vitamin B12 is more versatile than people realize. For instance, if you’re looking to sustain red blood cell formation, look no further than cobalamin, an essential vitamin needed for healthy bone marrow. A deficiency in this vitamin may cause megaloblastic anemia, leading to aches, pains, and shortness of breath. B12 intake is also needed for the formation of red blood cells that helps keep your bones strong.
Cobalamin is largely found in food produces by animals, including eggs, milk products, and poultry. When seen in supplements, B12 is either in the synthetic Cyanocobalamin form — which your body must convert into useable B12 — or in the form of Methylcobalamin — which is equivalent to what is found in nature and does not require any conversion to be biologically available and effective.
Perhaps one of the most widely known members of the B-vitamin family,Biotin is used by millions to prevent hair-loss and support healthy skin and nails. Biotin is an essential B-Vitamin for building the proteins your body transforms into hair, skin and nails — including keratin (the main structural component of hair and nails) and body tissue (which becomes your skin). However, despite its popularity, there is to date a lack of published studies to suggest that biotin supplements are beneficial for the growth of normal, healthy hair and nails.
Biotin-rich foods include egg yolk, almonds, and pork. However, if you’re really hoping to at least attempt to prevent hair loss, cooked beef liver packs a ton of biotin, as one serving provides 30.8 micrograms.
The main difference between folate and folic acid is where the vitamin happens to found. For example, the generic name for this vitamin is “Folate,” which is its natural formas found in food. Folic acid, on the other hand, is made by man and is primarily found in supplements. Both versions, natural and man-made, have the same effects.
At the end of the day, your body needs Folate to produce DNA. It is also essential that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant check with their doctor about adding more Folic Acid to their diet, due to the role the vitamin plays in prenatal development. A quick and easy fix to solve this is found by consuming Folic Acid. Eating fortified foods such as cereal, bread, and pasta for your daily Folic Acid intake. Food for thought: one cup of cooked spaghetti provides 102 mcg of Folic Acid. This alone supplies a whopping one-fourth of a healthy daily folate intake!
3. Vitamin C
Known as the hero of the immune system, Vitamin C is actually more versatile than people realize. Vitamin C wears many hats when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle beyond its essential role in supporting immune health. For example, this special vitamin is needed to produce collagen, a required component of tissue in your body. In short, Vitamin C consumption helps your wounds stay moist and heal faster than people who are deficient in this vitamin.
What many people do not know, however, is that the human body does not produce its own Vitamin C. It must come from external sources. And, because it is a water-soluble vitamin, Vitamin C must be replenished every day.
Vitamin C is found in a number of delicious fruits and vegetables. Oranges stand out as one of the leading sources because an average-sized helping provides 70 mg of vitamin C. Strawberries, broccoli, and kale are all great-tasting sources of this essential vitamin.
4. Vitamin D
Growing up, you were probably told to drink plenty of milk. Granted, milk is a great-tasting beverage with many uses. While I’m sure your parents were thrilled to know you enjoy milk, their reasoning behind this lecture is to make sure your bones remained healthy and strong. Vitamin D is responsible for all this, as is promotes calcium absorption that regularizes bone mineralization. This vitamin is required for growth and prevents bones from becoming thin and brittle.
However, the benefits of Vitamin D go beyond strong teeth and bones. Research has now revealed that this essential nutrient — which, though classified as a “vitamin” is really a hormone — plays a crucial role in cardiovascular health and in healthy immune cell response.
As mentioned, milk provides your body with Vitamin D, but only because it is fortified with it by the manufacturer. Milk itself does not naturally contain Vitamin D. It’s put in there because that’s where most people get their calcium, and as mentioned above, the two nutrients work together. Fish, however, is a great source for Vitamin D, with the likes of trout and salmon providing over 14 mg per serving.
Vitamin D is, quite literally, known as the “Sunshine Vitamin.” A cool thing to know about your body is that when exposed to sunlight, your skin produces Vitamin D from your body’s store of cholesterol. However, because we are mainly a “work-indoors” culture —and because it is so important to protect your skin with sunscreen, which blocks the essential UV rays needed to trigger the production of Vitamin D — it is highly recommended to supplement with this key vitamin. In fact, recent studies have concluded that we have a Vitamin D deficiency in America, with an average of 41% of Americans being Vitamin D deficient.
5. Vitamin E
Next up on the list is Vitamin E. This vitamin is primarily consumed for its antioxidant ability, cell protection, and free radical neutralization. Free radicals are molecules that have the potential to harm your cells and tissue, causing oxidation stress. Vitamin E consumption promotes antioxidants in the blood to help protect the cells in your body.
