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Micronutrients really are where it’s at.

Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients. And, without them, our bodies wouldn’t develop or function correctly.

From helping you turn food into fuel to fortifying bones and eyesight, vitamins and minerals are the Beyoncé of the health world — they’re extremely capable, everything revolves around them, and they have powerful effects on their environment.

We see cartons of juice and boxes of cereal trumpeting their vitamin and mineral content, but what are these microscopic nutrients, really? What do they do? How do they work? And why are they so important?

The Ultimate Guide to Vitamins and MineralsShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Maya Chastain

Though living things make vitamins and minerals exist naturally in soil and water, we get both of these nutritional powerhouses from the foods we eat.

This definitive guide to vitamins and minerals will fill you in on pretty much everything you need to know about these important nutrients that keep us living and smiling.

Vitamins and minerals are substances your body needs to develop and function normally.

Every time you bike-commute to work, revel in a rainbow, or shake your booty on the dance floor, vitamins and minerals help you do it.

Vitamins are organic compounds, which basically means they are molecules made up of carbon and other elements.Fortmann SP, et al. (2013). Vitamin, mineral, and multivitamin supplements for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: A systematic evidence review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK173989/ Heat, air, acid, or even light can cause them to break down. (Which is why storing vitamin supplements near the hot stove is a big no-no.)

It also makes getting enough vitamins from food harder because storing, cooking and even just exposing food to air can decrease its vitamin content.Lee S, et al. (2018). Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6049644/

Minerals come from rocks, soil, and water. Plants absorb these as they grow, and animals then steal those nutrients when they chomp on said plants. Om nom nom, indeed.

Minerals are inorganic single elements (meaning they do not contain carbon) and cannot be broken down. Score! This makes them pretty easy to absorb from food.

You get all 13 vitamins and both the major and trace minerals through the foods you eat. Your body can synthesize some by itself, like vitamin D after exposure to the sun. But most people can get all of the vitamins and minerals they need through a varied, balanced diet.

Taking a multivitamin can help fill in any gaps in your nutrition. However, it’s best to get them from the diet.

Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients because you only need a very small amount of them compared to macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat).

But don’t be fooled by the “micro-” at the beginning of “micronutrients.” There’s nothing small about their impact on your body.

Consume or synthesize them. They’ll either bind to the fat from foods you eat and hang around in the body for later use (if they’re fat-soluble) or absorb straight into the cells (if they’re water-soluble).

And they’ll make damn sure everything ticks along smoothly.

Vitamins play many important roles in your body.

They help free the energy from the food you eat, making it possible for you to fuel yourself. They’re essential to building protein and help cells multiply. Which makes… erm, you.

They even help make collagen to strengthen your skin, build bones, fortify your vision, and combat harmful oxidative damage that might contribute to diseases and health conditions.

(Whew, vitamins are pretty busy.)

Minerals play many starring roles in your body.

They make it possible for your blood to carry oxygen throughout your body and help you achieve fluid balance. Minerals are key players in helping your muscles relax and contract.

They also support nerve transmission, help you maintain a steady heartbeat, and are even involved in making DNA.

In short, you just can’t live without them.

Before we dive in and take a deeper look at each vitamin and mineral, let’s iron out some key terms we’ll be using (there’ll be some dreadful puns throughout, and no multivitamin will help you here).

  • Vitamins. These are organic substances required for normal cell function, growth, and development. There are 13 essential vitamins, which we’ll break down for you below.
  • Fat-soluble vitamins. These are vitamins that bind to fat in the food you eat. The body then stores them for later use. They include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • Water-soluble vitamins. The rest of the vitamins — vitamin C, and the B complex vitamins — are water-soluble, meaning cells can absorb them directly.
  • Minerals. Minerals are inorganic substances, and all hold a place on the good ol’ periodic table. They’re also necessary for healthy body functions and development. There are two groups of minerals: macrominerals (of which the body needs at least 100 milligrams every day)Morris, AL. (2020). Biochemistry, nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554545/ and trace minerals (only a pinch required — but without them, you run the risk of serious deficiencies).Bhattacharya PT, et al. (2016). Nutritional aspects of essential trace elements in oral health and disease: An extensive review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940574/
  • RDA. Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) represent the average daily dietary intake of each vitamin and mineral a person needs to stay healthy and steer clear of deficiencies. The values, which are all backed by scientific data, are broken down by age and gender.
  • AI. Those vitamins for which the science bods haven’t established an RDA (usually due to lack of scientific data) have an adequate intake (AI) in place.
  • UL. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) is the maximum amount of daily vitamin or mineral dosage that is likely to be safe for the average person. Stay under the UL when using supplements to avoid toxicity.

The vitamins or minerals that we need in larger doses are expressed in units of milligrams (mg). Trace minerals and vitamins appear in micrograms (mcg). There are 1,000 mcg in one milligram (no fancy math here).

All of Greatist’s recommendations for daily intake (“What you need”) and limits (“What’s too much?”) follow the RDA, AI, and UL guidelines.

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Illustration by Maya Chastain

(Plus choline, which isn’t technically a vitamin but usually sneaks into the list.)

Get these in you every day to stay on top of your health.

Biotin (aka vitamin B7 or vitamin H)

Like the rest of the water-soluble B-complex vitamins, biotin plays a huge role in cell growth and food metabolism.Said HM. (2012). Biotin: biochemical, physiological and clinical aspects. DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-2199-9_1

Metabolism is the process by which our bodies convert the food we eat into energy and powers everything we do, from thinking, to running, to Hula-Hooping (definitely Hula-Hooping).

Deficiency of this vitamin is extremely rare, but overdoing it on raw egg whites may prevent biotin absorption (we’re looking at you, Rocky).Mock DM. (2017). Biotin: From nutrition to therapeutics. DOI:10.3945/jn.116.238956

What you need: Adults need 30 mcg. Though, women who are lactating need 35 mcg per day.

Where to get it: As you can see below, it’s animal products that pack the best biotin punch. You might need to take a biotin supplement or multivitamin if you live that vegan life or avoid animal produce for other reasons.

What’s too much? Not determined. We gave a full breakdown of the benefits and risks of biotin here.

Choline

*All together with your best Dolly impersonations now* 🎤 Choline, choline, choline, choliiiiiiiiiine… 🎤

While not technically a vitamin, the essential nutrient choline often hangs out with the B-vitamins because of its similarities.

Choline is a building block of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine,Purves D, et al. (2001). Neuroscience. 2nd edition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11143/ which is super important for the nerve and brain activities that control memory and muscle movement.

Choline also helps turn the food we eat and our stored energy (hello, love handles) into fuel.Zeisel SH, et al. (2018). Choline. DOI:10.1093/advances/nmx004

Vegetarians, vegans, those who are pregnant, and endurance athletes are at greater risk for choline deficiency. Not getting enough choline is linked to fatty liver disease, atherosclerosis, neurological disorders, and impaired fetal development.Wallace TC, et al. (2018). Choline: The underconsumed and underappreciated essential nutrient. DOI: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000302

(It’s also rare, though, as the body makes its own choline. Neat!)

What you need: Adult men need 550 mg per day. Women over 19 years of age have an AI of 425 mg every day (but this goes up to 450 mg daily during pregnancy, and 550 mg daily during lactation).

