Breakfast cereals advertise that they're packed with vitamins and minerals. Sports drinks claim they can rev up your flagging energy with a jolt of vitamins or minerals.
Vitamins and minerals make people's bodies work properly. Although you get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat every day, some foods have more vitamins and
minerals than others. Vitamins fall into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K dissolve in fat and can be stored in your
body. The water-soluble vitamins C and the B-complex vitamins (such as vitamins B6, B12, niacin, riboflavin, and folate) — need to dissolve in water before your body can
absorb them. Because of this, your body can't store these vitamins. Any vitamin C or B that your body doesn't use as it passes through your system is lost (mostly when
you pee). So you need a fresh supply of these vitamins every day. Whereas vitamins are organic substances (made by plants or animals), minerals are inorganic elements
that come from the soil and water and are absorbed by plants or eaten by animals. Your body needs larger amounts of some minerals, such as calcium, to grow and stay
healthy. Other minerals like chromium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc are called trace minerals because you only need very small amounts of them each day.
Vitamins and minerals boost the immune system, support normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs. For example, you've probably heard that
carrots are good for your eyes. It's true! Carrots are full of substances called carotenoids that your body converts into vitamin A, which helps prevent eye problems. Another
vitamin, vitamin K, helps blood to clot (so cuts and scrapes stop bleeding quickly). You'll find vitamin K in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and soybeans. And to have strong
bones, you need to eat foods such as milk, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables, which are rich in the mineral calcium. To choose healthy foods, check food labels and pick
items that are high in vitamins and minerals. For example, if you're choosing beverages, you'll find that a glass of milk is a good source of vitamin D and the minerals.
calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. A glass of soda, on the other hand, offers very few vitamins or minerals. You can also satisfy your taste buds without sacrificing
nutrition while eating out: Vegetable pizzas or fajitas, sandwiches with lean cuts of meat, fresh salads, and baked potatoes are just a few delicious, nutritious choices.
If you're a vegetarian, you'll need to plan carefully for a diet that offers the vitamins and minerals found primarily in meats. The best sources for the minerals zinc and iron are
meats, fish, and poultry. However, you can get zinc and iron in dried beans, seeds, nuts, and leafy green vegetables like kale. Vitamin B12, which is important for
manufacturing red blood cells, is not found in plant foods. If you don't eat meat, you can find vitamin B12 in eggs, milk and other dairy foods, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Vegans (vegetarians who eat no animal products at all, including dairy products) may need to take vitamin supplements. If you're thinking about becoming a vegetarian, talk
to your doctor or a registered dietitian about how to plan a healthy, balanced diet.
Check with your doctor before taking vitamin or mineral supplements. Some people think that if something is good for you, then the more you take in, the healthier you'll be.
But that's not necessarily true when it comes to vitamins and minerals. For example, fat-soluble vitamins or minerals, which the body stores and excretes more slowly, can
build up in your system to levels where they could cause problems. If you do take supplements, you should be careful not to get more than 100% of the recommended
dietary allowance (RDA) for a particular vitamin or mineral. The RDA is calculated to provide 100% of the dietary needs for 98.6% of the population. Chances are that's all
you need. There are hundreds of supplements on the market and of course their manufacturers want you to purchase them. Beware of unproven claims about the benefits of
taking more than recommended amounts of any vitamin or mineral. A healthy teen usually doesn't need supplements if he or she is eating a well-rounded diet. Your best bet
for getting the vitamins and minerals you need is to eat a wide variety of healthy foods and skip the vitamin pills, drinks, and other supplements. You'll feel better overall and
won't run the risk of overdoing your vitamin and mineral intake.
The vitamin A family plays a key role in immunity, reproductive behaviors, and especially vision. The A vitamins, which include beta-carotene, help the retina, cornea, and
membranes of the eye to function properly. The highest concentration of vitamin A is found in sweet potatoes; just one medium-sized baked sweet potato contains more
than 28,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A, or 561% of your recommended daily value (DV). Beef liver, spinach, fish, milk, eggs, and carrots also are good sources.