Vitamin E is a common ingredient in many cosmetic products, with an emphasis on dermatologic purposes. This vitamin acts as a “free radical scavenger” that protects skin from harmful solar radiation. As mentioned, Vitamin E is utilized as an antioxidant, and cell protection throughout the body is needed to support healthy skin.
If you’re looking for a hearty source of Vitamin E, 1 tablespoon of wheat germ oil provides 20.3 mg. Sunflower seeds and almonds serve as two quick and easy fixes for Vitamin E consumption, as once ounce of either option gives you more than 6.5 mg per serving.
6. Vitamin K
When we fall and scrape a knee, we count on our body to clot the blood and ultimately heal itself. This wouldn’t be possible without Vitamin K. This particular vitamin is responsible for producing prothrombin, a key protein in the blood that is needed for blood to clot. According to Harvard School of Public Health, Vitamin K produces 4 of the 13 proteins required to clot blood, a staggering statistic to think about due to the complex nature of the healing process. An added benefit of Vitamin K is its ability to work seamlessly with Vitamin D to ensure calcium is properly allocated to the bones in your body.
Vitamin K, however, can interfere with certain blood thinning medications, so it’s a good idea to consult with a physician if that is an area of concern.
As we mentioned earlier, a source of Vitamin A is found in green leafy vegetables like spinach. This holds true for Vitamin K as well! Found in spinach, lettuce, and cabbage, this vitamin is always included in a well-balanced, healthy meal.
Similar to Vitamin D, your body requires Calcium to sustain strong bones and healthy teeth. Although this particular mineral is known for bone health, it helps your cardiovascular system as well. Calcium is required for human and animal life, as it benefits the heart and muscles of all living things!
When looking for sources of Calcium, it is highly suggested to turn to milk and other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. A non-dairy source rich in Calcium is broccoli, which provides 60 mcg per serving
This next essential mineral plays a big role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and protein. Chromium is also a factor in the function of insulin produced by the body. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states people with type 2 diabetes carry lower levels of chromium than most. This mineral is important for boosting insulin activity. Studies show that chromium supplements help contain some of the risk factors of cardiovascular disease, particularly for overweight people
Food sources that are comprised of chromium include broccoli, potatoes, and English muffins. A quick-fix for this mineral is found in grape juice, as 1 cup consists of 8 mcg per serving.
In order for your body to control its metabolism, it needs to be able to produce thyroid hormones. These particular hormones maintain a healthy metabolism in your body. Well, this process wouldn’t be possible without Iodine!
Iodine’s presence is strong in fish, especially tuna, and in dairy products as well. What makes this mineral unique is its ability to be added to salt. In fact, it’s not uncommon for salt to include “iodized” right on the label. Make sure to consume plenty of iodine to maintain a sufficient amount of thyroid hormone in your body, but do watch your salt intake.
If you’ve experienced sudden shortness of breath, fatigue, or general tiredness, there’s a possibility your body experienced a deficiency of iron. Known for its ability to boost hemoglobin and provide energy, Iron deficiency is one of the leading causes of anemia, according to the National Institute of Health. Hemoglobin is required for oxygen to transport from the lungs to tissue, so it’s no wonder why a decrease in Iron could lead to a lack of energy.
There’s no shortage of iron sources, although the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states the body absorbs up to three times more Iron from animal sources than from plants. So, some animal-based sources are chicken, turkey, and beef.
A key ingredient in sleep-inducing remedies, Magnesium is commonly known to help relax the body. While this mineral does promote healthy sleep, it also assists in over 300 chemical reactions in the body, according to Harvard Medical School. Some of those processes include heart health (due to how Magnesium helps relax your muscles, making it the perfect foil to Calcium’s ability to cause muscle to contract), and brain function, especially when it comes to supporting a positive mood. In fact, Magnesium has grown in popularity as a nutritional way to deal with anxiety and mild depression.
If you’re looking for food sources that contain Magnesium, you may want to start with one ounce of dry roasted almonds. This super source contains 80 mg of magnesium per serving. Peanut butter is another convenient food source, as two tablespoons of this delicious spread provides 49 mg of magnesium.
This essential trace mineral helps the body metabolize amino acids, carbohydrates and fat. Manganese serves as a co-factor for key enzymes which regulate life-essential metabolic processes that take place within “mitochondria.” These tiny “organelles,” as mitochondria are called, work 24-7-365 as energy-generators inside the cell to produce the fuel for metabolism. Manganese-dependent enzymes also protect the cell against “oxidative stress,” caused by an excess of metabolism by-products called “free radicals.” According to the Medical Center at University of Rochester, your body only needs a small amount of manganese at once. The lower the level, the more efficient your body absorbs it.