How to get it:

  • beef liver, with 356 mg per 3oz-serving
  • eggs, with 147 mg per large egg (although make sure you eat the yolk — the choline lives in there).
  • braised, lean beef top round, with 117 mg per 3oz-serving
  • roasted soybeans, with 107 mg per 1/2 cup
  • cooked Atlantic cod, with 71 mg per 3oz-serving
  • baked red potato, with 57 mg per 3oz-serving

What’s too much? 3,500 mg

Extremely high doses won’t kill you, but consuming more than 3,500 mg per day can cause vomiting, increased sweating and salivation, and a fishy body odor.

(And who wants that? Fish, mostly. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably not one. And if you are, you’re likely to be a good source of choline, so watch out.)

Folic acid (aka folate or folacin)

Folic acid is such a key part of our diet that the U.S. government decided to fortify most commercial flour with this water-soluble vitamin.

So what’s all the hoopla over folic acid? Well, it’s vital for pregnant women to protect the baby’s development, helping prevent congenital anomalies in the brain and spine.Chitayat D, et al. (2016). Folic acid supplementation for pregnant women and those planning pregnancy: 2015 update. DOI: 10.1002/jcph.616

No baby on board? Folic acid also helps create almost every cell in the body and may reduce the risk of heart disease and colon cancer.Liew SC. (2016). Folic acid and diseases – supplement it or not? DOI: 10.1590/1806-9282.62.01.90

So yeah, pretty handy to have on deck. It’s one of our vitamins that make you feel great — learn more here.

What you need: 400 mcg per day. During pregnancy, however, women should make sure they’re getting at least 600 mcg. And, afterward, they should consume 500 mcg while they’re lactating.

Your baby is counting on it!

How to get it:

What’s too much? More than 1,000 mcg

Since folic acid is so important for baby’s development, you may think getting more may be even better. But, like many other good things, there is a “too much.”

Taking more than 1,000 mcg before becoming pregnant may be associated with lower scores on tests of cognitive development in children between the ages of 4 to 5 years.Valera-Gran D, et al. (2017). Effect of maternal high dosages of folic acid supplements on neurocognitive development in children at 4-5 y of age: the prospective birth cohort Infancia y Medio Ambiente (INMA) study. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.117.152769

Taking too much may also impair your immune system and might have associations with cognitive impairment in older adults.

Niacin (aka vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid)

On the lookout for beautiful skin, hair, and red blood cells? Niacin is here to help. Ooh, yeah, bring on those luscious RBCs. Like other water-soluble B vitamins, niacin is essential for converting food into energy.Meyer-Ficca M, et al. (2016). Niacin. DOI: 10.3945/an.115.011239

It’s also central to the health of skin, hair, eyes, liver, and the nervous system,Gasperi V, et al. (2019). Niacin in the Central Nervous System: An Update of Biological Aspects and Clinical Applications. DOI: 10.3390/ijms20040974 and may lower risks of high cholesterol and heart disease.D’Andrea E, et al. (2019). Assessment of the role of niacin in managing cardiovascular disease outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.2224

Extreme deficiencies in niacin, though rare, may lead to pellagra, which is associated with the “the four D’s”: dermatitis (skin irritation), diarrhea, dementia, and death (yikes!).Ikenouchi-Sugita A, et al. (2015). Niacin deficiency and cutaneous immunity. DOI: 10.2177/jsci.38.37

So yeah. Niacin does a f*ckton of important stuff in your body.

What you need: Adult males need 16 mg of niacin equivalents (NEs) daily. Women over 19 years of age need 14 mg of NEs per day, but should get 18 mg daily when pregnant, and 17 mg daily when lactating.

(By “niacin equivalents,” we mean that it’s not only niacin you’d need to consume — the body can also convert an amino acid called tryptophan into niacin. 1 mg of niacin or 60 mg of tryptophan count as an NE. How nifty!)

How to get it:

What’s too much? 35 mg

Don’t overdo it on niacin supplements. High doses of niacin can be toxic, and may cause rosy tingling — the so-called “niacin flush” — if doses exceed 35 mg per day.

Pantothenic acid (aka vitamin B5)

This vitamin is important in food metabolism and helps synthesize neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, red blood cells, and more.Kennedy DO. (2016). B Vitamins and the brain: Mechanisms, dose and efficacy: A review. DOI: 10.3390/nu8020068

You can’t really take so much that it becomes toxic. And while B5 deficiency is fairly rare (it tends to accompany severe malnutrition), neurologic symptoms, such as burning feet, may crop up.

What you need: Adults need 5 mg daily. Your needs increase during pregnancy to 6 mg daily, and up to 7 mg daily when lactating.

How to get it:

  • beef liver, with 8.3 mg per 3oz-serving
  • fortified breakfast cereals, with 5 mg per serving
  • cooked shitake mushrooms, with 2.6 mg per 1/2 cup
  • sunflower seeds, with 2.4 mg per 1/4 cup
  • roasted chicken breast, with 1.3 mg per 3oz-serving

What’s too much? Not determined

While some people taking large doses of pantothenic acid develop mild diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress, high intakes do not cause toxicity.

Riboflavin (aka vitamin B2)

Flavorful riboflavin definitely has street cred (yeeeeeeeeeeah boiiiiiiiii).

This water-soluble B vitamin helps convert food to fuel, encourages iron absorption in the intestines, and also enhances the health of hair, skin, muscles, eyes, and the brain.Saedisomeolia A, et al. (2018). Riboflavin in human health: A review of current evidences. DOI: 10.1016/bs.afnr.2017.11.002

And some research suggests that riboflavin may be effective at preventing migraines, too.Thompson DF, et al. (2017). Prophylaxis of migraine headaches with riboflavin: A systematic review. DOI: 10.1111/jcpt.12548

Riboflavin deficiency is uncommon, but is associated with a sore throat, cracks and sores around the lips, an inflamed “magenta tongue” (say what?!), and scaly skin.Mosegaard S, et al. (2020). Riboflavin deficiency: Implications for general human health and inborn errors of metabolism. DOI: 10.3390/ijms21113847

What you need: Adult men need 1.3 mg daily. Adult women need 1.1 mg per day. Those who are pregnant should get 1.4 mg daily, and intake should be 1.6 mg daily when lactating.

How to get it:

  • beef liver, with 2.9 mg per 3oz-serving
  • fortified breakfast cereal, with 1.3 mg per serving
  • fortified instant oatmeal, with 1.1 mg per cup
  • plain, fat-free yogurt, with 0.6 mg per cup
  • 2% milk, with 0.5 mg per cup

What’s too much? Not determined

While enormous intake of riboflavin may turn your pee bright yellow (a phenomenon called flavinuria), this side effect is harmless.Tanaka Y, et al. (2020). Vitamin B2 lung-marking method using black light irradiation DOI: 10.21037/jtd.2020.01.06

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Thiamine (aka vitamin B1)

Another member of the water-soluble B pack, thiamine helps with food metabolism and boosts the health of hair, skin, muscles, and the brain.Kerns JC, et al. (2017). Thiamin. DOI: 10.3945/an.116.013979

Thiamine (aka vitamin B1)

Taking too much has never caused toxicity under observation, and though thiamine deficiency (also known as beriberi) is rare in the U.S., it does still happen.

