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Vitamins and Minerals: How to Get What You Need



Fruits-and-VegetablesMicronutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in food that nourish your body and help keep you healthy. They are essential to your overall health.


Choosing foods each day that are rich in vitamins and minerals is the best way your body is getting what it needs to be healthy. However, research consistently finds that most Americans have diets that lack an appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals.


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), adult Americans do not typically get enough of the following nutrients:





•vitamins A, C, D, and E


Path to improved health

Try to incorporate more of these nutrients in your daily diet. Keep in mind that it’s best to get these nutrients through food, instead of just taking a multivitamin. This is because it is easier for your body to absorb micronutrients through food.


If you are unable to get all the nutrients you need from food alone, ask your doctor if dietary supplements are right for you.



Your body needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth in childhood and adolescence. As an adult, you need calcium to maintain bone mass. According to the USDA, the average American adult (eating roughly 2,000 calories per day) should get 1,136 milligrams of calcium each day.


The following foods are good sources of calcium:

•nonfat or low-fat yogurt (8 ounces = 345-452 milligrams)

•nonfat or low-fat cheese (2 ounces = 400 milligrams)

•low-fat milk (1 cup = 290 milligrams) or skim milk (1 cup = 306 milligrams)

•fish and seafood such as sardines (3 ounces = 325 milligrams), pink salmon (3 ounces = 181 milligrams) and ocean perch (3 ounces = 116 milligrams)

•beans such as soybeans (1/2 cup = 130 milligrams) and white beans (1/2 cup = 96 milligrams)

•spinach (1/2 cup = 146 milligrams)

•oatmeal (1 packet = 99-110 milligrams).


Who might not get enough?

•Boys ages 9 to 13 years.

•Girls ages 9 to 18 years.

•Men older than 70 years.

•Women older than 50 years.

•Vegans and vegetarians.

•People who are lactose intolerant.


Quick Tip: Almonds contain calcium and are the perfect snack. Pack a handful to take to work or school for a healthy boost.



A diet rich in potassium helps your body maintain a healthy blood pressure. The USDA recommends that the average American consume 4,044 milligrams of potassium each day.

The following foods are good sources of potassium:


◦sweet potatoes (1 sweet potato = 694 milligrams)

◦white potatoes (1 potato = 610 milligrams)


◦white beans (1/2 cup = 595 milligrams)

◦soybeans (1/2 cup = 485 milligrams)

◦lima beans (1/2 cup = 484 milligrams)

◦kidney beans (1/2 cup = 358 milligrams)


◦nonfat yogurt (8 ounces = 579 milligrams)

◦low-fat yogurt (8 ounces = 531 milligrams)


◦skim milk (1 cup = 382 milligrams)

◦low-fat milk (1 cup = 366 milligrams)


◦bananas (1 medium banana = 422 milligrams)

◦peaches (1/4 cup = 398 milligrams)

◦cantaloupe (1/4 medium melon = 368 milligrams)

◦honeydew melon (1/8 medium melon = 365 milligrams)


◦halibut (3 ounces = 490 milligrams)

◦yellowfin tuna (3 ounces = 484 milligrams)

◦rockfish (3 ounces = 442 milligrams)

◦cod (3 ounces = 439 milligrams)

•Tomato-based products:

◦paste (1/4 cup = 664 milligrams)

◦puree (1/2 cup = 549 milligrams)

◦juice (3/4 cup = 417 milligrams)

◦sauce (1/2 cup = 405 milligrams)

Who might not get enough?

•Potassium is the nutrient Americans are missing most.

Quick Tip: Cut up a banana and mix it with a cup of low- or nonfat yogurt to make a healthy snack or light lunch.



Magnesium is a nutrient that helps your body produce energy, and helps your muscles, arteries, and heart work properly. According to the USDA, the average American adult should get 380 milligrams of magnesium each day.

The following foods are good sources of magnesium:


◦pumpkin (1 ounce = 151 milligrams)

◦spinach (1/2 cup = 81 milligrams)

◦artichokes (1/2 cup = 50 milligrams)

•Bran cereal (1 ounce = 103 milligrams)


◦soybeans (1/2 cup = 74 milligrams)

◦white beans (1/2 cup = 67 milligrams)

◦black beans (1/2 cup = 60 milligrams)

◦navy beans (1/2 cup = 48 milligrams)

◦great northern beans (1/2 cup = 44 milligrams)

•Tofu (1/2 cup = 47 milligrams)

•Brown rice (1/2 cup = 42 milligrams)


◦brazil nuts (1 ounce = 107 milligrams)

◦almonds (1 ounce = 78 milligrams)

◦cashews (1 ounce = 74 milligrams)

◦peanuts (1 ounce = 50 milligrams)

Who might not get enough?

•Non-Hispanic blacks.

•Children ages 4 to 18.

•Adults age 51 and older.

•People who are obese.


Vitamin A

Vitamin A is associated with vision development and cellular growth and maintenance.

The following foods are good sources of vitamin A:

•Organ meats, such as liver and giblets (3 ounces = 1490-9126 micrograms)


◦sweet potatoes (1 medium potato = 1096 micrograms)

◦pumpkin (1/2 cup = 953 micrograms)

◦carrots (1/2 cup = 679 micrograms)

◦spinach (1/2 cup = 573 micrograms)

◦turnip greens (1/2 cup = 441 micrograms)

•Cantaloupe (1/4 medium melon = 233 micrograms)

Who might not get enough?

