We see cartons of juice and boxes of cereal trumpeting their vitamin and mineral content, but why are these microscopic nutrients so important? From helping the body turn food into fuel, to fortifying bones and eyesight, vitamins and minerals are health superstars for sure. While the average diet usually includes adequate amounts of the essential nutrients without issue, it doesn’t hurt to be a little more aware of the vitamins and minerals that keep us living and smiling. But first, let’s iron out some key terms.
Vitamins: Organic substances required for normal cell function, growth, and development. There are 13 essential vitamins. (More on that below)
Fat-Soluble Vitamins: Fat-soluble vitamins are those that bind to fat in the stomach and are then stored in the body for later use. We are less likely to become deficient in these vitamins (A, D, E, and K), but more likely to build up to toxic levels, usually due to extreme overconsumption or overzealous supplement use. (Or maybe just an unhealthy obsession with kale chips…)
Water-Soluble Vitamins: The rest of the vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they can be absorbed directly by cells. When in excess, these vitamins are flushed out of our system with each bathroom break. The water-soluble vitamins — biotin, vitamin C, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, and the four B complex vitamins — need to be restored more frequently, but the body can tolerate higher doses.
Minerals: Minerals are inorganic substances (meaning they contain no carbon), and all hold on place on the good ol’ periodic table (flashback to 6th grade chemistry class!). They’re also necessary for normal body function and development. There are two groups of minerals: macrominerals (which the body needs in large doses) and trace minerals (only a pinch required).
RDA: Recommended Dietary Allowances, or 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: For those vitamins for which an RDA has not yet been set (usually due to lack of scientific data), an AI, or adequate intake level, is used 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 radar (especially when using supplements) to keep toxicities at bay.
The Measurements: Vitamins or minerals that are needed in larger doses are expressed in units of milligrams (mg). Trace minerals and vitamins are expressed 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.
The Key Players
Biotin (a.k.a. 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 metabolismBiotin. Zempleni, J., Wijeratne, S.S.,Hassan, Y.I. Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska. Biofactors, 2009 Jan-Feb;35(1):36-46.. Metabolism is the process by which our bodies covert the food we eat into energy that can then be used to power everything we do, from thinking, to running, to hula-hooping. Deficiency of this vitamin is extremely rare, but overdoing it on raw egg whites has been known to prevent biotin absorption (albeit, in a pretty old study) (we’re looking at you, Rocky)A separation of the direct toxic effects of dietary raw egg white powder from its action in producing biotin deficiency. Peter, J.M. The British Journal of Nutrition, 1967;21(4):801-9..
What You Need: 30 mcg How to Get It: Cooked salmon (4-5 mcg per 3 ounces) whole grains (0.02-6 mcg per slice of bread), eggs (13-25 mcg per large egg), or avocados (2-6 mcg per avocado) What’s Too Much: Not determined
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 pressureRecommended intake of calcium and vitamin D. Positioning of the Nutrition Committee of the AEP. Martinez, S., Moreno, V.J.M., Dalmau, S.J., et al. Servicio de Salud del Principado de Asturias, Centro de Salud El Llano, Gijón, España. Annals of Pediatrics, 2012 Feb 14.. And alongside its sidekick, Vitamin D, calcium helps ward off osteoporosisVitamin D with or without calcium supplementation for prevention of cancer and fractures: an updated meta-analysis for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Chung, M., Lee, J., Terasawa, T., et al. Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2011 Dec 20;155(12):827-38.. While getting too much calcium from dietary sources is rare, taking too many calcium supplements may carry some risk for kidney stones formation or heart disease, though the research is inconclusiveAssociations 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). Li, K., Kaaks, R., Linseisen, J., et al. Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Zurich, Hirschengraben, Zurich, Switzerland. Heart, 2012 Jun;98(12):920-5..
What You Need:1,000 mg How to Get It: Quench calcium thirst with milk (300 mg per cup—ice cream counts too!), yogurt (300 mg per cup), cheddar cheese (303 mg per 1.5 ounces), tofu (258 mg per ½ cup), bok choy (79 mg per ½ cup), spinach (115 mg per ½ cup), and rhubarb (174 mg per ½ cup). What’s Too Much: 2,500mg
Choline: Choline, another water-soluble B vitamin, is a building block of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is essential 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 fuelCholine: an essential nutrient for public health. Zeisel, S.H. and da Costa, K.A. Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health and School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Nutrition Reviews, 2009 Nov;67(11):615-23.Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults. Zeisel, S.H. Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health and School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Annual Review of Nutrition, 2006;26:229-50.. Vegetarians, vegans, pregnant women, and endurance athletes are at greater risk for choline deficiency, which is linked to fatty liver disease, atherosclerosis, neurological disorders, and impaired fetal developmentCholine deprivation: An overview of the major hepatic metabolic response pathways. Al-Humadi, H., Zarros, A., Kyriakaki, A., et al. Department of Pharmacology, Medical School, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens , Athens , Greece. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 2012 May 10.. Extremely high doses won’t kill you, but consuming more than 10 grams per day can cause vomiting, increased sweating and salivation, and a fishy body order (and nobody wants that!).