Symptoms affect the cardiovascular, nervous, muscular, and gastrointestinal systems in a variety of ways.Whitfield KC, et al. (2018). Thiamine deficiency disorders: Diagnosis, prevalence, and a roadmap for global control programs. DOI: 10.1111/nyas.13919

What you need: Adult men need 1.2 mg per day. Adult women need 1.1 mg daily, but should up their intake to 1.4 mg when they become pregnant or start lactating.

How to get it:

  • cooked, long grain white rice, with 1.4 mg per 1/2 cup
  • fortified breakfast cereal, with 1.2 mg per serving
  • cooked egg noodles, with 0.5 mg per cup
  • broiled pork chop, with 0.4 mg per 3oz-serving
  • cooked trout, with 0.4 mg per 3oz-serving

What’s too much? Not determined

Vitamin A (aka retinol, retinal, retinoic acid)

What’s up, doc?

Though known as being good for vision (hello, carrots), vitamin A has many other vital tasks: It encourages red and white blood cell production and activity, keeps the immune system primed and blood vessels healthy, helps rebuild bone, regulates cell growth and division, and may reduce the risk of some cancers.Tanumihardjo SA, et al. (2016). Biomarkers of nutrition for development (BOND)-Vitamin A review. DOI: 10.3945/jn.115.229708

Retinoids, or variations of Vitamin A, also play a role in some medications that treat various skin diseases and acne.Kotori MG. (2015). Low-dose Vitamin “A” Tablets-treatment of Acne Vulgaris. DOI: 10.5455/medarh.2015.69.28-30

(Many skin care products have retinol — here’s why.)

Though infrequent in the U.S., vitamin A deficiency is not unheard of in developing countries, and can cause night blindness and, in extreme instances, complete blindness.Faustino JF, et al. (2016). Vitamin A and the eye: An old tale for modern times. DOI: 10.5935/0004-2749.20160018

Vitamin A deficiency also plays a role in diarrhea and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases in developing countries.Imdad A, et al. (2017). Vitamin A supplementation for preventing morbidity and mortality in children from six months to five years of age. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008524.pub3

We looked a little further into vitamin A’s powerful skin effects.

So make like Bugs Bunny and crunch on some carrots for high doses of beta-carotene, which the body readily converts to vitamin A once digested.Green AS, et al. (2016). Meeting the vitamin A requirement: The efficacy and importance of β-Carotene in animal species. DOI: 10.1155/2016/7393620

What you need: Adult men need 900 mcg retinol activity equivalents (RAE). Adult women need 700 mcg RAE.

Pregnant women aged 19 or older should up their intake to 770 mcg RAE, and lactating women in the same age group have even higher needs — 1,300 mcg RAE.

How to get it:

What’s too much? 3,000 mcg

Loading up on carrots, butternut squash or other carotenoid-rich foods may turn your skin orange (a condition known as carotenodermia), but won’t cause toxicity. Oompa loompas must be rolling in the stuff.

Taking too many vitamin A supplements, on the other hand, can lead to:

  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • skin irritation
  • joint and bone pain
  • coma
  • death

High doses of vitamin A can also cause significant congenital anomalies — women should keep an eye on their vitamin A intake while they’re pregnant.

Vitamin B6 (aka pyridoxal, pyridoxine, pyridoxamine)

Like a G6, this essential, water-soluble vitamin flies high above the others (or, at least on a level with the best of ’em).

Vitamin B6 helps out with the production of serotonin, a hormone that plays a hand in sleep, appetite, and mood.Calderón-Ospina CA, et al. (2020). B Vitamins in the nervous system: Current knowledge of the biochemical modes of action and synergies of thiamine, pyridoxine, and cobalamin. DOI: 10.1111/cns.13207

It also assists with manufacturing red blood cells and steroid hormones, influences cognitive and immune function,Elmadfa I, et al. (2019). The role of the status of selected micronutrients in shaping the immune function. DOI: 10.2174/1871530319666190529101816 and has links to reducing a person’s risk of heart disease.Gromova OA, et al. (2016). Deficiency of magnesium and pyridoxine as risk factors for coronary heart disease. DOI: 10.18565/cardio.2016.10.55-62

Diets lacking B6 are rare, but evidence of seizures and other neurologic systems are observed in people who have extreme deficiency.Del Bo’ C, et al. (2019). Effect of two different sublingual dosages of vitamin B12 on cobalamin nutritional status in vegans and vegetarians with a marginal deficiency: A randomized controlled trial. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnu.2018.02.008

What you need: Adults between the ages of 19 to 50 years need 1.3 mg daily. Men aged over 50 years need 1.7 mg and women over 50 years of age should have an intake of over 1.5 mg every day.

People who are pregnant should get 1.9 mg daily, and those who are lactating need 2.0 mg per day.

How to get it:

What’s too much? 100 mg

Nasty effects from high doses are usually seen in people taking supplements, and include pain and numbness in the limbs.

Taking extremely large doses of vitamin B6 daily over time can cause you to lose control over your bodily movements, as well as painful skin lesions, sensitivity to light, nausea, and heartburn.

Vitamin B12

Another water-soluble B vitamin, vitamin B12 offers a helping hand in the metabolism of fatty acids and amino acids, cell creation, and the protection of nerve cells, and also may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.Moore E, et al. (2012). Cognitive impairment and vitamin B12: a review. DOI: 10.1017/S1041610211002511

Good heavens, are those water-solubles handy or what? (More on these later.)

Keep B12 close when it gets to those later, silver-haired years. Deficiencies are common in older people,Shipton MJ, et al. (2015). Vitamin B12 deficiency – A 21st century perspective. DOI: 10.7861/clinmedicine.15-2-145 and not getting enough B12 may contribute to memory loss, dementia onset, and anemia.Wong CW. (2015). Vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly: is it worth screening? DOI: 10.12809/hkmj144383

We rounded up the best B12 supplements out right now so you don’t have to.

People haven’t ever experienced toxicity from having too much B12, and vegetarians and vegans often need supplements to keep their levels up.Rizzo G, et al. (2016). Vitamin B12 among vegetarians: Status, assessment and supplementation. DOI: 10.3390/nu8120767

Vegans and vegetarians can check here for the best B12 supplements to boost their diet.

What you need: 2.4 mcg per day. If you’re pregnant, you need 2.6 mcg daily. Once you’re lactating, step it up to 2.8 mcg per day.

How to get it:

  • cooked clams, with 84.1 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • beef liver, with 70.7 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • cooked rainbow trout, with 5.4 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • fortified nutritional yeast, with 2.4 mcg per serving
  • low fat milk, with 1.2 mcg per cup

What’s too much? Not determined

Vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid)

As we go on, we remember… that vitamin C is one of the best vitamins ever! Cartons of OJ are emblazoned with this popular vitamin’s name — and it’s famous for a good reason.

Vitamin C is thought to reduce the risk for some cancers, including those of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and breast.Ngo B, et al. (2019). Targeting cancer vulnerabilities with high-dose vitamin C. DOI: 10.1038/s41568-019-0135-7

It also helps make collagen, an important tool in wound repair and skin strength. And let’s not forget its antioxidant properties and immune-boosting effects.Padayatty SJ, et al. (2016). Vitamin C: the known and the unknown and Goldilocks. DOI: 10.1111/odi.12446

Phew, vitamin C. Where do you even find the time? (Here’s more on how vitamin C can help the skin.)

But before chugging that daily glass of Emergen-C to ward off a cold, know that evidence linking “mega-doses” of Vitamin C to staving off sickness are conflicting.

