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It's normal to turn to supplements in an attempt to supply your body with nutrients you think might be missing from your diet. However, turning to supplements without first considering the quality of your diet may not get you anywhere. Supplements can help fill gaps, but it's always best to get most of your vitamins and minerals through a nutritious and balanced diet.
Try taking a food-first approach with this guide to the top food sources for every vitamin and mineral. You'll notice that many overlap and -- who'd've known -- vegetables appear as a top source for almost every nutrient.
Vitamin A is a single vitamin, but two types are found in food. Preformed vitamin A, which your body can use immediately, is found in animal foods. Provitamin A is found in plant foods, and it's a precursor to the type of vitamin A your body can use. Beta-carotene is the most common example of provitamin A.
To avoid vitamin A deficiency with your diet, eat these foods high in vitamin A:
Meat, especially organ meats such as liver
Carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, cantaloupe, squash, mangos and other red, yellow and orange plant foods
Dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach, arugula
The B vitamins are a group of eight essential nutrients humans need to support health. They're all lumped into one class of vitamins because they have similar properties and are found in many of the same foods.
The eight B vitamins include:
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Vitamin B7 (biotin)
Vitamin B9 (folate and folic acid)
Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)
The best food sources of B vitamins are:
B1: Organ meats (such as liver and kidney), eggs, nuts, seeds, whole grains, enriched grains, legumes, peas
B9: Asparagus, broccoli and other cabbage-family greens, leafy greens, beets, brewer's yeast, fortified grains, lentils, oranges, wheat germ, peanuts
B12: Eggs, dairy products, poultry, beef, pork, shellfish, organ meats, fortified foods (such as fortified plant milks)
Best known for supporting immune health, vitamin C also contributes to the growth, development and repair of various tissues in your body. Vitamin C is an important part of the structure of your skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels, and it helps to form scar tissue in response to injuries.
To make sure you're getting enough vitamin C in your diet, eat plenty of these vitamin C-rich foods:
Citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit
Semi-acidic fruits, such as mangoes, papayas, kiwi, pineapple and cantaloupe
A variety of berries, including strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries and raspberries
The very best source of vitamin D is sunshine, but plenty of foods contain trace amounts of vitamin D to support a well-rounded diet. It's hard to get enough vitamin D from food alone, so it's a good idea to get outside for a few minutes each day in addition to prioritizing these foods.
Fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel and salmon
Cheese made with fortified milk
Other fortified foods, such as orange juice, cereal, soy milk and yogurt
Vitamin E is an antioxidant responsible for many bodily functions, including the formation of red blood cells. Deficiency in vitamin E can lead to complications such as nerve damage, muscle weakness, loss of motor control, weakened immune function and vision problems.
The best food sources of vitamin E are:
Nuts, especially peanuts, almonds, and hazelnuts
Seeds, especially pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
Some vegetables oils, including wheat germ oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil
Leafy green vegetables
Red bell pepper
Vitamin K is primarily a coagulant, which means it helps blood clot. Without vitamin K, you would lose too much blood even from a small cut or scrape. People on blood-thinning medications should talk to their doctor about vitamin K before increasing their consumption. If it's safe for you to eat more vitamin K-containing foods, try adding these sources to your diet:
Poultry, pork, beef and organ meat
Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, lettuce, collard greens and turnip greens
Broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower
In addition to vitamins, the human body requires several minerals to function optimally. Mineral deficiencies are often responsible for symptoms like fatigue, poor sleep, low moods and lack of focus.
You need two types of minerals to support your health: macrominerals, which you need in large amounts, and trace minerals, which you need in smaller quantities. The macrominerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. Trace minerals include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body -- you need plenty of it to keep your bones and teeth healthy, as well as support muscle and nerve function. The best sources of calcium include:
Sardines and canned salmon, thanks to their edible bones
Tofu prepared with calcium
Fortified foods, such as cereal or flour-based products
Second only to calcium in terms of abundance, phosphorus makes up 1% of your body weight and is present in every cell in your body. Phosphorus helps form your bones and teeth, makes protein for tissue growth and repair, and produces the molecules your cells use for energy. These foods contain ample phosphorus:
Beef, pork, poultry, eggs and organ meats
Milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products
Many plant foods contain phosphorus, but most plants store the mineral as phytic acid, which humans can't digest or absorb. The best way to get phosphorus is from animal foods.