What You Need: Men = 550 mg; Women = 425mg How to Get It: Eggs (126 mg per egg), milk (38 mg per cup), cooked broccoli and Brussels sprouts (both 62 mg per cup), beef (67 mg per 3 ounces), and—get excited—milk chocolate (20 mg per 1.5 ounce bar). What’s Too Much: 3,500 mg
Chromium: You may have chrome wheels, but do you have chromium-dense meals? Though this trace mineral is thought to enhance insulin activity and the breakdown of the sugars that we eat, it’s only needed in small amounts and is not considered “essential”Dietary reference intakes: vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Trumbo, P., Yates, A., Schlicker, S., et al. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, The National Academies, Washington, DC, USA. Journal of the American Diabetic Association, 2001 Mar;101(3):294-301.. Though some chromium supplements tout muscle building and weight loss benefits, there is no solid research evidence that backs up the claimsA pilot study of chromium picolinate for weight loss. Yazaki, Y., Faridi, Z., Ma, Y., et al. Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Derby, CT, USA. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2010 Mar;16(3):291-9.. In fact, overconsumption of chromium supplements could cause kidney damageEffects of chromium picolinate on glycemic control and kidney of the obese Zucker rat. Mozaffari, M., Abdelsayed, R., Liu, J., et al. Department of Oral Biology, School of Dentistry, Medical College of Georgia Augusta, Georgia, USA. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2009 Dec 10;6:51.. So shelf the supplement and try an absperiment instead for rock-hard abs.
What You Need: Men = 35 mcg; Women = 25 mcg How to Get It: There’s heavy metal (chromium metal, that is) in broccoli (22 mcg per cup), grape juice (7.5 mcg per cup), and whole-wheat products like whole-wheat frozen waffles (6.7 mcg per waffle) or whole-wheat English muffins (3.6 mcg per muffin). What’s Too Much: Not determined
Copper: Don’t be penny-pinching with this shiny mineral, which is an essential trace element and antioxidant. Frontline in the creation of red blood cells, copper is also important for proper energy metabolism, immunity, and nervous system functionDietary reference intakes: vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Trumbo, P., Yates, A., Schlicker, S., et al. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, The National Academies, Washington, DC, USA. Journal of the American Diabetic Association, 2001 Mar;101(3):294-301.. Though few and far between, copper deficiencies may manifest as anemia, a low white blood cell count, and bone deteriorationThe role of copper, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc in nutrition and health. Chan, S., Gerson, B., and Subramanjam, S. Quest Diagnostics Incorporated Nichols Institute, San Juan Capistrano, California. Clinics in Laboratory Medicine, 1998 Dec;18(4):673-85.. 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 containersA series of patients in the emergency department diagnosed with copper poisoning: recognition equals treatment. Gunay, N., Yildrim, C., Karcioglu, O., et al. Department of Emergency Medicine, Sahinbey Hospital, Gaziantep, Turkey. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2006 Jul;209(3):243-8..
What You Need: 900 mcg How to Get It: Instead of gnawing on pennies, try cooked liver—yum! (4,049 mcg per ounce), oysters (670 mcg per medium oyster), crabmeat (634 per 3 ounces), nuts (cashews, for example, offer 629 mcg per ounce), raw mushrooms (344 mcg per cup), and semisweet chocolate (198 mcg per ounce). What’s Too Much: 10,000 mcg
Fluoride: This non-essential trace mineral helps keep those pearly whites cavity-free and bones less breakableDietary intake and bioavailability of fluoride. Rao, G.S. Annual Review of Nutrition, 1984;4:115-36.. Before snacking on some toothpaste, know that most tap water in the U.S. is already fluorinated, taking care of those elemental needs.
What You Need: Men = 4 mg; Women = 3 mg How to Get It: Food sources include grape juice (0.05-0.64 mg per cup), canned sardines (0.2-0.4 mg per 3.5 ounces), and chicken (0.06-0.10 mg per 3.5 ounces). What’s Too Much: 10 mg
Folic Acid (a.k.a. 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 ensure the baby’s proper development, helping prevent birth defects in the brain and spineFolate and DNA methylation: a review of molecular mechanisms and the evidence for folate’s role. Crider, K.S., Yang, T.P., Berry, R.J. et al. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Atlanta, GA. Advances in Nutrition, 2012 Jan;3(1):21-38.Folic acid supplementation for the prevention of neural tube defects: an update of the evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Wolff, T., Witkop, C., Miller, T., et al. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2009 May 5;150(9):632-9.. No baby on board? Folic acid also helps create most all cells in the body and may reduce the risk of heart disease and colon cancerEffect modification by population dietary folate on the association between MTHFR genotype, homocysteine, and stroke risk: a meta-analysis of genetic studies and randomized trials. Holmes, M.V., Newcombe, P., Hubacek, J.A., et al. Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK. Lancet, 2011 Aug 13;378(9791):584-94..