How so? Well, a review of 29 research trials that included almost 11,000 people showed that the incidence and duration of the common cold is not decreased with high vitamin C intake.Hemilä H, et al. (2013). Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4

What’s more, the potential for vitamin C overdose is not ruled out, though uncertain.

But don’t skimp on C, either: After all, scurvy — the severe vitamin C deficiency linked to bleeding, bruising, join pain, and hair and tooth loss — is for pirates, not millennials.Khalife R, et al. (2019). Scurvy, an old story in a new time: The hematologist’s experience. DOI: 10.1016/j.bcmd.2019.01.004 Arrgh, indeed.

Here are the best vitamin C supplements around at the moment.

What you need: Adult men need 90 mg per day, while adult women need 75 mg per day. Pregnant women 19 years of age or older should get 85 mg daily. Lactating women 19 years of age or older need even more at 120 mg daily.

Individuals who smoke should add an additional 35 mg per day. Also, they should try to quit smoking. Just sayin’.

We went deeper on the daily vitamin C requirements.

How to get it:

  • sweet red pepper, with 95 mg per 1/2 cup
  • orange juice, with 93 mg per 3/4 cup
  • orange, with 70 mg per medium fruit
  • kiwifruit, with 64 mg per medium fruit
  • sweet green pepper, with 60 mg per 1/2 cup
  • broccoli, with 51 mg per 1/2 cup

What’s too much? 2,000 mg

Vitamin C has low toxicity and isn’t likely to cause serious side effects, even if taken at high doses. The most common complaints from taking excess vitamin C include:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • abdominal cramps
  • other belly troubles

Vitamin D

Here comes the sun, D-D-D-D.

This essential fat-soluble vitamin — which is vital for normal calcium metabolism, immunity, nervous system function, and bone density — sure does.Theodoratou E, et al. (2014). Vitamin D and multiple health outcomes: umbrella review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised trials. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g2035 But before vitamin D can live up to its expectations, it must be activated by a burst of UV rays.

Before you throw on a bikini and soak up the sun (putting you at risk for skin cancer, be super careful when you sunbathe) consider supplements or cereals, milk, and juices that are fortified with the active form, which is equally effective.Terushkin V, et al. (2010). Estimated equivalency of vitamin D production from natural sun exposure versus oral vitamin D supplementation across seasons at two US latitudes. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2009.07.028

Dips in vitamin D are no joke: Chronic deficiency puts you at risk for osteoporosis later in life. Make sure your diet shines with vitamin D (especially in the winter) to keep your bones healthy and reduce risks of cancer.Chang SW, et al. (2019). Vitamin D and health – The missing vitamin in humans. DOI: 10.1016/j.pedneo.2019.04.007

We put together the ultimate guide on how to take vitamins safely.

What you need: Adults 70 years old or younger need 15 mcg (600 IU). Once you’re over 70 years old, bump up your intake to 20 mcg (800 IU).

How to get it:

What’s too much? 100 mcg (4,000 IU)

Avoid taking too much vitamin D, which can lead to:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • muscle weakness
  • pain
  • loss of appetite
  • kidney stone
  • in extreme cases, kidney failure and death

Vitamin E

E is for the Excellent Eight. A family of eight antioxidants, vitamin E protects essential lipids from damage, battles free radicals, and maintains the integrity of cell membranes.Lee GY, et al. (2018). The role of vitamin E in immunity. DOI: 10.3390/nu10111614

Drop some E (the vitamin!) to avoid impaired balance and coordination, muscle weakness, and pain and numbness in the limbs — all signs of extreme deficiency.Lewis ED, et al. (2018). Regulatory role of vitamin E in the immune system and inflammation. DOI: 10.1002/iub.1976

It can also provide a number of benefits for the skin — find out more here. We also rounded up the best vitamin E oils out there.

What you need: 15 mg per day. Women who are lactating need 19 mg daily.

How to get it:

  • wheat germ oil, with 20.3 mg per tablespoon
  • sunflower seeds, with 7.4 mg per 1oz-serving
  • almonds, with 6.8 mg per 1oz-serving
  • sunflower oil, with 5.6 mg per tablespoon
  • hazelnuts, with 4.3 mg per 1oz-serving

What’s too much? 1,000 mg

While you needn’t worry about consuming too much vitamin E from food, overdoing it on supplements can interfere with your blood’s ability to clot and may increase your risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

Vitamin K

Not to be confused with its mineral chum potassium (which is also noted as a “K” on the periodic table) (oh, hi, 4th grade chemistry), this essential, fat-soluble vitamin is a must for normal wound healing and bone development.Akbari S, et al. (2018). Vitamin K and bone metabolism: A review of the latest rvidence in preclinical studies. DOI: 10.1155/2018/4629383

K is for “koagulation,” the German word for coagulation, or clotting (klotting?). While blood clots sound menacing, consider the importance of scabs, which are simply patches of clotted blood that form to protect cuts and scrapes.

Deficiencies in vitamin K include easy bruisability, bleeding, nosebleeds, and heavy menstrual periods.Marchili MR, et al. (2018). Vitamin K deficiency: A case report and review of current guidelines. DOI: 10.1186/s13052-018-0474-0

What you need: Adult men need 120 mcg daily and adult women need 90 mcg daily.

How to get it:

What’s too much? Not determined. Taking high doses of vitamin K doesn’t appear to have negative effects. Kool stuff.

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Illustration by Maya Chastain

Just making sure the vitamins don’t get all the shine.

Calcium

Got milk? Guzzle a glassful to get the daily dose of calcium, a macromineral crucial for the healthy development of bones and teeth.

But that’s not all — calcium also offers a helping hand in muscle function, blood clotting, nerve signaling, hormone secretion, and blood pressure. And alongside its sidekick, Vitamin D, calcium helps ward off osteoporosis.Harvey NC, et al. (2017). The role of calcium supplementation in healthy musculoskeletal ageing: An expert consensus meeting of the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases (ESCEO) and the International Foundation for Osteoporosis (IOF). DOI: 10.1007/s00198-016-3773-6

Slow down, calcium. You’re putting the rest of us to shame. (Although it’s not the only mineral that supports healthy bones — find out more here.)

What you need: 1,000 mg per day. Women over 50 years of age and men over 70 years of age need 1,200 mg daily.

How to get it:

  • plain, low fat yogurt, with 415 mg per 8oz-serving
  • fortified orange juice, with 349 mg per cup
  • part-skim mozzarella, with 333 mg per 1.5oz-serving
  • sardines with bones, with 325 mg per 3oz-serving
  • firm tofu, with 253 mg per 1/2 cup

What’s too much? 2,500 mg per day; 2,000 mg for adults over 50 years of age

While getting too much calcium from dietary sources is rare, taking too many calcium supplements may carry some risk for kidney stones formation,Li K, et al. (2018). The good, the bad, and the ugly of calcium supplementation: a review of calcium intake on human health. DOI: 10.2147/CIA.S157523 as well as heart disease, though the research is inconclusive.Li K, et al. (2012). Associations of dietary calcium intake and calcium supplementation with myocardial infarction and stroke risk and overall cardiovascular mortality in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (EPIC-Heidelberg). DOI: 10.1136/heartjnl-2011-301345

Chromium

You may have chrome wheels, but do you have chromium-dense meals? We both know which is more gangsta. (Yes, the latter, we didn’t really think we’d have to point it out, to be honest.)

