The nutrients you need every day and where to find them

When you are hungry, your body doesn’t necessarily want food. No, it wants nutrients. It wants the macro-nutrients of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, but it also is craving micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. (The food part is a bonus! How boring would our lives be if there was no delicious food!?)

No doubt you know that you need a wide range of vitamins and minerals in your diet but you might not be so clued up on why they’re so important and what they can do for your health. Here are 6 essential vitamins and minerals that will help you to stay healthy. With the exception of the vitamin D, our bodies cannot make these and we must rely on our diets (or supplements) to obtain these critical nutrients.

Vitamin D

This is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies actually make it from the sun. That is awesome. Isn’t your body amazing? Vitamin D is essential for the body to absorb calcium. A lack of vitamin D has been linked to conditions such as cancer, asthma, type-II diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s and type-I diabetes.

To get enough vitamin D from the sun, first of all, you must go outside. In our society, we often go from house, to car, to office/work, and back without spending much time in the sunshine. To get the D from the sun, you need to go outside when your shadow is shorter than you are for at least 10 minutes without sunblock.*

I know, this goes against all you have been taught, right? I’m not saying to not wear sunscreen. But what I am saying, is that to get enough vitamin D from the sun, you have to spend a little time outside without blocking the sun from your skin.

*This study was done in Spain on people with skin-types that were fair and both burn and tan. Depending on your location on the globe and skin type, how long you need to be in the sun may vary.

In addition to getting vitamin D from the sun, you can get small amounts of it from foods such as fatty fish, eggs, cheese, and milk. However, according to the experts, you cannot eat enough D. You must either get it from the sun or supplement. Current daily amounts vary widely because the research is developing in this area. While the government recommends 600 IU/day, the endocrinologists (the hormone doctors) recommend 2,000 IU/day, and the Vitamin D Council (who compile and analyze all the research) recommends 5,000 IU/day.

With so many recommendations, what’s a person to do? Who should you trust? After looking at all the research, I decided to take 2,000 IU/day in the summer and 5,000 IU/day in the winter (especially during influenza season: see my post here.)

Vitamin A

If you want to keep your eyes and skin healthy, you definitely want to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin A in your diet. It’s also crucial for your immune system overall.

There are two types of vitamin A: retinoids and carotenoids. Both are important for keeping skin, eyes, cells, and tissues healthy and increasing immunity. The main difference is where you get them from. Retinoids are more readily found in animal products while carotenoids are usually plant-based.

As a general rule of thumb, you’ll find vitamin A in lots of orange foods, including carrots, sweet potato, and cantaloupe melon. Some of the less obvious sources include kale, spinach, liver, eggs, milk, red peppers, and mangoes.

Most of us will get enough vitamin A in our diet if we eat the right foods but be wary of supplementing as too much vitamin A can be dangerous, especially if you’re pregnant. If you’re supplementing with vitamin A, make sure it is in the form of beta-carotene and other carotenoids; vitamin A in the retinoid form can build up in your body and become toxic.

This sweet potato salad is the perfect mix of sweet and spicy.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is more of an antioxidant than a vitamin. It can help to protect your body against the damaging effects of free radicals. Without this, oxidative stress is a problem and this has been linked to lots of health issues, including serious ones.

Almonds are a great natural source of vitamin E. You can also eat sunflower seeds, soybeans, spinach, kale, asparagus, celery, cucumber and tomato to boost your vitamin E intake.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) set in place by the US government is not up to date with current research. (And by “current” I mean 20+ years of research!) The RDA for most vitamins and minerals is designed only to keep your body from failing, not to help you achieve optimal health.

For example, according to research published by twelve different authorities, the optimal daily level of vitamin E is 450 international units (IU) or approximately 225 mg. The outdated RDA is just 15 mg (30 IU.) Quite a difference, right?

While you can fairly easily obtain 30 IU of vitamin E in your daily diet, you cannot eat enough to consume the optimal amount. After all, that would mean you’d be eating 2 pounds of sunflower seeds, 33 pounds of spinach, 2.2 pounds of almonds, or 80 avocados. Every day! Yikes!