What You Need: 400 mcg How to Get It: Look out for fortified grains and cereals (200-400 mcg per cup), asparagus (134 mcg per 6 spears), spinach (132 mcg per half cup), orange juice (83 mcg per cup), and lentils (179 per half cup). What’s Too Much: 1,000 mcg
Iodine: Definitely dine with iodine: This essential trace mineral is a crucial component of thyroid hormones, which maintain our basal metabolic rate (BMR). Iodine also helps to regulate body temperature, nerve and muscle function, and plays a role in the body’s growth and developmentWhat’s happening to our iodine? Dunn, J.T. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 1998 Oct;83(10):3398-400.. Too little iodine can lead to thyroid dysfunction, developmental abnormalities, and even goiters, a swelling of the thyroid gland (that ain’t pretty)Too much versus too little: the implications of current iodine intake in the United States. Lee, K., Bradley, R., Dwyer, J. et al. Frances Stern Nutrition Center, New England Medical Center, Boston, MA. Nutrition Reviews, 1999 Jun;57(6):177-81.. Iodine is found in most table salt (it does say “iodized” on the container, right?). Now and then, an excess of iodine can cause hyperthyroidism, goiters, and in severe cases, GI discomfort and burning of the mouth, throat, and stomach, though rare.
What You Need: 150 mcg How to Get It: Add some iodine with cod (99 mcg per 3 ounces), shrimp (35 mcg per 3 ounces), canned tuna (17 mcg per half can), milk (56 mcg per cup), baked potatoes (60 mcg per medium potato), and (small amounts of) seaweed (more than than 4,500 mcg per ¼ ounce!). What’s Too Much: 1,100 mcg
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 in the production of amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters, and hormonesDietary reference intakes: vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Trumbo, P., Yates, A., Schlicker, S., et al. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, The National Academies, Washington, DC, USA. Journal of the American Diabetic Association, 2001 Mar;101(3):294-301.Intestinal iron absorption. Fuqua, B.K., Vulpe, C.D., and Anderson, G.J. Department of Nutrition and Toxicology, University of California, Berkeley, CA. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, 2012 May 8.. Since this mineral is more easily absorbed from red meat and poultry, vegetarians and vegans may want to consider iron supplements, or at least consume more iron-rich fruits and leafy green vegetablesVegetarian diets : nutritional considerations for athletes. Venderley, A., and Campbell, W. Department of Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA. Sports Medicine, 2006;36(4):293-305.. But don’t go too crazy for iron: Acute overdose of iron can be lethal, and general excess can cause GI irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipationIron poisoning. Banner, W., and Tong, T. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 1986 Apr;33(2):393-409..
What You Need: Men = 8 mg; Women = 18 mg How to Get It: Consider beef (2.32 mg per 3 cooked ounces), oysters (5.04 mg per 6 medium oysters), raisins (0.81 mg per small box), prune juice (2.28 mg per 6 fluid ounces), potatoes (1.87 mg per medium potato), cooked lentils (3.30 mg per half cup), tofu (2.15 mg per ¼ block), and cashews (1.89 per ounce). What’s Too Much: 45 mg
Magnesium: Magnetically drawn to calcium, magnesium is a macromineral that partners with calcium to assist with proper muscle contraction, blood clotting, cell signaling, energy metabolism, blood pressure regulation, and building healthy bones and teethAssociations of dietary magnesium intake with mortality from cardiovascular disease: the JACC study. Zhang, W., Iso, H., Ohira, T., et al. Department of Social and Environmental Medicine, Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan. Atherosclerosis, 2012 Apr;221(2):587-95.! Rest easy 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 weaknessSuboptimal magnesium status in the United States: are the health consequences underestimated? Rosanoff, A., Weaver, C.M., and Rude, R.K. Center for Magnesium Education & Research, Pahoa, HI. Nutrition Reviews, 2012 Mar;70(3):153-64..
What You Need: Men = 400 mg; Women = 310 mg How to Get It: Magnify magnesium intake with oat bran (96 mg per half cup), almonds (78 mg per ounce), brown rice (86 mg per cup), cooked spinach (78 mg per half cup), bananas (32 mg per banana), and molasses (48 mg per tablespoon). What’s Too Much: There is no upper limit for dietary magnesium, but supplemental magnesium should not exceed 350 mg/day.
Manganese: Hailing from the Greek word for magic, manganese can be a double-edged sword. Though an essential trace mineral and antioxidant, it is also potentially toxic in excessInvited review: manganese superoxide dismutase in disease. Macmillan-Crow, L. and Cruthirds, D. Free Radical Research. University of Alabama at Birmingham, South Birmingham, AL. Pharmacology, 2001 Apr;34(4):325-36.. Important for energy, bone development, and wound healing, overindulgence of this magic mineral — usually a result of water contamination — may cause a dip in intellectual functionManganese toxicity upon overexposure. Crossgrove, J. and Zheng, W. School of Health Sciences, Purdue University, IN. NMR in Biomedicine, 2004 Dec;17(8):544-53.Manganese in drinking water and intellectual impairment in school-age children. Chen, H. and Copes, R. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2011 Jun;119(6):A240-1..