Though this trace mineral might well enhance insulin activity and the breakdown of dietary sugars, we only need it in small amounts. It’s not “essential” in the same way as some other minerals.Vincent JB, et al. (2018). Chromium. DOI: 10.1093/advances/nmx021

While some chromium supplements tout muscle building and weight loss benefits, there’s little solid research evidence that backs up the claims.Willoughby D, et al. (2018). Body composition changes in weight loss: Strategies and supplementation for maintaining lean body mass, a brief review. DOI: 10.3390/nu10121876

In fact, animal studies suggest that taking too many chromium supplements could cause kidney damage.Velma V, et al. (2013). Oxidative stress and DNA Damage induced by chromium in liver and kidney of goldfish, Carassius auratus. DOI: 10.4137/BMI.S11456

So shelf the supplement and, instead, try an absperiment instead for rock-hard abs.

What you need: Adult men need 35 mcg per day until they reach 50 years of age. Once they’re over 50 years of age, men need 30 mcg daily.

Women need 25 mcg daily through 50 years of age. Beyond this age, they need 20 mcg per day. Women’s chromium needs also increase during pregnancy, when they need 30 mcg daily, and throughout lactation, when they should get 45 mcg daily.

How to get it:

  • grape juice, with 7.5 mcg per cup
  • ham, with 3.6 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • a whole wheat English muffin, with 3.6 mcg per whole muffin
  • brewer’s yeast, with 3.3 mcg per tablespoon
  • orange juice, with 2.2 mcg per cup

What’s too much? Not determined

Copper

Don’t be penny-pinching with this shiny mineral, which is an essential trace element and antioxidant.

On the frontline of red blood cell creation, copper is also important for energy metabolism, immunity, and nervous system function.Hordyjewska A, et al. (2014). The many “faces” of copper in medicine and treatment. DOI: 10.1007/s10534-014-9736-5

Though not a common occurrence, copper deficiencies may manifest as anemia, a low white blood cell count, and bone deterioration.Shibazaki S, et al. (2017). Copper deficiency caused by excessive alcohol consumption. DOI: 10.1136/bcr-2017-220921

What you need: Adults need 900 mcg per day. People who are pregnant or lactating should get 1,300 mcg daily.

How to get it:

  • beef liver, with 12,400 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • oysters, with 4,850 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • baking chocolate, with 938 mcg per 1oz-serving
  • potatoes, with 675 mcg per medium potato
  • shiitake mushrooms, with 650 mcg per 1/2 cup

What’s too much? 10,000 mcg

While copper toxicity from dietary intake is rare, cases of acute copper poisoning (which leads to some not-so-nice tummy troubles) have occurred due to contaminated water supplies or leaching from copper containers.Gunay N, et al. (2006). A series of patients in the emergency department diagnosed with copper poisoning: Recognition equals treatment. DOI: 10.1620/tjem.209.243

Having too much copper in the blood might also contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, according to recent research into the use of copper in agriculture.Coelho FC, et al. (2020). Agricultural use of copper and its link to Alzheimer’s disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7356523/

Fluoride

This nonessential trace mineral helps keep those pearly whites cavity-free and bones less breakable.Dhar V, et al. (2009). Physiology and toxicity of fluoride. DOI: 10.4103/0970-9290.57379

Before snacking on some toothpaste, know that most tap water in the U.S. is already fluorinated, taking care of those elemental needs. And no, there isn’t a conspiracy to make you stupid via the fluoride in tap water. It just keeps your teeth pretty and your bones strong.

Here’s the rub on brushing your teeth before bed — fluoride has a cameo.

What you need: Adult men need 4 mg per day. Adult women should get 3 mg daily.

How to get it:

What’s too much? 10 mg

Consuming too much fluoride all at once can lead to:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • in rare cases, death

Iodine

Definitely dine with iodine. This essential trace mineral is a crucial component of thyroid hormones, which maintain our basal metabolic rate (BMR).Mullur R, et al. (2014). Thyroid hormone regulation of metabolism. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4044302/

Iodine also helps to regulate body temperature, as well as its nerve and muscle function. It also plays a role in the body’s growth and development. Sheesh, iodine really doesn’t give up, does it?

Too little iodine can lead to thyroid dysfunction, developmental abnormalities, and even goiters, a swelling of the thyroid gland (that ain’t pleasant).Niwattisaiwong S, et al. (2017). Iodine deficiency: Clinical implications. DOI: 10.3949/ccjm.84a.15053 Too much iodine can do this too, so it’s important to have your levels in check.

Iodine is found in most table salt (it does say “iodized” on the container, right?).

What you need: 150 mcg per day. People who are pregnant should increase their intake to 220 mcg daily, and up to 290 mcg daily when they’re lactating.

How to get it:

  • dried nori seaweed, with 232 mcg per 10g-serving
  • baked cod, with 158 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, with 116 mcg per cup
  • cooked oysters, with 93 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • nonfat milk, with 85 mcg per cup

What’s too much? 1,100 mcg

Consuming too much iodine can cause:

  • hyperthyroidism
  • goiters
  • in severe cases, GI discomfort and burning of the mouth, throat, and stomach (though these are rare)Leung AM, et al. (2014). Consequences of excess iodine. DOI: 10.1038/nrendo.2013.251

Iron

Pump some iron (into your meals) to help hemoglobin, a component of red blood cells, and myoglobin (hemoglobin’s counterpart in muscles) bring oxygen to all the cells that need it.

Iron is also important for the making of amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters, and hormones.Dev S, et al. (2017). Overview of iron metabolism in health and disease. DOI: 10.1111/hdi.12542

Basically, it helps you stay strong and happy.

Since it’s easier to absorb this mineral from red meat and poultry, people on a vegetarian or vegan diet may want to consider iron supplements, or at least consuming more iron-rich fruits and leafy green vegetables.Haider LM, et al. (2018). The effect of vegetarian diets on iron status in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2016.1259210

We found some amazing veggie sources of iron for folks who don’t eat meat.

What you need: Adult men need 8 mg per day. Women between the ages of 19 to 50 years need 18 mg daily. Their needs increase to 27 mg per day during pregnancy.

Women only need 9 mg per day when lactating. Once they’re over the age of 50 years, women only need 8 mg per day.

How to get it:

  • fortified breakfast cereal, with 18 mg per serving
  • cooked oysters, with 8 mg per 3oz-serving
  • canned white beans, with 8 mg per cup
  • dark chocolate, with 7 mg per 3oz-serving
  • boiled spinach, with 3 mg per 1/2 cup
  • beef, with 2 mg per 3oz-serving

What’s too much? 45 mg

Don’t go too crazy for iron. While we need it, and acute overdose of iron can be lethal, and even peeking over the recommended daily intake can cause a range of symptoms, including:Abhilash KP, et al. (2013). Fatal overdose of iron tablets in adults. DOI: 10.4103/0972-5229.120326

  • GI irritation
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

Magnesium

Magnetically drawn to calcium, magnesium is a macromineral that partners with calcium to assist with:Gröber U, et al. (2015). Magnesium in prevention and therapy. DOI: 10.3390/nu7095388

  • muscle contraction
  • blood clotting
  • cell signaling
  • energy metabolism
  • blood pressure regulation
  • building healthy bones and teeth

That’s a real team-up episode.

