Along with other nutrients, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and dietary fats, vitamins and minerals help our body grow and thrive. Each of these ten essential vitamins and minerals plays a different role in our overall health. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Dietary Supplements fact sheets, most of us get what we need in our daily diets, with different foods providing different vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin A keeps your heart, lungs, liver, and other organs working properly. Also called beta-carotene, it’s essential for reproductive, vision, and immune system health.
You can get vitamin A from beef liver, salmon, broccoli, carrots, squash, green leafy vegetables, cantaloupe, apricots, mangoes, dairy products, and fortified cereals.
There are eight different essential B vitamins — B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and B12(cobalamin).
They all help convert carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy. Several B vitamins are also necessary for cell development, growth, and function.
You may need more B vitamins if you’re elderly, have had gastrointestinal surgery, have a gastrointestinal disorder, or if you abuse alcohol. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or plan to become pregnant may need more B vitamins, particularly folate, which has been shown to prevent congenital disabilities, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Up to 15 percent of people are deficient in B12. You may also need more B12 if you have pernicious anemia or are a vegan or vegetarian.
You can get vitamin B from meat, poultry, fish, organ meats, eggs, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains, fortified cereals, pieces of bread, and pasta.
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C boosts the immune system and increases iron absorption from plant-based foods and supplements. Since it’s an antioxidant, vitamin C protects our cells from damaging free radicals. It also aids in wound healing by helping our body produce collagen.
If you smoke, you need 35 more mg of vitamin C per day than non-smokers because it takes more vitamin C for your body to repair the cell damage caused by free radicals in tobacco smoke.
You can get vitamin C from citrus fruits and juices, kiwi fruit, red and green peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, tomato juice, and baked potatoes (cooking it this way, with the skin on, retains the folate, B6 and vitamin C.)
Vitamin D builds strong bones by helping our body absorb calcium from food and supplements. It also boosts the functioning of the immune system.
People who avoid the sun or use sunscreen — all-wise precautions for skin cancer prevention — may need supplements, as well as people with a malabsorption disorder where the body has difficulty absorbing nutrients (such as Crohn’s or celiac disease).
Vitamin D isn’t found naturally in many foods. Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” most of the vitamin D our body gets is absorbed from the sun through our skin. Foods with vitamin D include salmon, tuna, mackerel, beef liver, egg yolks, mushrooms, fortified dairy, nut milk, and cereals.
Vitamin E protects our cells from free radicals, boosts our immune system, and helps prevent blood clots.
You can get vitamin E from sunflower, safflower, wheatgerm oils, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, spinach, Swiss chard, avocados, and butternut squash.
Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and healthy bones. You may need more vitamin K if you have had bariatric surgery to lose weight or have a malabsorption disorder.
You can get vitamin K from spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, soybeans, blueberries, figs, meat, cheese, eggs, and vegetable oils.
Roughly 99 percent of the calcium in the body is found in bones and teeth, which is crucial for structural support. The remainder is located in the blood, muscles, and intracellular fluids, where it is a critical part of many metabolic, neurological, and muscular functions. Postmenopausal women (with an elevated risk of osteoporosis) and people who don’t consume dairy products (a primary source of calcium) are mainly likely to require calcium supplements.
You can get calcium from dairy products (such as milk, cheese, and yogurt), fortified non-dairy milk (such as almond, soy, and rice milk), fortified orange juice, sardines with bones, tofu (if prepared with calcium), collard green, kale, and broccoli.
Iron is essential to building red blood cells, specifically hemoglobin, a protein that bonds with oxygen to oxygen through the blood from the lungs to the cells throughout your body. Vegetarians need to consume almost twice as much iron daily because the iron in plant-based food is less available to the body than the iron found in animal products. Pregnant women and people with iron-deficient anemia may also need supplements.
You can get iron from meat (especially red meat and liver), seafood, lentils, beans, tofu, cashews, and broccoli.
Magnesium plays an essential role in the function of more than 300 enzymes that regulate various processes in the body, including muscle and nerve function, heart rhythms, and glucose control. Older adults and people with diabetes may need supplements.
You can get magnesium from almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, beans, potatoes, brown rice, dairy products, oats, chicken, beef, and broccoli.
Zinc is a mineral that plays a vital role in immune function and is essential for average growth and development during pregnancy and childhood. Vegetarians may also need supplements since the zinc found in plant-based foods is less available to the body than in meat and fish.
You can get zinc from red meat, poultry, seafood (especially oysters, lobster and clams), dairy products, whole grains, beans, and nuts.
Reach out to your pharmacist to get more information on supplements. Some vitamins (such as E) are dangerous in high doses, and some may interact negatively with other medications or medical treatments.
However, some people may have conditions that require vitamin or mineral supplementation in addition to what they get through their regular diet.