14 Essential Vitamins And Minerals For Good Health
UPDATED, December 11, 2022
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that have many roles in your body. To put it simply, these micronutrients help the body’s cells and organs do their jobs. In fact, what vitamins do for your body––as well as minerals––is support the immune system and protect cell growth and development (1). They can be received from eating certain foods; however, some may find it hard to consume the amount of nutrient-dense foods that it takes in order to achieve enough that our body may need on a daily basis, especially those who have certain medical conditions (2). As a matter of fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that adult Americans don’t typically get enough magnesium, calcium, or vitamins A, C, D, and E just to name a few (4). Therefore, supplementing with a multivitamin can be a way to reap more support and benefit that the immune system may need.
It is important to remember that a multivitamin is not recommended to replace a healthy diet.
What Are Vitamins And What Are Minerals
Vitamins are a group of organic substances that are required for your body to work properly and can be broken down into 2 categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble (5). Fat-soluble vitamins are dissolved in oil, then stored in the body’s fat tissue, liver, and muscles. Whereas water-soluble vitamins, like their name, are dissolved by water and not stored within the body. They are secreted out once the body has had enough.
Minerals are inorganic substances that come from soil and water, then absorbed by animals and plants. Certain minerals like calcium are required by the body more than other minerals. Other micronutrients like trace minerals aren’t required by your body because it doesn’t need much of them (6).
Now, let’s go over 14 essential vitamins and minerals that can be incorporated into a healthy diet:
14 Essential Vitamins And Minerals
“What is vitamin A good for?” you ask. Vitamin A maintains your vision, improves your immune system, and aids in reproduction (7). You can find it in a range of foods you eat daily. Foods for vitamin A include:
- Beef liver, other organ meat
Technically, there is more than just one B vitamin. If you’ve ever heard of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, folic acid, or pantothenic acid, they are all different types of B vitamins (8). What vitamin B does is help the body make and process the energy that you get from the foods you eat. And not getting enough of certain B complex vitamins can lead to certain diseases.
For example, having a lack of B6 or B12 can cause anemia, which means that your blood is not carrying enough oxygen to the rest of your body to make hemoglobin––a protein rich in iron that gives blood its red color (9).
Foods high in B vitamins include:
- Leafy greens
- Dairy products
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for normal physiological function. On top of the fact that vitamin C is good for bone formation, the development of connective tissues, and wound healing, the benefits of vitamin C thrives as a therapeutic agent in many diseases and disorders (10).
Additionally, vitamin C is great for the skin––particularly in improving the appearance of wrinkles. One study proved that daily use of vitamin C over a course of 12 weeks showed improvement in wrinkles, as well as improvement in hydration (11).
Luckily, the vitamin C nutrient is available in a wide range of foods, including:
- Citrus fruits
- Green and red peppers
- Brussel sprouts
- Chili peppers
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that may improve gut and bone health, reduce inflammation, and improve neuromuscular and immune function (12). Vitamin D deficiency may lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment for older adults, cancer, asthma in young children, and more (13).
Foods rich in this nutrient include (14):
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Cod liver oil
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that is good for protecting you from free radical-related damage. As this nutrient fights off invading viruses and bacteria, it also helps cells to interact with each other properly to carry out many other important functions (15).
Also, using vitamin E for skin health has been shown to treat sun damage, dryness, and wrinkles. It can be naturally found within our sebum, a substance that our body produces to create a natural barrier to keep moisture in our skin (16). Unfortunately, this sebum naturally decreases as we age.
Foods with vitamin E include:
- Beet greens
- Collard greens
- Red bell pepper
Vitamin K is important because it is necessary to help your blood clot should you have an accident, which happens as your body tries to prevent excessive bleeding. Usually, vitamin K is not used as a dietary supplement, which sets it apart from other vitamins.
Benefits of vitamin K include the reduction of bone fractures, inhibiting calcium buildup in the blood vessels, and supporting other bone and cardiovascular health (17, 18, 19).
Though vitamin K research has been conducted, researchers are investigating these topics further to thoroughly understand their relationship.
Vitamin K can be found in foods, such as:
You can also find a full list of vitamin K foods here.
Some people mistakenly believe vitamin K is potassium because the chemical symbol for potassium is the letter K on the periodic table. They both, however, contribute to supporting better bone and heart health, including many other benefits––but they are actually two different things. In fact, potassium is not a vitamin at all, it’s a mineral. Potassium helps to maintain blood pressure, heartbeat, blood pH, water balance, and more (21).
Foods rich in potassium are:
- Lean meat
- Chicken breast
You can find a full list of potassium foods here.
Did you know that calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body (23)? Calcium gives your teeth and bones their hardness and structure, as well as supports other functions in your body. For instance, the body needs calcium to help muscles move and carry messages from your brain to the rest of your body.
How much calcium you need per day really depends on your age and sex. For more information on the recommended amount of calcium, you can visit the National Institutes of Health website as they share a chart showing their recommended calcium amount per life stage, ranging from the time of birth up to 71 years and above––including pregnant and breastfeeding teens and adults.
