A simple summary of Vitamins and Minerals, their role in the human body, a guideline of amounts needed, and whole-food sources.
Let's start off with some technical terms to familiarize yourself with:
RDA: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), represent the average daily dietary intake of each vitamin and mineral a person needs to maintain health.
AI: For those vitamins for which an RDA has not yet been set (usually due to lack of scientific data), the adequate intake level is used in place.
The Macros: PROTEINS, CARBOHYDRATES, & FATS: Carbohydrates and fats will be used primarily for energy. In balanced amounts they provide the body with 75% of the energy it requires in the form of calories. Fats form a protective layer around organs and nervous tissue.
The Micros: VITAMINS & MINERALS: Support the various biochemical processes in the body.
fat soluble vitamins Fat soluble vitamins absorb best with fat and are soluble by fats only (lipids); these vitamins can be stored in our fat cells/body tissues for later, which can also put someone at greater risk for toxicity if consuming very large quantities of these vitamins (it’s rare, but it can happen). To maximize the bioavailability of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin D, make sure you eat it alongside some healthy fats to help the body process the vitamin.
water-soluble vitamins Water soluble meaning these vitamins dissolve by water, the body excretes these vitamins if you have too much via sweat/urine/etc. once metabolized and used. Our bodies need to consume these vitamins on a daily basis to keep a “balance” in your body from what you’ve excreted naturally.
Vitamin A (fat soluble):
Helps form and maintain healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucus membranes, and skin. It is also known as retinol because it produces the pigments in the retina of the eye.
How much? Men: 900mcg; Women: 700mcg. Food sources: kale, eggs, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, mango, butternut squash, vegetables in general
The B Vitamins (water soluble):
A collection of eight water soluble vitamins that are essential for various metabolic processes. The body has limited capacity to store these vitamins, except for B12 and folate which can be stored in the liver. These vitamins help the body use the consumed or stored carbs, protein, fat as fuel. They also help the cells make and repair DNA.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
helps convert glucose to energy, and has a role in nerve function. How much? Men: 1.2mg; Women: 1.1mg Food sources: whole grains, quinoa, millet, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Involved in energy production, helps maintain vision and skin health. How much? Men: 1.2mg; Women 1.1mg Food sources: wide variety of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, etc.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Essential for the body to convert carbohydrates, fat, and alcohol into energy. Helps maintain skin, nervous, and digestive systems. How much? Men: 16mg; Women: 14mg Food sources: nuts, seeds, proteins, nutritional yeast, whole grains
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Needed to metabolize carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol. Also, helps produce red blood cells and steroid hormones. How much? Men: 5.0mg; Women: 5.0mg Food sources: wide variety of foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, etc.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Needed for protein and carbohydrate metabolism, the formation of red blood cells and certain brain chemicals. It influences brain processes, immune function and steroid hormone activity. How much? Men: 1.3mg; Women: 1.3mg Food sources: green leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, fruits, etc.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Needed for energy metabolism, fat synthesis, amino acid metabolism, glycogen synthesis. How much? Men: 30mcg; Women: 30mcg Food sources: legumes, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, eggs, salmon, whole grains.
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid or folate)
Needed to form red blood cells, development of fetal nervous system, DNA synthesis, and cell growth. How much? 400mcg Food sources: fortified in most US foods, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, etc.
Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)
Helps produce and maintain the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells, red blood cell formation, and the breaking down of some fatty acids and amino acids to produce energy. It has a close relationship with folate - both of these vitamins depend on each other to work properly. How much? Men: 2.4mcg; Women: 2.4mcg Food sources: prevalent in animal proteins, vegan sources require supplementation or fortified food products such as nutritional yeast, milk, etc.
not technically a vitamin or a mineral, but is an essential nutrient that is often grouped with the B vitamins. It is required to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating memory, mood and intelligence.
Vitamin C (water soluble):
needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. It is used to: Form an important protein used to make skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Heal wounds and form scar tissue. How much? Men: 60mg; Women: 60mg Food sources: red bell peppers, citrus, abundant in dark leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits
Vitamin D (fat soluble):
absorbs calcium and promotes bone growth. How much? 15mcg Food sources: SUNLIGHT!, vitamin D fortified foods/milks, canned salmon, egg yolks, mushrooms grown in UV light
Vitamin E (fat soluble):
an antioxidant — this means it protects body tissue from damage caused by substances called free radicals, which can harm cells, tissues, and organs. They are believed to play a role in certain conditions related to aging. How much? Men 10mg; Women 8mg Food sources: plant oils, avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, egg yolks, whole grains, dark leafy greens
Vitamin K (fat soluble):
plays a key role in helping the blood clot, preventing excessive bleeding. How much? Men: 120mcg; Women: 90 mcg Food sources: think dark leafy greens, vegetables, swiss chard, kale, etc.
The most abundant mineral in the body. Supports skeletal structure and function — keeping your bones and teeth strong. Plays key roles in cell signaling, blood clotting, muscle contraction and nerve function. Cells use calcium to activate certain enzymes, transport ions across the cellular membrane, and send and receive neurotransmitters during communication with other cells. How much? Men: 1000mg; Women; 1000mg Food sources: fortified milk products, dark leafy greens, tahini, sesame seeds, tofu, broccoli, turnip and chard greens, legumes
Used to make thyroid hormones. How much? Men: 150mcg; Women: 3.1mcg Food sources: Iodized salt, sea vegetables, seafood, vegetables
an essential element for blood production. About 70 percent of your body's iron is found in the red blood cells of your blood called hemoglobin and in muscle cells called myoglobin. Hemoglobin is essential for transferring oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues. How much? Men: 10mg; Women: 15-18mg Food sources: non-heme (plant-based sources) and heme (animal based) such as animal proteins, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, eggs, etc.
helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heart beat steady, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aid in the production of energy and protein. How much? Men: 400mg; Women: 310mg Food sources: oats, nuts, seeds, bananas, avocados, dark leafy greens, molasses
The main function of phosphorus is in the formation of bones and teeth. It plays an important role in how the body uses carbohydrates and fats. It is also needed for the body to make protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues. How much? 700mg Food sources: dairy, abundant in vegetables, legumes
an important mineral that functions as an electrolyte. It helps regulate fluid balance, nerve signals and muscle contractions. How much? 2000mg Food sources: avocados, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, artichokes, plums, vegetables
Important in thyroid health, antioxidant in the body, immune function, decrease inflammation, protects from free radical damage How much? 55mcg Food sources: brazil nuts! eating 1 brazil nut/day will give you over 100% DV of selenium. Also found in whole grains, nuts, seeds
helps shape and stabilize protein structures (cells), keeps our hair, skin, nail healthy as well. Food sources: cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.), protein rich foods, nuts, seeds, legumes
Sodium & Chloride:
also known as salt, is an essential compound our body uses to: absorb and transport nutrients. maintain blood pressure. maintain the right balance of fluid.
Essential for the immune system to properly work. It plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. It is also needed for the senses of smell and taste. How much? Vegans and vegetarians require more zinc (more if you’re an active athlete or suffer from digestion/malabsorption issues). Men: 11mg; Women 8mg Food sources: pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, oysters, animal proteins, cashews