Manganese is primarily found in whole grain sources. A quarter cup of wheat germ contains nearly 9 mg per serving, while whole wheat flour checks in at 8.81 mg.
Although a deficiency in molybdenum is quite rare, it’s still a good idea to make sure your intake for this mineral is part of your everyday routine. That’s because molybdenum helps to enable four essential enzymes throughout the body: sulfite oxidase, aldehyde oxidase, xanthine oxidase, and mitochondrial amidoxime reducing component, or mARC. While this appears complicated on the surface, it is important to know that this mineral is necessary for a well-functioning metabolism, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Just like manganese, your body requires a very small amount of molybdenum in one sitting.
1 cup of plain, low-fat yogurt provides 25 mcg per serving, while shredded wheat cereal and potatoes are known to provide molybdenum as well.
Unlike molybdenum, potassium is well-known and easy to pronounce! Unfortunately, studies show most Americans fail to satisfy their daily requirements for potassium, says Harvard Medical School. This little-known fact is disturbing because potassium helps keep blood pressure in a healthy range, and a failure to get enough of this mineral has the potential to cause serious health issues. There’s a direct correlation between potassium consumption and the likeliness of suffering a stroke, so it’s crucial to understand the important of providing your body with plenty of potassium.
However, you may notice that many elite multivitamins do not contain a high amount of Potassium. That is because there are many food sources of this mineral, and too much of it can have a negative effect on the heart. Potassium is one mineral you should always have in proper balance, so consult with a physician before supplementing with anything more than 99 mg of Potassium per day.
For many, bananas are the first food source to associate itself with potassium. This idea does hold true, as one average sized banana provides 422 mg per serving. However, if you’re seeking a more potassium-rich source, one potato will give you a staggering 941 mg per serving!
One of the most notable benefits of Selenium is its ability to protect the body from harmful oxidants to prevent damage and infection. Current research tabs Selenium as an essential element for antioxidant protection. Oxidative stress may cause cell damage inside the brain, thus making the protection against cell oxidation vital to sustaining a healthy lifestyle.
Like Potassium, Selenium is a mineral that too much of is not a good thing. Thankfully, a well-balanced, evidence-based multivitamin will not overdue the Selenium, and you should not supplement with Selenium on its own unless directed by a doctor.
Selenium intake can be accomplished by eating different types of fish. Two such examples, Salmon and Tuna, provide over 30 mcg per serving.
This final mineral fits the “last, but certainly not least” mantra. Considered a “trace mineral”, our bodies only need a small dose of zinc at a time. Zinc is involved in many physiologic functions throughout the body, the most notable of which concern hormones, metabolism, and the immune system. A healthy intake of zinc helps your immune system fight off harmful bacteria throughout your body. Zinc is also known as an important “male” mineral given the role it plays in male reproductive health. Not that women don’t need zinc every day also!
Food rich in zinc include oysters, as 6 provide 32 mg, and lobster, where you’ll experience 3.4 mg for every 3 ounces served. If you’re not a fan of fish, 3 oz of pork chops or chicken come with over 2 mg of zinc.
The Multivitamin Factor
Now that you’ve learned a bit more about essential vitamins and minerals, it’s important to briefly discuss why most multivitamin tablets do not include large amounts of certain vitamins and minerals.
As mentioned earlier, a select number of vitamins and minerals should only be consumed in small doses at a time. Too much of anything could have a negative impact, and vitamins and minerals are no different.
While shopping for a good multivitamin, you may find yourself reading the label on the bottle, as a diligent effort is certainly required to make sure you know exactly what the particular multivitamin consists of.
More often than not, you’ll notice that some vitamins and minerals, including Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Iron, and Vitamin K, don’t exactly dominate the Supplement Facts Panel on most products. Granted, you’ll certainly see their presence on the label, but these particular vitamins and minerals tend to take a backseat when it comes to most multivitamins. The reason why multivitamins do not contain large amounts of these particular vitamins and minerals is simple — they don’t exactly play nice with others.
Calcium and Magnesium, for example, are difficult to mix with other minerals because they take up a lot more physical space than other essential minerals. And, as you saw above, some nutrients — such as Potassium and Selenium — need to be consumed at controlled levels, while others — like Vitamin K — might interfere with other health regimens.
It’s important, therefore, to choose the multivitamin that is right for your needs. It should cover the bases from A to Zinc, but sometimes there is a reason why a letter or two may be missing. You may need to turn to other sources for those low level and missing nutrients. And as always, let your body — and if necessary, your doctor — be your guide.