Vitamins & minerals are collectively known as micronutrients. They are exceptionally important for maintaining and optimising health. Even though they are required in relatively small quantities, many functions within the body are dependent on sufficient amounts of these micronutrients – and even a single micronutrient deficiency can cause significant imbalances, symptoms and ill health.
If you are looking after your calories and macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) effectively whilst eating a largely wholefood diet with a good level of variety then the chances are you are looking after your micronutrients without paying much attention to them.
The field of nutrition was first established through the discovery that scurvy could be treated with appropriate levels of vitamin C back in 1842. Nutritional science and research have come a long way since then.
Vitamins are considered organic compounds that need to be obtained from the diet because we don’t have the ability to make them fast enough to meet everyday demands.
Some vitamins are water soluble and some vitamins are fat soluble. Water soluble include the B vitamins and vitamin C, whereas fat soluble include A, D, E & K.
Minerals originate in the earth that are not able to be synthesised by living organisms. Plants get minerals from soil and we get minerals from eating plants or the animals that also ate plants.
There are 14 different minerals and although we need them in relatively small amounts, they are crucial to human health. Consider magnesium, this mineral is involved in well over 300 metabolic processes in the body, ranging from energy production, the production of brain chemicals, calcium absorption, protein metabolism, vitamin D activation, muscle contraction and relaxation etc.
How many vitamins and minerals do you need and where do I get them from?
We require vitamins and minerals at varying levels and each of us are completely individual as to our demands for these nutrients, factors such as physical activity, stress levels, genetic variations, absorption of nutrients, gut microbiome health and pre-existing imbalances, insufficiencies and deficiencies.
Certain bodies have tried to establish requirement levels such as the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), Adequate Intake (AI) and the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) etc.
Most of these recommendations are focused on what levels do we need to avoid deficiency, and none consider individual needs.
Your starting point is a largely wholefood diet with minimised levels of refined and processed foods and adequate calories for your energy demands. Our food diversity has certainly changed over the years, more intensive and commercial farming practices are also factors in why we may not be getting the levels and diversity we perhaps could have.
Different foods provide different levels of nutrients. In general animal-based foods are very nutrient dense and have a high bioavailability of nutrients as well, that is not to say you cannot get all nutrients from a plant-based diet, however it can be more challenging, especially with certain nutrients like vitamin B12, zinc, iron etc.
Likewise, plant-based foods can be rich in nutrients that some animal-based foods are not as rich in. Plant-based foods are a significant source of fibre and phytonutrients as well, so it is in my opinion that a largely plant-based diet, supplemented with some animal proteins is optimal for most people, with individual cases varying from this rule of thumb.
Below is a summary that looks at certain vitamin and minerals involved in supporting bone health alone and the foods that are good sources of those nutrients:
|Vitamin A Rich FoodsSweet potatoCarrotsButternut squashGreen leafy vegDairyMeatPoultry||Vitamin C Rich FoodsPapayaPeppersStrawberriesOrangesPineappleKiwi fruitBrussels sproutsBroccoliCauliflowerPotatoes||Potassium Rich FoodsBananasCoconut waterCantaloupeHoneydew melonMangoPapayaAvocado’sRoot vegetablesLeafy greensMushrooms|
|Silica Rich Foods LeeksGreen beansBananaStrawberriesCucumberMangoCeleryAsparagusRhubarb||Phosphorus Rich FoodsSardinesDairy foodsAlmondsCashew nutsBrazil nutsChickenBeefGarlicEggs||Magnesium Rich FoodsSpinachBroccoliAlmondsCashewsHalibutPumpkin, sesame, flax and sunflower seedsKaleCeleryGreen BeansCucumber|
|Zinc Rich FoodsOystersSpinachBeefLambAsparagusVenisonSea VegetablesPumpkin SeedsBroccoliSesame seeds||Chromium Rich FoodsRomaine LettuceOnionsTomatoes||Calcium Rich FoodsSpinachYoghurtButterKaleMozzarellaCeleryBroccoliCabbageAsparagus|
|Vitamin D FoodsWild SalmonSardinesCodEggs*SUNSHINE|
There is probably no way other that complex testing to understand if you are getting optimal amounts of nutrients, but with a varied diet you a most likely going to hit a least your minimum requirements.
Additional Factors to consider for vitamin and mineral status
Organic vs Non-Organic
We discuss organic vs non-organic in greater detail in my article titled Organic vs non-organic.
Raw vs cooked
Raw, steaming or waterless cooking is one way of preserving certain nutrients in food. However, other foods you will unlock the nutrients by cooking them or make them more absorbable.
Some people will struggle to digest raw or lightly cooked foods, whereas others will be totally fine. Raw vs cooked will depend on the food you are eating and your own personal health and digestive capabilities.
Some foods feel like they are meant to be eaten raw, like most fruits and salad type veggies, whereas other veggies and plant-based foods like potato, broccoli, cabbage etc do better when cooked. I’d suggest a mix of raw and cooked foods, so long as you are avoiding digestive troubles you are probably doing fine. You’ll probably find that you eat more cooked in the winter and less in the summer, this is also pretty common, and I see no reason why this cannot be embraced to eat seasonally.