What You Need: Men = 2.3 mg; Women = 1.8 mg How to Get It: Get a limited portion of this potion with pineapples (0.77 mg per half cup), pecans (1.28 mg per ounce), oatmeal (0.99 mg per instant oatmeal packet), brown rice (1.07 mg per half cup), and green tea (0.41-1.58 mg per cup). What’s Too Much: 11 mg
Molybdenum: Though we can’t help with the pronunciation of this essential trace mineral, we can confirm that it’s a necessary factor of many enzymes, which speed up the body’s biochemical reactions that break down dietary and stored nutrients into energyMolybdenum absorption, excretion, and retention studied with stable isotopes in young men during depletion and repletion. Turnlund, J.R., Keyes, W.R., Peiffer, G.L., et al. Western Human Nutrition Research Center, Presidio of San Francisco, CA. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1995 May;61(5):1102-9.. Molybdenum deficiency has never been documented in healthy people, and toxicity is similarly rare.
What You Need: 45 mcg How to Get It: Grub rich in molybdenum includes legumes like black beans (130 mcg per cup) and split peas (148 mcg per cup), and nuts like almonds, chestnuts, and peanuts (all about 42 mcg per cup). What’s Too Much: 2,000 mcg
Niacin ( a.k.a. Vitamin B3 or Nicotinic Acid): On the lookout for beautiful skin, hair, and red blood cells? Niacin is here to help! Like other water-soluble B vitamins, niacin is essential for converting food into energy. It’s also central for the health of skin, hair, eyes, liver, and the nervous system, and is believed to lower risks of high cholesterol and heart diseaseNiacin: chemical forms, bioavailability, and health effects. Mackay, D., Hathcock, J., and Guarneri, E. Council for Responsible Nutrition, Washington, DC, USA Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, La Jolla, California, USA. Nutrition Reviews, 2012 Jun;70(6):357-66.Mechanism of action of niacin. Kamanna, V.S., and Kashyap, M.L. Atherosclerosis Research Center, Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, Long Beach, CA. The American Journal of Cardiology, 2008 Apr 17;101(8A):20B-26B.Niacin: an old drug rejuvenated. Kamanna, V.S., Ganji, S.H., and Kashyap, M.L. Atherosclerosis Research Center, Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, Long Beach, CA. Current Athersclerosis Reports, 2009 Jan;11(1):45-51.. Extreme deficiencies in niacin may lead to pellagra, which is associated with the “the four D’s”: dermatitis (skin irritation), diarrhea, dementia, and death (yikes!)Effectiveness of food fortification in the United States: the case of pellagra. Park, Y., Sempos, C., Barton, C., et al. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, Washington, DC, USA. American Journal of Public Health, 2000 May;90(5):727-38.. But don’t overdo it either: Pellagra is exceptionally rare. High doses of niacin can be toxic, and may cause rosy tingling — the so-called “niacin flush” — if doses exceed 50 mg per dayA “hot” topic in dyslipidemia management–“how to beat a flush”: optimizing niacin tolerability to promote long-term treatment adherence and coronary disease prevention. Jacobson, T. Office of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Department of Medicine, Emory University, Faculty Office Building, Atlanta, GA, USA. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2010 Apr;85(4):365-79..
What You Need: Men = 16 mg; Women = 14 mg How to Get It: Nosh on peanuts (3.8 mg per ounce), chicken (7.3 mg per 3 ounces), salmon (8.5 mg per 3 ounces), fortified cereals (20-27 mg per cup), and coffee (0.5 mg per cup). What’s Too Much: 35 mg
Pantothenic Acid (a.k.a. Vitamin B5): This vitamin is important in food metabolism and helps synthesize neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, red blood cells, and more. Toxicity is virtually nonexistent, and while B5 deficiency is fairly rare (it tends to accompany severe malnutrition) neurologic symptoms such as burning feet may crop upPantothenic acid in health and disease. Tahilliani, A.G., and Beinlich, C.J. Weis Center for Research, Danville, Pennsylvania. Vitamins and Hormones, 1991;46:165-228..
What You Need: 5 mg (AI) How to Get It: Steer clear of tingling toes with foods like chicken (0.98 mg per 3 ounces), eggs (0.61 mg per large egg), whole grains (0.19 mg per slice of whole wheat bread), mushrooms (0.52 mg per half cup), sweet potato (0.88 mg per medium potato), avocados (1.99 mg per whole avocado), and yogurt (1.35 mg per cup). What’s Too Much: Not determined
Phosphorus: Keep bones and teeth prosperous with phosphorus, a macromineral that primarily builds and protects those choppers and your skeleton. Phosphorus is also a component of DNA and RNA, helps convert food into energy, and aids in shuttling nutrients to the organs that need themDietary phosphorus in bone health and quality of life. Takeda, E., Yamamoto, H., Yamanaka-Okumura, H. et al. Nutrition Reviews. Department of Clinical Nutrition, Institute of Health Biosciences, University of Tokushima Graduate School, Tokushima, Japan. Nutrition Reviews, 2012 Jun;70(6):311-21.. While the kidneys dislike phosphorus in excess, acute poisoning with phosphorus is virtually nonexistent. On the flipside, rare cases of phosphorus deficiency can lead to anemia, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, rickets (in children), and numbness and tingling in the legsHypophosphatemic rickets. Jagtap, V., Sarathi, V., Lilia, A., et al. Department of Endocrinology, Seth G. S. Medical College, Parel, Mumbai, India. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2012 Mar;16(2):177-82..