We looked at whether magnesium is effective for managing anxiety.

Rest easy, though, because magnesium deficiency is super rare and so are toxicities — unless popping magnesium supplements is your thing. If so, watch out for diarrhea, lethargy, heart rate disturbances, and muscle weakness.Volpe SL. (2013). Magnesium in disease prevention and overall health. DOI: 10.3945/an.112.003483

We took a deeper dive on magnesium here.

What you need: Men between the ages of 19 to 30 years need 400 mg daily. Once they’re over 30 years of age, men should increase their intake to 420 mg per day.

Women between 19 to 30 years of age need 310 mg daily, and 350 mg during pregnancy. Women over 30 years of age need 320 mg daily, and 360 mg daily during pregnancy.

How to get it:

  • roasted pumpkin seeds, with 156 mg per 1oz-serving
  • chia seeds, with 111 mg per 1oz-serving
  • dry roasted almonds, with 80 mg per 1oz-serving
  • boiled spinach, with 78 mg per 1/2 cup
  • dry roasted cashews, with 74 mg per 1oz-serving

It’s also available in oil form.

What’s too much? There’s no upper limit for dietary magnesium, but if you’re getting magnesium from supplements, you should avoid exceeding 350 mg per day.

You don’t need to worry about eating too much magnesium from food — your kidneys get rid of any excess. But loading up on magnesium supplements often leads to diarrhea, nausea, and cramping.

Manganese

Hailing from the Greek word for magic, manganese can be a double-edged sword (we fall far more on the side of science than magic, in case you hadn’t noticed).

Though an essential trace mineral and antioxidant that is important for energy, bone development and wound healing, it’s also potentially toxic in excess.Aschner M, et al. (2017). Manganese. DOI: 10.3945/an.117.015305

What you need: Adult men need 2.3 mg per day. Adult women need 1.8 mg per day. People who are pregnant should increase intake to 2.0 mg per day, and 2.6 mg daily when they’re lactating.

How to get it:

  • blue mussels, with 5.8 mg per 3oz-serving
  • dry roasted hazelnuts, with 1.6 mg per 1oz-serving
  • dry roasted pecans, with 1.1 mg per 1oz-serving
  • cooked brown rice, with 1.1 mg per 1/2 cup
  • oysters, with 1.0 mg per 3oz-serving

What’s too much? 11 mg

Overindulgence of this mineral — usually a result of water contamination — may cause a dip in intellectual function.Chen H, et al. (2011). Manganese in drinking water and intellectual impairment in school-age children. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1103485

Molybdenum

We can’t help with the pronunciation of this essential trace mineral (either that letter b or d is interloping and we can’t work out which).

However, we can confirm that it’s a necessary factor of many enzymes, which speed up the body’s biochemical reactions that break down nutrients into energy.Novotny JA, et al. (2018). Molybdenum. DOI: 10.1093/advances/nmx001

Molybdenum deficiency has never been documented in healthy people, and toxicity is similarly rare.

What you need: Adults need 45 mcg per day. Pregnant and lactating women need 50 mcg daily.

How to get it:

  • boiled black eye peas, with 288 mcg per 1/2 cup
  • beef liver, with 104 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • boiled lima beans, with 104 mcg per 1/2 cup
  • plain, low fat yogurt, with 26 mcg per cup
  • 2 percent milk, with 22 mcg per cup

What’s too much? 2,000 mcg

Toxicity from too much molybdenum is rare.

However, in one piece of research, people who ate diets extremely rich in molybdenum (due to high levels in the soil) experienced achy joints and gout-like symptoms.Novotny, JA. (2011). Molybdenum nutriture in humans. DOI: 10.1177/2156587211406732

Phosphorus

Phosphorus

Keep bones and teeth prosperous with phosphorus, a macromineral that primarily builds and protects those chompers and your skeleton.

Phosphorus is also a building block of DNA and RNA, helps convert food into energy, and aids in shuttling nutrients to the organs that need them.Calvo MS, et al. (2015). Phosphorus. DOI: 10.3945/an.115.008516

Rare cases of phosphorus deficiency can lead to anemia, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, rickets (in children), and numbness and tingling in the legs.Jagtap VS, et al. (2012). Hypophosphatemic rickets. DOI: 10.4103/2230-8210.93733

It’s important, therefore, to keep stocked up. Phosphorus can also be great for protecting the teeth (eat your heart out, calcium).

What you need: 700 mg per day

How to get it:

  • plain, low fat yogurt, with 245 mg per 6oz-serving
  • 2 percent milk, with 226 mg per cup
  • Atlantic salmon, with 214 mg per 3oz-serving
  • part-skim mozzarella cheese, with 197 mg per 1.5oz-serving
  • roasted chicken breast, with 182 mg per 3oz-serving

What’s too much? The UL for adults between the ages of 19 to 70 is 4,000 mg. For women during pregnancy, this decreases to 3,500 mg. And the UL for adults over the age of 70 is even lower — 3,000 mg.

While the kidneys dislike phosphorus in excess, acute poisoning with phosphorus is virtually nonexistent.Chang AR, et al. (2017). Dietary phosphorus intake and the kidney. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-071816-064607

Potassium

Our hearts beat for potassium, a macromineral and electrolyte that’s essential for a steady heartbeat, the transmission of nervous system signals, and muscle function.Weaver CM. (2013). Potassium and health. DOI: 10.3945/an.112.003533 Bananas ahoy!

Alongside sodium, potassium is also an MVP in balancing fluids by helping the kidney save fluids when we are dehydrated or excrete fluids that are in excess.

And wait, there’s more! Potassium is thought to lower blood pressure and benefit bones, too.Iqbal S, et al. (2019). The effect of electrolytes on blood pressure: A brief summary of meta-analyses. DOI: 10.3390/nu11061362

Short-term potassium deficiencies (often from prolonged vomiting or diarrhea) may cause:

  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness and cramps
  • bloating
  • abdominal pain
  • constipation

So, thanks, but no thanks.Gilligan S, et al. (2017). Hyperkalemia and hypokalemia in CKD: Prevalence, risk factors, and clinical outcomes. DOI: 10.1053/j.ackd.2017.06.004 We’ll take our potassium, please.

It’s one of the five “you-might-not-be-getting-enough” nutrients to watch out for.

What you need: Adult males need 3,400 mg per day. Adult women need 2,600 mg per day, but should increase their intake to 2,900 mg during pregnancy and 2,800 mg during lactation.

How to get it:

  • dried apricots, with 1,101 mg per 1/2 cup
  • cooked lentils, with 731 mg per cup
  • dried prunes, with 699 mg per 1/2 cup
  • acorn squash, with 644 mg per cup
  • baked potato, with 610 mg per medium potato

What’s too much? Not determined

Don’t get too pumped up on potassium, though.

Consuming high doses (typically from supplements) can lead to muscle weakness, tingling in the hands and feet, GI symptoms, and abnormal heart rhythms.Montford JR, et al. (2017). How dangerous is hyperkalemia? DOI: 10.1681/ASN.2016121344

Selenium

Selenium is a smooth-operator of thyroid hormone regulation, and also acts as an antioxidant.Kiełczykowska M, et al. (2018). Selenium – a fascinating antioxidant of protective properties. DOI: 10.17219/acem/67222 Science fact: It’s not derived from the cells of Selena Gomez, so will do nothing for your pop star acumen. Sorry.