Like the other macrominerals, magnesium supports nerve and muscle function, as well as bone and heart health. You can find magnesium in:
Nuts, particularly almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews
Peas and legumes
Soy products, such as tofu and tempeh
This electrolyte is essential for maintaining fluid balance in your body and helping your muscles contract, among other things. Many people try to limit their sodium intake (and some people need to), but consuming too little sodium can lead to health problems just like consuming too much can.
The foods highest in sodium generally aren't the healthiest sources of sodium, and sometimes a single savory snack can nearly reach the daily recommended sodium limit. However, some whole foods contain trace amounts of sodium, including:
You likely already eat plenty of foods high in sodium, such as bread, pasta, soup, deli meat, sauces and dressings, broths, stocks, canned foods, frozen foods and snack foods. Most people don't need to increase their sodium intake and should limit sodium-rich foods if they tend to eat more than the recommended daily allowance of 2,300 milligrams.
Another important electrolyte, potassium supports a regular and healthy heartbeat, offsets sodium's effect on blood pressure, supports nerve function and muscle contraction, and moves waste products out of cells. Foods high in potassium include:
Vine fruits, such as grapes
Root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, beets and turnips
Chloride is an electrolyte that works with sodium and potassium to fulfill a variety of roles in the body. Dietary chloride primarily comes from table salt and sea salt, and most people get enough through the foods they eat daily, but you can maximize chloride intake by eating these foods:
Seaweed (like nori)
Your body uses sulfur to repair DNA, protect your cells against damage, metabolize food and provide structure to your skin and other connective tissues. It's an important trace mineral you can get from a variety of foods, including:
Pork, chicken, beef, duck, turkey and organ meats
Most types of fish
Seafood, including scallops, shrimp, prawns and mussels
Many vegetables, including broccoli, asparagus, onions, leeks, radishes, cabbage and brussels sprouts
Beer, wine and cider
Most people know iron for its role in blood production. Most of the iron in your body is found in hemoglobin and myoglobin, two substances essential to the transport and transferring of oxygen throughout your body. The top food sources of iron include:
Fortified breakfast cereals
White beans, soybeans and lentils
Red meat and organ meat
This trace mineral is a cofactor for many enzymes, which means it plays a role in lots of chemical reactions that occur in your body, including the metabolism of carbs and protein. The best food sources of manganese are:
Clams, oysters and mussels
Brown rice and other whole grains
Soybeans and soy foods, such as tofu
Chickpeas and lima beans
Coffee and tea
Like manganese, copper is a cofactor for several enzymes. It's also important for proper brain development and connective tissue integrity. Here's where to find copper in food:
Whole grain products
Nuts and seeds
Your body needs iodine for proper thyroid function: Without it, your body can't make enough thyroid hormones. Iodine is especially important for babies and pregnant women, because this mineral is crucial to bone and brain formation.
The primary source of iodine in the American diet is iodized salt. If you consume a lot of salt, you probably get enough iodine. But in case you don't, you can find iodine in these other foods:
Fish and seafood
Cheese, yogurt, milk and other dairy products
Zinc, the mineral popularized for its rumored defenses against COVID-19, has long been an ingredient in cold medications and throat lozenges. In addition to its well-known role in immune function, zinc also contributes to wound healing and protein synthesis. The best food sources of zinc include:
Crabs and lobster
Whole grains, especially fortified products
Cobalt is found in the body as part of vitamin B-12 and helps your body process and absorb the vitamin. Most foods contain trace amounts of cobalt, but foods high in vitamin B-12 are particularly high in cobalt.
Fluoride keeps your teeth healthy and strong. It also spurs new bone formation, so it's especially important for infants and children. Most drinking water contains fluoride, although if you have well water, it may not be fluoridated. In addition to water, you can get fluoride from:
Seafood (the ocean contains sodium fluoride)
Coffee and tea
Any foods prepared with fluoridated water
Selenium protects cells from damage, promotes reproductive health and thyroid function and supports DNA production. The most potent food source of selenium is Brazil nuts, and these can actually cause selenium toxicity if consumed too often. Other sources of food high in selenium include:
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.