It is for this reason that everyone should be taking a good quality multivitamin/multimineral every day. We just physically cannot eat enough food to obtain the micro-nutrients our cells need every day.

Here’s a nice recipe for an almond and raspberry shortbread.


If you’ve been lacking in energy and feeling out of breath lately, it could be a sign that you’re not getting enough iron. Women can be particularly prone to iron deficiency anemia, thanks to the blood we lose at “that” time of the month! Iron helps carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of your body through your blood’s hemoglobin.

One simple way to increase your iron intake is to use cast iron cookware. As you prepare your food in a cast iron skillet, very small amounts of the iron go into your food. One of my friends kept hearing from her family doctor that she and her children were low in this nutrient until she switched to cast iron skillets.

Red meat is a really good source of iron but if you don’t eat meat, you’ve still got plenty of other options. Spinach, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds can also give you an iron boost. Bonus points if you can team these with a vitamin C rich food so that the iron is absorbed more easily.

A good example of this combination is this sweet potato curry recipe is full of iron boosting chickpeas and spinach, plus vitamin C to help with absorption.


If chronic fatigue and muscle cramps are common problems for you, it may be a sign you need to up your magnesium intake. This is a mineral that lots of people are deficient in, which is bad news given how many key roles it plays in the body. From heart health to protecting against osteoporosis, this is one mineral you really don’t want to be lacking in!

Worried you’re not getting enough magnesium? You can get more of it through bananas, dark chocolate, leafy greens and pumpkin seeds.

Even with a diet rich in greens and nuts, many people need to supplement their magnesium. I take two tablets of MagneCal D at bedtime most nights—especially if my muscles are tight from stress or exercise.

These raw chocolate bars are a yummy, natural way to boost your magnesium levels.


Potassium is another nutrient that can cause a lot of problems if you’re not getting enough of it in your diet. It’s involved in keeping muscles and nerves healthy and is also important for your kidneys and digestive system. Every single beat of your heart requires proper amounts of potassium.

Good sources of potassium include avocado, bananas, potato, sweet potato, prunes, and raisins. You can also drink coconut water, which often also contains other minerals such as magnesium and zinc.

These Banana and Sweet Potato Muffins are a great way to combine two potassium rich ingredients and are totally delicious.


Chromium is a mineral that lots of people have never heard but it’s really important for making sure every cell in your body gets vital energy. If you don’t get enough chromium, you may get sugar cravings. It is a key component of your glucose tolerance factor which helps your body metabolize glucose (sugar.)

While it should be fairly easy to consume this vital mineral, a study from the University of Maryland Medical Center found that 90% of Americans don’t get enough chromium in their diet! You don’t need to eat much different to get enough chromium as whole grains, meat, most vegetables and some herbs all contain it.

In addition to not eating enough, there are many things which cause our bodies to get rid of chromium! Eating a diet filled with simple sugars — soda, juice, candy and other sweets — causes your body to eliminate chromium in urine. Exercise, stress, illness, and pregnancy may also cause the body to excrete chromium, leading to lower levels of the trace mineral. (Source)

This chicken curry recipe gives you a healthy dose of meat and veggies and is super easy to make too! 

Eat Bright, Organic, Whole Foods

Eating a balanced diet full of whole foods is definitely a great start for getting essential vitamins and minerals into your diet. Organic trumps conventional foods for all these nutrients because organic foods generally contain more minerals than non-organic.

Eating the rainbow and loading up your plate with lots of different colors every day will go a long way towards making sure have a healthy body. However, the current stressors on our bodies, the toxins in our lives, and the general depletion of vitamins and minerals in our foods mean that we should all be supplementing our healthy diets with a good quality multivitamin/multimineral.

As Dr. Mark Hyman says:  We all need vitamins. Dr. Mark Hyman

Optimal Nutrients for You

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The nutrients you need every day and where to find them
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