Vitamin B6 is an umbrella term for six different compounds that have similar effects on the body. These compounds metabolize foods, help form hemoglobin (part of your red
blood cells), stabilize blood sugar, and make antibodies that fight disease. Fish, beef liver, and poultry are all good sources of B6, but the food richest in this vitamin good
news for vegetarians is the chickpea, or garbanzo bean. One cup of canned chickpeas contains 1.1 milligrams (mg) of vitamin B6, or 55% of your DV.
Vitamin B12 is vital for healthy nervous-system function and for the formation of DNA and red blood cells. It helps guard against anemia, a blood condition that causes
fatigue and weakness. Animal products are your best bet for B12. Cooked clams have the highest concentration of any food, with 84 micrograms (mcg) a whopping 1,402%
of your DV in just 3 ounces. (One milligram equals 1,000 micrograms.) Vitamin B12 also occurs naturally in beef liver, trout, salmon, and tuna, and is added to many
Vitamin C is an important antioxidant, and it's also a necessary ingredient in several key bodily processes, such as protein metabolism and the synthesis of
neurotransmitters. Most people think citrus when they think of vitamin C, but sweet red peppers actually contain more of the vitamin than any other food: 95 mg per serving
(well ahead of oranges and just edging out orange juice, at 93 mg per serving). Other good sources include kiwi fruit, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. More than 99% is stored in and helps fortify teeth and bones, while the remainder goes toward blood vessel and muscle
function, cell communication, and hormone secretion. Dairy products contain the highest amounts of naturally occurring calcium; plain low-fat yogurt leads the pack with 415
mg (42% DV) per serving. Dark, leafy greens (such as kale and Chinese cabbage) are another natural source of calcium, which can also be found in fortified fruit juices and
Vitamin D, which our body generates on its own when our skin is exposed to sunlight, helps spur calcium absorption and bone growth. It's also important for cell growth,
immunity, and the reduction of inflammation. Fatty fishes including swordfish, salmon, and mackerel are among the few naturally occurring dietary sources of vitamin D.
(Cod liver oil is tops, with 1,360 IU per tablespoon, while swordfish is second with 566 IU, or 142% DV.) Most people tend to consume vitamin D via fortified foods such as
milk, breakfast cereals, yogurt, and orange juice.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from the harmful molecules known as free radicals. It's important for immunity, and for healthy blood vessel function
and clotting (such as occurs when you cut yourself). While wheat germ oil packs more vitamin E than any other food source (20.3 mg per serving, or 100% DV), most
people will find it easier to get their vitamin E from sunflower seeds (7.4 mg per ounce, 37% DV) or almonds (6.8 mg per ounce, 34% DV).
For pregnant women th folate a type of B vitamin can help prevent birth defects. For everyone else, it helps new tissues and proteins form. Folate is found in a wide variety of
foods, including dark leafy green vegetables, fruit, nuts, and dairy products. Beef liver has the highest concentration, but if liver's not to your taste, spinach also has plenty:
131 mcg per half cup (boiled), or 33% of your DV. Folic acid, a man-made form of folate, is also added to many breads, cereals, and grains.
Proteins in our body use this metal to transport oxygen and grow cells. Most of the body's iron is found in hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to
tissues all over the body. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme iron (found in animal foods such as red meat, fish, and poultry) and nonheme iron (found in plant sources
like lentils and beans). Chicken liver contains the most heme iron of any food, with 11 mg per serving, or 61% of your DV.
Vitamin K is a crucial ingredient in coagulation, or blood clotting. Without it, your body would not be able to stop bleeding when you bruise or cut yourself. Green, leafy
vegetables are the best source of this vitamin, also known as phylloquinone. Kale leads the pack with 1.1 mg per cup, followed by collard greens and spinach (about 1 mg
per cup), and more exotic varieties like turnip, mustard, and beet greens.