What You Need: 700 mg How to Get It: Foods abounding in phosphorus include all-things dairy, like milk (257 mg per cup), yogurt (385 mg per cup) and cheese (131 mg per ounce). Not a dairy lover? Consider salmon (252 mg per 3 ounces), eggs (104 mg per large egg), beer (173 mg per 3 ounces), chicken (155 mg per 3 ounces), and—get this—carbonated cola drinks (40 mg per 12 ounces). What’s Too Much: 4,000 mg
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 functionSodium and potassium intake and mortality among US adults: prospective data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Yang, Q., Liu, T., Kuklina, E.V., et al. Division for Heart Diseases and Stroke Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2011 Jul 11;171(13):1183-91.. 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, tooEffects of oral potassium on blood pressure. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Whelton, P., He, J., Cutler, J., et al. Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, Md. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 1997 May 28;277(20):1624-32.. Short-term potassium deficiencies (often from prolonged vomiting or diarrhea) may cause fatigue, muscle weakness and cramps, bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation — thanks but no thanksNarrative review: evolving concepts in potassium homeostasis and hypokalemia. Greenlee, M., Wingo, C., McDonough, A. et al. University of Florida College of Medicine and Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Gainesville, Florida, USA. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2009 May 5;150(9):619-25.! But don’t get too pumped up on potassium: consuming high doses (typically from supplements) can lead to muscle weakness, tingling in hands and feet, GI symptoms, and abnormal heart rhythmsHyperkalemia: a review. Evans, K., and Greenberg, A. Duke University Medical Center, Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, Durham, NC, USA. Journal of Intensive Care Medicine, 2005 Sep-Oct;20(5):272-90..
What You Need: 4,700 mg How to Get It: Kick up your K (potassium’s letter on the periodic table) with baked potatoes (926 mg per medium potato), artichokes (343 mg per medium artichoke), plums (637 mg per ½ cup), raisins (598 mg per ½ cup), and bananas (422 per medium banana). What’s Too Much: Not determined
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Flavorful riboflavin definitely has street cred. 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 brainRiboflavin (vitamin B-2) and health. Powers, H.J. Centre for Human Nutrition, The University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003 Jun;77(6):1352-60.. And some research suggests that riboflavin may be effective at combating migraines, tooEffectiveness of high-dose riboflavin in migraine prophylaxis. A randomized controlled trial. Schoenen, J., Jacquy, L., and Lenaerts, M. Department of Neurology, University of Liège, CHR Citadelle, Belgium. Neurology, 1998 Feb;50(2):466-70.. 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 skinRiboflavin status of adolescents in southern China. Average intake of riboflavin and clinical findings. Lo, C. The Medical Journal of Australia, 1984 Nov 10;141(10):635-7.. While enormous intake of riboflavin may turn your pee bright yellow (a phenomenon called flavinuria), this side effect is harmless.
What You Need: Men = 1.3mg; Women = 1.1mg How to Get It: Rev up riboflavin with milk (0.34 mg per cup), almonds (0.23 mg per ounce), cheddar cheese (0.11 mg per ounce), eggs (0.27 mg per large egg), and enriched grains and cereals (0.59-2.27 mg per cup). What’s Too Much: Not determined
Selenium: Selenium is a smooth-operator of thyroid hormone regulation, and also acts as an antioxidantSelenium and human health. Rayman, M.P. Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK. Lancet, 2012 Mar 31;379(9822):1256-68.. Antioxidants kick the “bad-guy” cells (free radicals) out of the body in order to prevent them from damaging the “good-guy” cells. 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 moderationAcute selenium toxicity associated with a dietary supplement. MacFarquhar, J.K., Broussard, D.L. Melstrom, P., et al. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010 Feb 8;170(3):256-61..
What You Need: 55 mcg How to Get It: Brazil nuts (544 mcg per six kernels) are sky-high in selenium, and shrimp (34 mcg per 10-12 shrimp), crabmeat (41 mcg per 3 ounces), salmon (40 mcg per 3 ounces), enriched noodles (38 mcg per cup), beef (16 mcg per 3 ounces), and pork (35 mcg per 3 ounces) have a decent slice of it too. What’s Too Much: 400 mcg
Sodium Chloride (a.k.a. salt): Chemistry buffs know this pair of minerals as NaCl. The rest of us call it table salt. Before shaking it up, know that sodium chloride is found in high quantities in most meals, snacks, and even drinks. While it is essential for fluid balance, nerve signal transmission, muscle contractions, digestion, and blood pressure, it is possible to have too much of this savory mineral setSalt and hypertension: is salt dietary reduction worth the effort? Frisoli, T.M., Schmieder, R.E., Grodzicki, T., et al. St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, New York, USA. The American Journal of Medicine, 2012 May;125(5):433-9.. Excess sodium intake can raise blood pressure above normal limits, increasing the risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease down the roadEffects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol, and triglyceride. Graudal, N.A., Hubeck-Graudal, T., and Jurgens, G. Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark. Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews, 2011 Nov 9;(11):CD004022.. 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: 500 mg of sodium; 750 mg of chloride How to Get It: Sodium chloride can be soaked up from white bread (850 mg per two slices), pickles (800 mg per 1 spear), hot dogs (1,300 mg per one wiener—hot diggity dog!), and canned goods such as chicken noodle soup (a striking 3,400 mg of NaCl per cup). What’s Too Much: 2,300 mg of sodium (the equivalent of 5.8 g of salt per day)
Thiamin (a.k.a. Vitamin B1): Another member of the water-soluble B pack, thiamin helps with food metabolism and boosts the health of hair, skin, muscles, and the brainA review of the biochemistry, metabolism and clinical benefits of thiamin(e) and its derivatives. Lonsale, D. Preventive Medicine Group, Westlake, OH. Evidence-Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, 2006 Mar;3(1):49-59.Thiamin(e): The Spark of Life. Lonsale, D. Preventive Medicine Group, Westlake, OH. Sub-cellular Biochemistry, 2012;56:199-227.. Toxicity has never been observed, and though thiamin deficiency (also known as beriberi) is rare in the U.S., it’s not nonexistent. Symptoms affect the cardiovascular, nervous, muscular, and gastrointestinal systems in a variety of waysThiamine in nutrition therapy. Sriram, K., Manzanares, W., and Joseph, K. Department of Surgery, Chicago, IL, USA. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 2012 Feb;27(1):41-50..