You can find calcium in many foods, including:
- Canned sardines
- Bok Choi
Necessary for regulating blood pressure, creating strong bones, and keeping a steady heart rhythm, magnesium is an important nutrient for your body to stay healthy (24). It’s amazing what magnesium can do for the body when it comes to lowering the risk of some types of stroke and heart disease, reducing the risk of insulin resistance that may lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, lowering the risk of osteoporosis, and ease migraine symptoms (24).
A person can benefit from eating foods with magnesium in the forms of (25):
Iron is an important part of your diet from the time you’re born as it helps with the growth and development of your body, including carrying oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body and creating certain hormones (26). The amount of iron you need varies by age, sex, and diet.
Though there’s iron in vitamins like a multivitamin, you can achieve the recommended amount of iron by consuming certain foods. Foods rich in iron include:
- Lean meat
- Kidney beans
- Some dried fruits
The benefits of zinc go beyond helping your sense of smell and taste. Zinc supports your metabolism and your immune system to function properly, as well as improves wound healing, treats colds, and even slows the progression of the age-related eye disease called macular degeneration (27).
A zinc supplement can be taken as a zinc tablet or used topically. The topical version is called zinc oxide and is available in an ointment, cream, or paste substance––typically applied to the skin for sunburn and diaper rash prevention (27).
Our bodies don’t store zinc, so it’s important to consume zinc foods like (28):
- Red meat
- Dark chocolate
Potassium helps to maintain normal fluid levels inside and outside of our cells, which makes it an important essential nutrient for the body (29). It also supports blood pressure levels and helps muscles to contract. In fact, one study showed that potassium is an electrolyte mineral that reduces blood pressure with hypertension and has no adverse effect on renal function, catecholamine, and blood lipid concentrations in adults (30).
Though it’s common to find a potassium supplement to provide adequate intake, finding potassium in foods is easy to come by especially in (29):
- Winter squash
- Dried fruits – apricots, raisins
Many people may mistakenly believe sodium is bad for them, but it’s actually quite the opposite. The mineral is important for muscles and nerves to function properly. Potassium’s counterpart, sodium, also helps to keep the fluids in our bodies well-balanced. Salt and sodium are often used interchangeably. Table salts are made from sodium chloride, so adding more salt increases your sodium intake.
It’s important to note that having too much sodium in your diet can cause your body to retain excess water, which forces your organs to work harder and can be harmful to your heart and kidneys (31). So, just like with any nutrient, speak with your physician to find a balanced amount that’s right for you.
Naturally, there’s sodium in food, then there are other foods that have sodium added to them for preservation as they use at some fast-food restaurants (32). These are foods you should avoid at all costs if you’re trying to monitor your sodium intake. Try to avoid processed, packaged, and fast food, and consume foods that will naturally provide you with modest sodium levels.
Foods with sodium include (33):
- Lean meat
- Feta cheese
Found in nuts, leafy greens, and legumes, manganese is an essential nutrient that is even sometimes used as medication (34). It helps your body to process cholesterol, protein, and carbohydrates. Also, manganese is one of the several trace elements that are necessary for bone health as it aids in bone formation (35).
Manganese vs magnesium? Though they’re both essential minerals that support bone health and enzyme activity, they play different roles in the body. Manganese has a transition metal structure that aids in energy production, digestion, metabolism, and reproduction (36). And the body requires less manganese to do so. Whereas the body needs more magnesium, which has an alkaline earth metal structure. One study showed that the population’s recommended daily magnesium allowance is not being met (37).
Foods rich in manganese include (38):
Molybdenum is used in the body to break down proteins and other substances to make them easier for the body to handle and can be found within the body’s kidneys, liver, bones, and adrenal glands (39). Some research suggests that molybdenum may be helpful for treating cancer in the esophagus when accompanied by zinc (40).
Though you may use it as a dietary supplement, molybdenum in foods depends on the soil and water in which it grows. Foods include (39):
Vitamins And Minerals For Older Adults
As we get older, our bodies change. For example, zinc levels decrease for older adults. As zinc is important for the development, growth, and cell-mediated immunity––supplementation can offset deficiency and help improve significant health issues (41).
One study measured the efficacy of taking vitamin and mineral supplements in adults aged 51+ years for men and for women (42). Researchers concluded that a large proportion of older adults don’t get a sufficient amount of nutrients just from food and recommended supplement use to offset inadequacies.
The National Institute on Aging has a chart listing key vitamins and minerals for men and for women over 51 years of age. This can provide some insight as to what nutrients you should look out for when reading nutrition labels. As always, speak with your physician before taking new dietary supplements.
Multivitamin And Multimineral Supplements
While it is “easy” to get all the essential vitamins and minerals if you eat a varied diet, the reality is that some people don’t have a diet that is varied enough to accomplish that goal (4). For this reason, it is important to consider taking multivitamin/multimineral supplements, so your body receives the nutrients it needs even if your diet is lacking.
Of course, you should always speak with your physician before starting a new supplement routine. They can give you a better understanding of where you are physically, and help you determine which vitamins your body is lacking.
Each of these 14 essential vitamins and minerals plays a different role in our overall health, and taking care of your body’s nutritional needs helps to ensure a strong physical and mental state for years to come.
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