Nutrients in the body

Vitamins and Minerals: How to Get What You Need

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in food that nourish your body and help keep you healthy. They are essential to your overall health.

Choosing foods each day that are rich in vitamins and minerals is the best way your body is getting what it needs to be healthy. However, research consistently finds that most Americans have diets that lack an appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), adult Americans do not typically get enough of the following nutrients:

  • calcium
  • potassium
  • fiber
  • magnesium
  • vitamins A, C, D, and E

Path to improved health

Try to incorporate more of these nutrients in your daily diet. Keep in mind that it’s best to get these nutrients through food, instead of just taking a multivitamin. This is because it is easier for your body to absorb micronutrients through food.

If you are unable to get all the nutrients you need from food alone, ask your doctor if dietary supplements are right for you.


Your body needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth in childhood and adolescence. As an adult, you need calcium to maintain bone mass. According to the USDA, the average American adult (eating roughly 2,000 calories per day) should get 1,136 milligrams of calcium each day.

The following foods are good sources of calcium:

Who might not get enough?

  • Boys ages 9 to 13 years.
  • Girls ages 9 to 18 years.
  • Men older than 70 years.
  • Women older than 50 years.
  • Vegans and vegetarians.
  • People who are lactose intolerant.

Quick Tip: Almonds contain calcium and are the perfect snack. Pack a handful to take to work or school for a healthy boost.


A diet rich in potassium helps your body maintain a healthy blood pressure. The USDA recommends that the average American consume 4,044 milligrams of potassium each day.

The following foods are good sources of potassium:

Who might not get enough?

  • Potassium is the nutrient Americans are missing most.

Quick Tip: Cut up a banana and mix it with a cup of low- or nonfat yogurt to make a healthy snack or light lunch.


Magnesium is a nutrient that helps your body produce energy, and helps your muscles, arteries, and heart work properly. According to the USDA, the average American adult should get 380 milligrams of magnesium each day.

The following foods are good sources of magnesium:

Who might not get enough?

  • Non-Hispanic blacks.
  • Children ages 4 to 18.
  • Adults age 51 and older.
  • People who are obese.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is associated with vision development and cellular growth and maintenance.

The following foods are good sources of vitamin A:

Who might not get enough?

  • Hispanics and Non-Hispanic blacks.
  • Children ages 4 to 18.
  • Adults age 51 and older.
  • People who are obese.
  • Vegetarians.
  • People who abuse alcohol.

Quick Tip: A medium-sized sweet potato provides more than 100% of the daily-recommended amount of vitamin A!

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps the body form collagen (which is the main protein used as connective tissue in the body) in blood vessels, bones, cartilage, and muscle.

The following foods are good sources of vitamin C:

Who might not get enough?

  • Children ages 4 to 18.
  • Adults age 51 and older.
  • People who are obese.
  • People who smoke.
  • Pregnant/breastfeeding women.

Quick Tip: Make fresh fruit a part of every breakfast. One cup (about a handful) of halved strawberries or cubed cantaloupe provides the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.

Vitamin D

Your body needs vitamin D so that it can absorb calcium to promote bone growth and maintain strong bones and teeth. The average adult needs 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D each day. Older adults (ages 70 and older) need 800 IU each day. Most people get some level of vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. However, using sunscreen will decrease your exposure to vitamin D.

It is also difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone because there are not a lot of food choices rich in vitamin D. In fact, some primary food sources of vitamin D come from foods that have added vitamin D (called fortified foods).

The following foods are sources of vitamin D:

Who might not get enough?

  • Hispanics and Non-Hispanic blacks.
  • Children ages 4 to 18.
  • Adults age 70 and older.
  • People who are obese.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which is a nutrient that helps fight damage to the cells in the body.

The following foods are good sources of vitamin E:

Who might not get enough?

  • Hispanics and Non-Hispanic blacks.
  • Children ages 4 to 18.
  • Adults age 51 and older.
  • People who are obese.

Quick Tip: A small handful of almonds provides half of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E.

Things to consider

Not getting the vitamins and minerals that your body needs can have serious consequences for your health. A general lack of nutrients can lead to malnutrition. This is sometimes easier to recognize and to treat. A lack of even one specific vitamin or mineral is harder to diagnose, but can be just as dangerous. Some vitamin deficiencies can even be life-threatening.

Having too much of some vitamins in your system can also be dangerous. For example, an overdose of vitamin A during pregnancy can cause problems with the baby’s development in the womb. For this reason, it is very important to talk your doctor before you start taking any supplements. This is especially important if you are pregnant or have health conditions.