What You Need: Men = 1.2 mg; Women = 1.1 mg How to Get It: Dodge beriberi with a fair share of milk (0.10 mg per cup), lentils (0.17 mg per ½ cup), cantaloupe (0.11 mg per ½ fruit), enriched long grain white rice (0.26 mg per cup), and pecans (0.19 mg per ounce). What’s Too Much: Not determined
Vitamin A (a.k.a. retinol, retinal, retinoic acid): So what’s up with this vitamin, doc? Though known as being good for vision, vitamin A has many other vital tasks: It encourages red and white blood cell production and activity, keeps the immune system fit and blood vessels healthy, helps rebuild bone, regulates cell growth and division, and may reduce the risk for some cancersThe role of retinoic acid in tolerance and immunity. Hall, J.A., Grainger, J.R., Spencer, S.P., et al. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. Immunity, 2011;35(1):13-22.Overview of retinoid metabolism and function. Blomhoff, R. and Blomhoff, H.K. Department of Nutrition, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway. Journal of Neurobiology, 2006 Jun;66(7):606-30.. Retinoids, variations of Vitamin A, are also used in medications to treat various skin diseases and acneSystemic retinoids for chemoprevention of non-melanoma skin cancer in high-risk patients. Marquez, C., Bair, S., Smithberger, E., et al. Florida State University College of Medicine, Tallahassee, FL. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 2010 Jul;9(7):753-8.. 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. Vitamin A deficiency also plays a role in diarrhea and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases in developing countriesVitamin A metabolism and adipose tissue biology. Frey, S.K. and Vogel, S. Department of Medicine and the Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University, New York, NY. Nutrients, 2011 Jan;3(1):27-39.. So make like Bugs Bunny and crunch on some carrots for high doses of beta-carotene, which is readily converted to vitamin A once digestedThe importance of beta-carotene as a source of vitamin A with special regard to pregnant and breastfeeding women. Strobel, M., Tinz, J., and Biesalski, H.K. European Journal of Nutrition. Nutrition and Food Security, Gronau, Germany. 2007 Jul;46 Suppl 1:I1-20.Spinach or carrots can supply significant amounts of vitamin A as assessed by feeding with intrinsically deuterated vegetables. Tang, G., Qin, J., Dolnikowski, G.G., et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA. 2005 Oct;82(4):821-8..
What You Need: Men = 900 mcg; Women = 700 mcg How to Get It: Consider kale (443 mcg per ½ cup), eggs (91 mcg per large egg) and cod liver oil — ymmmm (1,350 mcg per teaspoon). And think orange: consider carrots (538 mcg per ½ cup) baked sweet potatoes (961 mcg per ½ cup), canned pumpkin (953 mcg per ½ cup), cantaloupe (467 mcg per ½ a melon), mango (79 mcg per fruit), and butternut squash (572 mcg per ½ cup). What’s Too Much: 3,000 mcg
Vitamin B6 (a.k.a. pyridoxal, pyridoxine, pyridoxamine): Like a G6, this essential, water-soluble vitamin flies high above the others. Vitamin B6 helps out with the production of serotonin, a hormone that plays a hand in sleep, appetite, and moodPyridoxine effect on synthesis rate of serotonin in the monkey brain measured with positron emission tomography. Hartvig, P., Lindner, K., and Bjurling, P., et al. Uppsala University PET Centre, Uppsala, Sweden. Journal of Neural Transmission, 1995;102(2):91-7.. It also assists with manufacturing red blood cells and steroid hormones, influences cognitive and immune function, and is linked to reducing the risk of heart diseaseThe effect of vitamin B6 on cognition. Malouf, R. and Grimley, E.J. Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group, Radcliffe Infirmary, Woodstock Road, Oxford, UK. Cochrane Database System Review, 2003;(4).Vitamin B6: a molecule for human health? Hellmann, H. and Mooney, S.. Diets lacking B6 are rare, but evidence of seizures and other neurologic systems are observed in extreme deficiency. Adverse effects from high doses are primarily seen in people taking supplements, and include pain and numbness in the limbsHow much vitamin B6 is toxic? Katan, M. Wageningen Centre for Food Sciences en Wageningen Universiteit, Humane Voeding, Wageningen. Nederlands tijdschrift voor geneeskunde, 2005 Nov 12;149(46):2545-6..