This chemical pigment, found in red fruits and vegetables, appears to have antioxidant properties. Some studies suggest that lycopene may help guard against a range of
ailments, including heart disease and several different types of cancer. Tomatoes are the best-known source of lycopene, and sure enough, tomato products such as
sauces, pastes, and purees contain up to 75 mg per cup. Raw, unprocessed tomatoes aren't as lycopene-rich, however, and watermelon actually contains more per
serving: about 12 mg per wedge, versus about 3 mg per tomato.
Lysine, also known as l-lysine, is an amino acid that helps the body absorb calcium and form collagen for bones and connective tissue. It also plays a role in the production
of carnitine, a nutrient that helps regulate cholesterol levels. Protein-rich animal foods, especially red meat, are good sources of lysine, as are nuts, legumes, and soybeans.
The body uses magnesium in more than 300 biochemical reactions. These include maintaining muscle and nerve function, keeping heart rhythm steady, and keeping bones
strong. Wheat bran has the highest amount of magnesium per serving (89 mg per quarter-cup, or 22% of your DV), but you have to eat unrefined grains to get the benefit;
when the germ and bran are removed from wheat (as is the case with white and refined breads), the magnesium is also lost. Other good sources of the mineral include
almonds, cashews, and green vegetables such as spinach.
Niacin, like its fellow B vitamins, is important for converting food into energy. It also helps the digestive system, skin, and nerves to function properly. Dried yeast is a top
source of niacin, but for something more appetizing, try peanuts or peanut butter; one cup of raw peanuts contains 17.6 mg, more than 100% of your DV. Beef and chicken
liver are particularly niacin-rich, as well.
Fats get a bad rap, but certain types of fats including omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat—are actually very healthy in moderation. Omega-3s contribute to
brain health and may help reduce inflammation. There are two categories of omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant sources such as vegetable oil,
green vegetables, nuts, and seeds, while eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) the second category are found in fatty fish. One cup of tuna
salad contains about 8.5 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Potassium is an essential electrolyte, needed to control the electrical activity of the heart. It is also used to build proteins and muscle, and to break down carbohydrates into
energy. One medium-sized baked sweet potato contains nearly 700 mg of potassium. Tomato paste, beet greens, and regular potatoes are also good sources, as are red
meat, chicken, and fish.
Riboflavin yet another B vitamin is an antioxidant that helps the body fight disease, create energy, and produce red blood cells. At nearly 3 milligrams per 3-ounce serving,
beef liver is the richest source of naturally occurring riboflavin. Luckily, fortified cereals (like Total or Kellogg's All-Bran) provide nearly as much of the vitamin in a far more
convenient (and palatable) package.
Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties. The body only requires small amounts of it, but it plays a large role in preventing chronic diseases. It also helps regulate
thyroid function and the immune system. Just six to eight Brazil nuts provide 544 mcg of selenium that's 777% of your DV. Too much selenium can actually be harmful,
however, so stick with the mineral's number-two food source canned tuna (68 mg per 3 ounces, or 97% DV) except on special occasions.
Thiamin, also known as vitamin B1, helps the body turn carbohydrates into energy. It's also an important nutrient for keeping the brain and nervous system running properly.
As with riboflavin, dried yeast is the best food source for thiamin, containing 11 mg per 100-gram serving. However, you may find it easier to get your fill of thiamin with
runners-up pine nuts (1.2 mg per serving) and soybeans (1.1 mg).
Zinc has been shown to play a role in immune function (you've probably seen it in cold remedies), and it's also important for your senses of taste and smell. Oysters contain
more zinc per serving than any other food (74 mg per serving, or nearly 500% of DV), but people more often consume zinc in red meat and poultry. Three ounces of beef
chuck roast, for example, contains 7 mg. Alaska King crab is a good source of the mineral, as well.