When to see a doctor

The symptoms of vitamin deficiency vary. Some deficiencies have no symptoms at all. In general, if you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor:

  • You are losing your hair.
  • You feel weak.
  • You are often tired, even when you get plenty of sleep.
  • You have cracks in the corners of your mouth.
  • You have acne-like bumps on your cheeks, upper arms, thighs, and buttocks.
  • Your vision is getting worse, especially at night.
  • You have dry eyes.
  • You are depressed.
  • You are irritable.
  • You are having panic attacks.
  • You have tingling or numbness in your hands and feet.
  • Your gums bleed.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How can I know if I’m getting enough vitamins and minerals?
  • Should I be taking a multivitamin or other dietary supplement?
  • Should my child be taking a multivitamin or other dietary supplement?
  • Does it matter where I buy my vitamins?
  • Is one brand of vitamins better than another?
  • Do vitamins have any negative side effects?


Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Are you getting essential nutrients from your diet?

About half of Americans routinely take dietary supplements, the most common being multivitamin and multimineral supplements. This report explains the different types of studies used to assess the benefits and safety profiles of various nutrients. It also includes the recommended minimum and maximum amounts of the vitamins and minerals you should consume, as well as good food sources of each.

It’s easy to go online and look up the RDA for every vitamin and mineral based on your age and gender. But how much of each of these nutrients are you actually getting from the foods you eat every day — and do they meet your RDA?

There are several ways to approach this question. One is the relaxed way — that is, not worrying too much about the details and focusing instead on the big picture: eating a balanced diet that contains a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, dairy products, seafood, lean meats, and poultry. When choosing what to eat, emphasize nutrient-dense foods, which are packed with vitamins and minerals and have relatively few calories.

Some nutrient-dense foods

  • Avocados
  • Chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Mushrooms (crimini and shiitake)
  • Potatoes (white or sweet)
  • Cantaloupe, papaya, raspberries, strawberries
  • Yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)
  • Beans (garbanzo, kidney, navy, pinto)
  • Lentils, peas
  • Almonds, cashews, peanuts
  • Barley, oats, quinoa, brown rice
  • Salmon, halibut, cod, scallops, shrimp, tuna
  • Lean beef, lamb, venison
  • Chicken, turkey

Making healthful food choices

Some essential nutrients are packed into every food group, and certain foods — such as flour, cereal, and salt — are fortified with specific nutrients as well. Vitamin and mineral supplements from a bottle cannot encompass all the biologically active compounds teeming in a well-stocked pantry. A simple apple or piece of broccoli could have plenty of nutrients besides vitamins and minerals that might interact to improve your health. For example, broccoli contains isothiocyanates, which may have anti-tumor properties.

It also pays to remember a few other helpful pieces of advice:

Limit liquid sugars. Liquid sugars, which are found in soft drinks, sports drinks, iced teas, and sweetened waters, have no benefits for health and are clearly linked to higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and perhaps heart disease. There is no reason to include these in your diet. Skip the sugary drinks and have some unsweetened tea or sparkling water instead.

Minimize refined carbohydrates. Highly processed wheat, rice, and other grains have the same effects in the body as table sugar. So minimize your intake of white bread, French fries, most breakfast cereals, and most high-carbohydrate packaged and processed foods, such as pretzels and chips. Instead, choose whole grains, high-fiber breakfast cereals, brown rice, steel-cut oats, and fruits and vegetables.

Choose healthy fats. Fish, nuts, and vegetable oils contain healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help lower heart disease risk. Eat these foods regularly and in moderation. Don’t get caught up in the “low-fat” craze (for example, low-fat salad dressing) as you will be limiting your intake of these good fats and will likely instead be eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates. Limit saturated fat and cholesterol, and especially avoid eating trans fat, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Don’t forget fiber. Eat plenty of foods that contain dietary fiber (the edible, indigestible parts of plant foods). Good sources include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and dark chocolate. Fiber from grains helps lower the risk of heart disease. Your daily fiber goal depends on your age and sex, as follows:

  • men ages 50 or younger: 38 grams
  • men over 50: 30 grams
  • women ages 50 or younger: 25 grams
  • women over 50: 21 grams.

Balance energy intake and output. The energy you take in should equal the energy you use. That means if you are sedentary and 5 feet 4 inches tall, you need far fewer calories to remain at your current weight than an active person who is 6 feet tall.

Focus on fruits and vegetables

Set a goal. Start by eating one extra fruit or vegetable a day. When you’re used to that, add another and keep going. For example, add fruit to your breakfast cereal every morning. Then try eating a piece of fruit for an after-lunch snack. Next, add at least one vegetable to your dinner plate.

Be sneaky. Adding finely grated carrots or zucchini to pasta sauce, meat loaf, chili, or a stew is one way to get an extra serving of vegetables.

Try something new. It’s easy to get tired of apples, bananas, and grapes. Try a kiwi, mango, fresh pineapple, or some of the more exotic choices now found in many grocery stores.

Start off right. Ditch your morning donut for an omelet with onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Top it with some salsa to wake up your palate. Or boost your morning cereal or oatmeal with a handful of strawberries, blueberries, or dried fruit.