Antioxidants deactivate damaging free radicals to prevent them from wreaking havoc in your body and causing nasty disease.

What you need: Most adults need 55 mcg daily. Women need 60 mcg per day during pregnancy, and 70 mcg per day once they’re lactating.

How to get it:

  • brazil nuts, with 544 mcg per 1oz-serving
  • yellowfin tuna, with 92 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • halibut, with 47 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • sardines, with 45 mcg per 3oz-serving
  • ham, with 42 mcg per 3oz-serving

We rounded up 21 superior sources of selenium right here.

What’s too much? 400 mcg

Chronic excess of this trace mineral (usually from supplements) is known to cause nausea, GI discomfort, and hair and nail brittleness, so supplement selenium in moderation.Hadrup N, et al. (2020). Acute human toxicity and mortality after selenium ingestion: A review. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2019.126435

Sodium chloride (aka salt)

Chemistry buffs know this pair of minerals as NaCl. The rest of us call it table salt (our name is cooler). Sodium chloride abounds in high quantities in most meals, snacks, and even drinks.

While it’s essential for fluid balance, nerve signal transmission, muscle contractions, digestion, and blood pressure, it’s possible to have too much of this savory mineral set.Farquhar WB, et al. (2015). Dietary sodium and health: more than just blood pressure. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2014.12.039

Since the average daily diet already includes salt waaaay in excess, consider low salt alternatives like olive oil (instead of butter), unsalted nuts in favor of salted ones, and fresh fruit.

What you need: The estimated adequate intake for adults is 1,500 mg of sodium and 2,300 mg of chloride. However, most of us get way more sodium than we need and are at higher risk of getting too much than not enough.Strohm D, et al. (2018). Revised reference values for the intake of sodium and chloride. DOI:10.1159/000484355

How to get it:

The sodium content of a food varies wildly based on how much salt is used to prepare it. However, the question for salt shouldn’t be how to get it — you should focus on how to eat less of it.

Some brands of frozen pizza contain 370 mg per slice, while others contain a whopping 730 mg. Even whole fruits and vegetables contain natural sodium. For example, raw spinach contains 24 mg per cup.

However, check out these insane levels of sodium in popular foods:

  • American cheese spread, with 2,275 mg per cup
  • canned tomato sauce, with 1,350 mg per cup
  • pickled herring, with 1,218 mg per cup
  • canned cream of mushroom soup, with 871 mg per 1/2 cup
  • hot dog, with 620 mg per link

What’s too much? More than 2,300 mg of sodium (the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt) daily.

Excess sodium intake can raise blood pressure above normal limits, increasing a person’s risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease further down the road.Grillo A, et al. (2019). Sodium intake and hypertension. DOI: 10.3390/nu11091970

Zinc

Zippity doo dah for zinc, a trace element that’s a building block for enzymes, proteins, and cells. Zinc also plays a role in boosting the immune system,Read SA, et al. (2019). The role of zinc in antiviral immunity. DOI: 10.1093/advances/nmz013 mediating senses such as taste and smell, and promoting wound healing.Lin PH, et al. (2017). Zinc in wound healing modulation. DOI: 10.3390/nu10010016

Zinc toxicity is rare. Zinc deficiency (most commonly occurring in the developing world), on the other hand, may lead to delays in growth and development, rough skin, cognitive impairment, a weakened immune system (leading to an increased susceptibility toward infectious diseases, particularly in kids), and more.Prasad AS. (2013). Discovery of human zinc deficiency: its impact on human health and disease. DOI: 10.3945/an.112.003210

We looked at whether zinc can cure the common cold here.

What you need? Men need 11 mg per day. Women need 8 mg daily, but their needs increase to 11 mg while they’re pregnant and 12 mg while lactating.

How to get it:

  • breaded, fried oysters, with 74 mg per 3oz-serving
  • beef chuck roast, with 7 mg per 3oz-serving
  • Alaska king crab, with 6.5 mg per 3oz-serving
  • beef patty, with 5.3 mg per 3oz-serving
  • baked beans, with 2.9 mg per 1/2 cup
  • fortified breakfast cereal, with 2.8 mg per serving

What’s too much? 40 mg

Taking too much zinc all at once can lead to nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, cramps, diarrhea, and headaches.

Over time, high levels of zinc supplementation results in reduced immune function, and lowered levels of HDL, your level of “good” cholesterol.

Trace minerals, also known as microminerals, are minerals your body only needs very small amounts of.

But just because you only need a tiny bit of these mineral powerhouses doesn’t mean they’re any less important than their cousins, the major minerals.

You’ll recognize these from above, and there are no slackers in this bunch:

  • iron
  • zinc
  • iodine
  • selenium
  • copper
  • manganese
  • fluoride
  • chromium
  • molybdenum
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Illustration by Maya Chastain

Vitamins and minerals are involved in so many functions and organs — there are few processes in the body that don’t involve one of these key players!

Brain

That think tank doesn’t just fill itself — it needs sustenance. And that comes through the nutrients in your food.

Vitamin E and the brain

Antioxidant and neuroprotector vitamin E boosts brain health by reducing oxidative stress. It also helps combat inflammation and may help lower cholesterol, both of which are important for your little gray cells.

Also, it turns out people with Alzheimer’s have lower levels of vitamin E than those who don’t have the disease.Lloret A, et al. (2019). The effectiveness of vitamin E treatment in Alzheimer’s disease. DOI: 10.3390/ijms20040879

B-vitamins and the brain

Being the most metabolically active organ in the body, your brain benefits as well from B vitamins helping to produce the energy that goes into creating new brain cells. All that thinking needs fuel.

Vitamins B6, B9 (folate), and B12 also help break down homocysteine, an amino acid that has associations with greater risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.Kennedy DO. (2016). B Vitamins and the brain: Mechanisms, dose and efficacy–A review. DOI: 10.3390/nu8020068

We found 47 ways to support how your brain works.

Heart

There’s plenty to think about when keeping your ticker ticking — and vitamins and minerals play a huge role in heart health.

Magnesium for the heart

Low magnesium can be a predictor of heart disease — it’s been linked with cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and hardening of the arteries.DiNicolantonio JJ, et al. (2018). Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. DOI: 10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668

Folic acid for the heart

Folic acid may help reduce your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease by lowering the concentration of homocysteine in your blood.Li Y, et al. (2016). Folic acid supplementation and the risk of cardiovascular diseases: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.116.003768

Potassium for the heart

Potassium helps regulate blood pressure levels, and reduces a person’s risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.Aaron KJ, et al. (2013). Role of dietary salt and potassium intake in cardiovascular health and disease: a review of the evidence. DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.06.005

Vitamin D for the heart

Studies show getting enough of the sunshine vitamin may help reduce the formation of plaque and hardening of your arteries — both of which may help you avoid cardiovascular disease.Rai V, et al. (2017). Role of vitamin D in cardiovascular diseases. DOI:10.1016/j.ecl.2017.07.009

Here’s how to listen to your heart.

Bones

That skeleton isn’t just for Halloween vibes — it transports the wondrous being that is you around all day, every day. It’s best you nourish your bones. They’ve got your back — quite literally.