•Hispanics and Non-Hispanic blacks.

•Children ages 4 to 18.

•Adults age 51 and older.

•People who are obese.


•People who abuse alcohol.

Quick Tip: A medium-sized sweet potato provides more than 100% of the daily-recommended amount of vitamin A!


Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps the body form collagen (which is the main protein used as connective tissue in the body) in blood vessels, bones, cartilage, and muscle.

The following foods are good sources of vitamin C:


◦guava (1/2 cup = 188 milligrams)

◦oranges (1 medium orange = 70 milligrams)

◦kiwi (1 medium kiwi = 70 milligrams)

◦strawberries (1/2 cup = 49 milligrams)

◦cantaloupe (1/4 medium melon = 47 milligrams)

◦papaya (1/4 medium papaya = 47 milligrams)

◦pineapple (1/2 cup = 28 milligrams)

◦mango (1/2 cup = 23 milligrams)


◦raw red sweet pepper (1/2 cup = 142 milligrams)

◦raw green sweet pepper (1/2 cup = 60 milligrams)

◦Brussels sprouts (1/2 cup = 48 milligrams)

◦broccoli (1/2 cup 38 milligrams)

◦sweet potatoes (1/2 cup = 34 milligrams)

◦cauliflower (1/2 cup = 28 milligrams)

Who might not get enough?

•Children ages 4 to 18.

•Adults age 51 and older.

•People who are obese.

•People who smoke.

•Pregnant/breastfeeding women.

Quick Tip: Make fresh fruit a part of every breakfast. One cup (about a handful) of halved strawberries or cubed cantaloupe provides the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.


Vitamin D

Your body needs vitamin D so that it can absorb calcium to promote bone growth and maintain strong bones and teeth. The average adult needs 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D each day. Older adults (ages 70 and older) need 800 IU each day. Most people get some level of vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. However, using sunscreen will decrease your exposure to vitamin D.


It is also difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone because there are not a lot of food choices rich in vitamin D. In fact, some primary food sources of vitamin D come from foods that have added vitamin D (called fortified foods).

The following foods are sources of vitamin D:

•Fatty fish:

◦salmon (3 ounces = 450 IU)

◦swordfish (3 ounces = 550 IU)

◦canned tuna (3 ounces = 150 IU)

•Fortified milk (8 ounces = 100 IU)

•Fortified orange juice (8 ounces = 100 IU)

•Fortified cereal (1 cup = 40 IU)

•Fortified yogurt (6 ounces = 80 IU)

•Cheese, Swiss (1 ounce = 6 IU)

Who might not get enough?

•Hispanics and Non-Hispanic blacks.

•Children ages 4 to 18.

•Adults age 70 and older.

•People who are obese.


Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which is a nutrient that helps fight damage to the cells in the body.

The following foods are good sources of vitamin E:

•Nuts and seeds:

◦sunflower seeds (1 ounce = 7.4 milligrams)

◦almonds (1 ounce = 7.3 milligrams)

◦hazelnuts (1 ounce = 4.3 milligrams)

◦pine nuts (1 ounce = 2.6 milligrams)

◦peanuts (1 ounce = 2.2 milligrams)

◦brazil nuts (1 ounce = 1.6 milligrams)

•Turnip greens (1/2 cup = 2.9 milligrams)

•Peanut butter (2 tablespoons = 2.5 milligrams)

•Spinach (1/2 cup = 1.9 milligrams)

•Avocado (1/2 avocado = 2.1 milligrams)

•Tomato-based products:

◦paste (1/4 cup = 2.8 milligrams)

◦sauce (1/2 cup = 2.5 milligrams)

◦puree (1/2 cup = 2.5 milligrams)

Who might not get enough?

•Hispanics and Non-Hispanic blacks.

•Children ages 4 to 18.

•Adults age 51 and older.

•People who are obese.

Quick Tip: A small handful of almonds provides half of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E.

Things to consider

Not getting the vitamins and minerals that your body needs can have serious consequences for your health. A general lack of nutrients can lead to malnutrition. This is sometimes easier to recognize and to treat. A lack of even one specific vitamin or mineral is harder to diagnose, but can be just as dangerous. Some vitamin deficiencies can even be life-threatening.

Having too much of some vitamins in your system can also be dangerous. For example, an overdose of vitamin A during pregnancy can cause problems with the baby’s development in the womb. For this reason, it is very important to talk your doctor before you start taking any supplements. This is especially important if you are pregnant or have health conditions.

When to see a doctor

The symptoms of vitamin deficiency vary. Some deficiencies have no symptoms at all. In general, if you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor:

•You are losing your hair.

•You feel weak.

•You are often tired, even when you get plenty of sleep.

•You have cracks in the corners of your mouth.

•You have acne-like bumps on your cheeks, upper arms, thighs, and buttocks.

•Your vision is getting worse, especially at night.

•You have dry eyes.

•You are depressed.

•You are irritable.

•You are having panic attacks.

•You have tingling or numbness in your hands and feet.

•Your gums bleed.

Questions to ask your doctor

•How can I know if I’m getting enough vitamins and minerals?

•Should I be taking a multivitamin or other dietary supplement?

•Should my child be taking a multivitamin or other dietary supplement?

•Does it matter where I buy my vitamins?

•Is one brand of vitamins better than another?

•Do vitamins have any negative side effects?

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