What You Need: 1.3 mg How to Get It: Foods soaring in vitamin B6 include salmon (0.48 mg per 3 ounces), chicken (0.51 mg per 3 ounces), bananas (0.43 mg per medium banana), baked russet potatoes with the skin (0.70 mg per medium potato), hazelnuts (0.18 mg per ounce), and cooked spinach (0.44 mg per cup). What’s Too Much: 100 mg
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’sFolate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B12 and their function in the maintenance of nuclear and mitochondrial genome integrity. Fenech, M. CSIRO Food and Nutritional Sciences, Australia. Mutation Research, 2012 May 1;733(1-2):21-33.Vitamin B12 levels in Alzheimer’s disease: association with clinical features and cytokine production. Politis, A., Olgiati, P., Malitas, P. et al. Division of Geriatric Psychiatry Department of Psychiatry, Eginition Hospital, University of Athens Medical School, Athens, Greece. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2010;19(2):481-8.. Keep B12 close when it gets to those later, grey-haired years: deficiencies are common in the elderly and may cause memory loss, dementia, and anemiaAn update on cobalamin deficiency in adults. Dali-Youcef, N. and Andres, E. Universitaires de Strasbourg, Strasbourg Cedex, France. QJM: Monthly Journal of the Association of Physicians, 2009 Jan;102(1):17-28.. Toxicities are not observed, and vegetarians and vegans may even need supplements.
What You Need: 2.4 mcg How to Get It: Binge on bivalves like clams (84 mcg per 3 ounces) and mussels (20.4 mcg per 3 ounces). Not into bottom-dwellers? Beef (2.1 mcg per 3 ounces), salmon (2.4 mcg per 3 ounces), poached eggs (0.6 mcg per large egg), skim milk (0.9 mcg per cup), and brie cheese—fantastique! (0.5 mcg per ounce), are also buds of B12. What’s Too Much: Not determined
Vitamin C (a.k.a. asorbic acid): As we go on, we remember… that vitamin C is one of the best vitamins ever! Cartons of OJ are emblazoned with this famous vitamin’s name — and for a good reason. Vitamin C is thought to lower the risk for some cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and breastVitamin C and cancer: what can we conclude–1,609 patients and 33 years later? Cabanillas, F. University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico Health Sciences Journal, 2010 Sep;29(3):215-7.. It also helps make collagen, an important tool in wound repair. And let’s not forget its antioxidant properties and immune-boosting effectsSix-year effect of combined vitamin C and E supplementation on atherosclerotic progression: the Antioxidant Supplementation in Atherosclerosis Prevention (ASAP) Study. Salonen, R., Nyyssonen, K., Kaikkonen, J., et al. Research Institute of Public Health, University of Kuopio, Finland. Circulation, 2003 Feb 25;107(7):947-53.! 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? A review of 30 research trials that included over 11,000 people showed that the incidence of the common cold is not decreased with high Vitamin C intakeVitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Douglas, R.M., Hemila, H., Chalker, E., et al. Cochrane Database of System Reviews, 2007 Jul 18;(3).. What’s more, the potential for vitamin C overdose is not ruled out, though uncertain. But don’t skimp on C: After all, scurvy — the severe vitamin C deficiency linked to bleeding, bruising, join pain, and hair and tooth loss — is for pirates, not millennialsScurvy: a disease almost forgotten. Olmedo, J., Yiannis, J., Windgassen, E. et al. Department of Dermatology, Division of Regional and International Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. International Journal of Dermatology, 2006 Aug;45(8):909-13.. Arrgh!
What You Need: Men = 90 mg; Women = 75mg (Smokers should add 35 mg) How to Get It: Choose citrus, like OJ (100+ mg per cup) and grapefruits (76 mg per medium fruit), or consider strawberries (85 mg per cup), tomatoes (16 mgg per medium tomato), red peppers (95 mg per ½ cup), and broccoli (51 mg per ½ cup). What’s Too Much: 2,000 mg
Vitamin D: Who loves the sun? This essential fat-soluble vitamin — which is vital for normal calcium metabolism, immunity, nervous system function, and bone density — sure doesVitamin D: considerations in the continued development as an agent for cancer prevention and therapy. Trump, D.L., Deeb, K.K., and Johnson, C.S. Department of Medicine, The Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY. Cancer Journal, 2010 Jan-Feb;16(1):1-9.Higher Vitamin D Dietary Intake Is Associated With Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: A 7-Year Follow-up. Annweiler, C., Rolland, Y., Schott, A.M., et al. Department of Neuroscience, Division of Geriatric Medicine, Angers, France. The Journals of Gerontology, 2012 Apr 13.. 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!) consider supplements or cereals, milk, and juices that are fortified with the active form, which is equally effectiveEstimated equivalency of vitamin D production from natural sun exposure versus oral vitamin D supplementation across seasons at two US latitudes. Terushkin, V., Bender, A., Psaty, E.L., et al. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York. Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, 2010 Jun;62(6):929.e1-9.. 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 cancerEffectiveness and safety of vitamin D in relation to bone health. Cranney, A., Horsley, T., O’Donnell, S., et al. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment, 2007 Aug;(158):1-235..