Vitamin D for the bones

Turns out vitamin D isn’t just good for your heart, it’s also essential for your bone growth, density and remodeling.Goolsby MA, et al. (2017). Bone health in athletes. DOI: 10.1177/1941738116677732

That’s why a deficiency of this vitamin can lead to rickets, a malformation of the bones in the legs.

Magnesium for the bones

Magnesium, another bone fortifying micronutrient, is associated with increased grip strength, skeletal muscle mass, and bone density.Welch, AA, et al. (2017). Dietary magnesium may be protective for aging of bone and skeletal muscle in middle and younger older age men and women: Cross-sectional findings from the UK Biobank Cohort. DOI:10.3390/nu9111189

Calcium for the bones

Lest we forget calcium, undisputed champion of bone function and structure — essentially, it supports how strong bones are and how good they are at doing what they’re supposed to do.

The body stores 99 percent of its calcium supply in the bones, so you’d best make sure you’re getting enough.

Eyes

The eyes have it. And if that “it” is the right vitamins and minerals, your peepers are going to stay more effective for longer.

Vitamin A for the eyes

The old saying that carrots are good for your eyesight may have been a bit of World War II propaganda, but it was actually based in truth.

The beta-carotene in carrots is a form of vitamin A that helps you see at night and helps form the mucous membranes that protect your eyes.Raman R, et al. (2017). Food components and ocular pathophysiology: a critical appraisal of the role of oxidative mechanisms. DOI: 10.6133/apjcn.082016.01

And it’s not just vitamin A that benefits your eyes.Gorusupudi A, et al. (2017). The age-related eye disease 2 study: Micronutrients in the treatment of macular degeneration. DOI: 10.3945/an.116.013177

Vitamin E for the eyes

Vitamin E guards against oxidative stress, which also happen to cause most common eye diseases. Making sure you have enough vitamin E in the diet can help keep age-related macular degeneration at bay.

Vitamin C for the eyes

The fluid that nourishes and protects the cornea and lens of your eyes is loaded with vitamin C.

According to this study, supplementing vitamin C may help reduce the effects of infectious keratitis, a nasty eye infection.Cho YW, et al. (2014). Efficacy of systemic vitamin C supplementation in reducing corneal opacity resulting from infectious keratitis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4616340/

Zinc for the eyes

Zinc is abundant in the retina and works to protect the eye and improve night vision.Gilbert R, et al. (2019).
Zinc nutrition and inflammation in the aging retina. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31148351/

Making sure the eye has enough zinc (levels of which can reduce over time, giving you that zincing feeling) (sorry) is a great way to help your retinas stay healthy.

Selenium for the eyes

And selenium is a strong antioxidant for eye protection and may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration.Khoo HE, et al. (2019). Nutrients for prevention of macular degeneration and eye-related diseases. DOI: 10.3390/antiox8040085

Skin

To keep your skin supple and healthy, make sure you’re getting enough of antioxidant vitamins C and E, wound healing vitamin K, and sunny vitamin D.

Vitamin C for the skin

Antioxidant vitamin C protects against the oxidative effects of harmful UV rays and helps build collagen, which helps keep your skin firm.Pullar JM, et al. (2017). The roles of vitamin C in skin health. DOI: 10.3390/nu9080866

Vitamin E for the skin

Vitamin E is another antioxidant powerhouse that protects your skin from sun damage.Souyoul, SA, et al. (2018). Nutraceuticals: A review. DOI: 10.1007/s13555-018-0221-x

Vitamin K for the skin

Vitamin K helps your blood clot, and has been shown to help heal wounds and help with rosacea, spider veins and stretch marks.Pazyar N, et al. (2019). Wound healing effects of topical Vitamin K: A randomized controlled trial. DOI: 10.4103/ijp.IJP_183_18

Vitamin D for the skin

Ironically, while the sun’s rays are a major cause of skin damage, vitamin D (which you largely get from the sun) is important for healthy skin, helping reduce psoriasis symptoms, atopic dermatitis, and other skin disorders.Bergqvist C, et al. (2019). Vitamin D and the skin: what should a dermatologist know? DOI: 10.23736/S0392-0488.19.06433-2

(Just don’t stay in the sun too long.)

Vitamins fall into two categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Most vitamins are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water. Fat-soluble vitamins are similar to oil, in that they do not dissolve in water. This may seem like a minor difference, but actually has a huge impact on how the vitamins act in your body.

Let’s discuss the difference between them.

Water-soluble vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins are abundant in the watery parts of the foods you eat (which would make sense, really, given the name).

Water-soluble vitamins include:

  • thiamine (vitamin B1)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • niacin (vitamin B3)
  • pantothenic acid
  • biotin
  • pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
  • folic acid
  • cobalamin (vitamin B12)
  • ascorbic acid (vitamin C)

Water-soluble vitamins quickly dissolve in water. Since your body is about 80 percent water, that means they travel freely throughout your tissues.

You can’t store these vitamins in your body. So if you eat food or take a supplement that has more of a water-soluble vitamin than you need, you’ll pee the excess out (hello, bright yellow pee).

Because you don’t store them in your body, you’re not in much danger of overdoing it with these vitamins. But taking large amounts is not entirely benign.

Taking large amounts of vitamin B6, for instance, can cause permanent nerve damage, leading to numbness and muscle weakness.

It’s best to take water-soluble vitamins in frequent, small doses so your body gets what you need and you’re not literally throwing the good money you spent on supplements down the toilet.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins include:

  • vitamin A (and its precursor beta-carotene)
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K

The body stores fat-soluble vitamins inside your body’s fatty tissues and liver. They aren’t excreted from your body as easily as water-soluble vitamins. It’s important to get enough of these vitamins, but too much, again, could be toxic.

Note that while you can definitely overdo it with fat-soluble vitamins from supplements, you’re unlikely to get too much from eating food that’s rich in the vitamins.

(Though your skin may turn orange from eating too many beta-carotene-rich squash or carrots — true story.)

Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed through your intestines with the help of fats.

It’s easier for your body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins into your bloodstream when you eat them with fat, so remember to cook your kale with some olive oil for maximum nutrition.

Phew. It’s a lot, isn’t it? Don’t worry, here’s a roundup of the basics you need to know…

Vitamins and minerals are essential micronutrients that play a huge role in the development and functioning of your body and its organs. Though you don’t need much of them (that’s why they’re called micronutrients!), you’ll get sick if you’re deficient in any of them.

Vitamins are made by living creatures, while minerals exist naturally in the water and soil and are absorbed by plants. You can get all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs by eating a varied, balanced diet.

Among the 13 vitamins, vitamin C and the B vitamins are all water-soluble. This means they’re easily absorbed by your body and you generally pee out any extra that you ingest. You needn’t worry too much about overdoing it with these guys.

The fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, E, D, and K) are absorbed along with dietary fat and get stored in your body. You need to be more careful about ingesting too much of these nutrients, since your body doesn’t rid them easily.

Vitamins and minerals are involved in everything from mobilizing energy from the food you eat to allowing your blood to carry oxygen. They help you build bones and fight the harmful effects of oxidation throughout your body.

They’re especially important for brain, heart, and bones, as well as eye and skin health.

In short, these tiny nutrients have a big impact. Make sure to get your fill of these micronutrients by eating a colorful diet and consider a multivitamin to fill in any gaps (but be careful — not all supplements are as flat-out good for you as you might think).

Your body will thank you for it!