What You Need: 15 mcg How to Get It: Dive into vitamin D with fortified cereals (1.0-1.3 mcg per cup), fortified milk (2.4 mcg per cup), canned salmon (13.3 mcg per 3 ounces), and egg yolks (0.53 mcg per large egg. What’s Too Much: 50 mcg
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 membranesImpact of vitamin E on immune function and its clinical implications. Han, S.N. and Meydani, S.N. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Boston, MA. Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, 2006 Jul;2(4):561-7.. Drop some E (the vitamin!) to avoid impaired balance and coordination, muscle weakness, and pain and numbness in the limbs — all signs of extreme deficiencyThe role of nutrition in enhancing immunity in aging. Pae, M., Meydani, S.N., and Wu, D. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA. Aging and Disease, 2012 Feb;3(1):91-129.. Think you’re in the clear? Turns out that more than 90 percent of Americans do not meet the recommendations for this vitamin’s daily intake.
What You Need: 15 mg How to Get It: Close the gap with vegetable oils like olive oil (1.9 mg per tablespoon), canola oil (2.4 mg per tablespoon), almonds (7.4 mg per ounce), avocados (2.7 mg per avocado), and hazelnuts (4.3 mg per ounce). What’s Too Much: 1,000 mg
Vitamin K: Not to be confused with its mineral chum potassium (which is also noted as a “K” on the periodic table), this essential fat-soluble vitamin is a must for normal wound healing and bone developmentEssential Nutrients for Bone Health and a Review of their Availability in the Average North American Diet. Price, C.T., Langford, J.R, and Liporace, F.A. Orlando Health, Orlando, Florida. The Open Orthopedics Journal, 2012;6:143-9.. K is for “koagulation,” the German word for coagulation, or clotting. While blood clots sound menacing, consider the importance of scabs, which are simply patches of clotted blood to protect cuts and scrapesVitamin K: the effect on health beyond coagulation – an overview. Vermeer, C. VitaK and Cardiovascular Research Institute CARIM, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands. Food and Nutrition Research, 2012;56.. Ladies taking birth control pills should be careful with overconsumption of vitamin K, as a combination of the birth control pill and excess Vitamin K could put you at risk for unwanted clotsNutritional effects of oral contraceptive use: a review. Webb, J.L.1980 Oct;25(4):150-6.. Deficiencies in vitamin K include easy bruisability, bleeding, nosebleeds, and heavy menstrual periods.
What You Need: Men = 120 mcg; Women = 90 mcg (AI) How to Get It: Attain the RDA with cooked broccoli (220 mcg per cup), kale (547 mcg per cup), parsley (246 mcg per ¼ cup), and Swiss chard (299 mcg per cup). What’s Too Much: Not determined
Zinc: Zippity doo dah for zinc, a trace element that is a building block for enzymes, proteins, and cells. It is also responsible for freeing Vitamin A from its holding tank, the liver, through its enzymatic activityInteractions between zinc and vitamin A: an update. Christian, P. and West, K. Center for Human Nutrition and the Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1998 Aug;68(2 Suppl):435S-441S.. But that’s not all for the last on this list: zinc also plays a role in boosting the immune system, mediating senses such as taste and smell, and wound healingEffects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Part 1: micronutrients. Bourre, J. French Academy of Medicine. Department of Neuro-pharmaco-nutrition. Hôpital Fernand Widal, Paris, France. The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging, 2006 Sep-Oct;10(5):377-85.. Zinc toxicity is rare, but zinc deficiency (most commonly occurring in the developing world) may lead to delays in growth and development, rough skin, cognitive impairment, a weakened immune system (leading in increased susceptibility of infectious diseases, particularly in kids), and moreDiscovery of human zinc deficiency: 50 years later. Prasad, A. Wayne State University School of Medicine, Department of Oncology and Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center, Detroit, MI, USA. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, 2012 Jun;26(2-3):66-9Subclinical zinc deficiency impairs human brain function. Sandstead, H. The University of Texas Medical Branch, Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Division of Human Nutrition, Galveston, TX. Journal of Trace Minerals in Medicine and Biology, 2012 Jun;26(2-3):70-3..
What You Need: Men = 11 mg; Women = 8 mg How to Get It: Zinc can be zeroed in on in oysters (76.3 mg per 6 oysters), beef (6 mg per 3 ounces), turkey (3.8 mg per 3 ounces), milk (1.8 mg per cup), and cashews (1.6 mg per ounce). Vegetarians and vegans take note: zinc is less easily absorbed from vegetables so consider supplements or munching on more zinc rich foods. What’s Too Much: 40 mg Last but not least, don’t forget your daily dose of Vitamin G!