Drink up. Having a 6-ounce glass of low-sodium vegetable juice instead of a soda gives you a full serving of vegetables and spares you 10 teaspoons or more of sugar. You can also make your own vegetable juice with a blender or juicer.

Give them the heat treatment. Roasting vegetables is easy and brings out new flavors. Cut up onions, carrots, zucchini, asparagus, turnips — whatever you have on hand — coat with olive oil, add a dash of balsamic vinegar, and roast at 350° until done. Grilling is another way to bring out the taste of vegetables. Use roasted or grilled vegetables as a side dish, put them on sandwiches, or add them to salads.

Let someone else do the work. If peeling, cutting, and chopping aren’t your thing, food companies and grocers offer an ever-expanding selection of prepared produce, from ready-made salads to frozen stir-fry mixes and take-along sliced apples and dip.

Improve on nature. Don’t hesitate to jazz up vegetables with spices, chopped nuts, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, or a specialty oil like walnut or sesame oil. Most grocers carry several spice blends made specifically for vegetables. Even a dash of grated Parmesan cheese can liven up the blandest green beans.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

The Nutrients You Need and the Snacks To Get Them

Unless you keep a record of everything you eat every single day, you may not really know if you’re managing a healthy diet. A recent government report found that Americans aren’t getting enough calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, or vitamins A, C, and E. “You’re not going to have a major health event as a result,” says Alanna Moshfegh, an author of the USDA report What We Eat in America, “but the recommended amounts will help you maintain your health and decrease your risk of chronic diseases.”

Seemingly healthy snacks are often secretly loaded with sugar, saturated fats, and carbohydrates, so we’ve handpicked our recommended snacks for each nutrient (because healthy doesn’t have to mean bland). Here are the figures, as they pertain to women, and a little help interpreting them.


Recommendation: 1,000 milligrams a day.
Benefits: Bone health.
Sources: Dairy products; fish with bones; dark, leafy greens.

While some yogurts are loaded with extra fat and artificial sweeteners, Stonyfield Organic Plain Fat Free Yogurt is a healthy, calcium-packed alternative. Mix in fresh berries, chia seeds, or pure vanilla extract for natural sweetness and bonus nutrients.


Recommendation: 25 grams a day.
Benefits: Protects against coronary heart disease and reduces the risk of diabetes.
Sources: Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains.

For a fiber-rich snack, we love Cascadian Farm Organic Dark Chocolate Almond Granola, which has 37 grams of whole grains and offers 19% fiber content in one serving. Plus, a dose of dark chocolate makes this a delicious breakfast or snack to perk up your day.


Recommendation: 310 to 320 milligrams a day.
Benefits: Helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function and develop and maintain bones.
Sources: Nuts, seeds, bran, halibut and other fish.

Even though dark chocolate has relatively high levels of magnesium, that doesn’t mean you should start grabbing M&M’s by the handful. Instead, try this RAWMIO Hazelnut and Fig Chocolate Bark, which offers natural sources of magnesium.


Recommendation: 4,700 milligrams a day.
Benefits: Helps maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce the effects of salt; may reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones and possibly decrease bone loss.
Sources: Potatoes, tomato paste and puree, white beans, yogurt, soybeans, bananas.

Bananas are well-known for being a potassium-rich fruit—one banana contains 12% of the daily recommended value. They’re the perfect snack to stash on-the-go, or add them to smoothies, peanut butter toast, and healthy banana bread.

Vitamin A

Recommendation: 2,310 international units a day.
Benefits: Important for vision, red blood cell production, embryonic development, and immune function.
Sources: Organ meats; orange vegetables; green, leafy vegetables.

Trade out potato chips for Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chips, which contain 25% of the RDI of Vitamin A, thanks to superfood ingredients like kale, tahini, sunflower seeds, and carrots.

Vitamin C

Recommendation: 75 milligrams a day.
Benefits: Acts as a disease-fighting antioxidant; may help to maintain a healthy immune system.
Sources: Fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, red and green peppers, kiwis, and guavas.

These Organic Slammers Superfood Pouches might resemble baby food, but they’re chock full of delicious antioxidants. With 90% of your daily value of Vitamin C in one serving, we’ll squeeze and snack on them all day long.

Vitamin E

Recommendation: 15 milligrams a day.
Benefits: Acts as a disease-fighting antioxidant; may support eye health.
Sources: Some ready-to-eat cereals, some oils, almonds, peanut butter.

Nuts are always a go-to health snack and we love Trader Joe’s Trek Mix for its vitamin E-rich ingredients like almonds and cashews, plus cranberries, which are high in antioxidants.


There are 6 essential nutrients that the body needs to function properly. Nutrients are compounds in foods essential to life and health, providing us with energy, the building blocks for repair and growth and substances necessary to regulate chemical processes.
There are six major nutrients: Carbohydrates (CHO), Lipids (fats), Proteins, Vitamins, Minerals, Water.
Looking at the AGHE, what food groups are the primary sources of each of the following ?
Proteins: meat, dairy, legumes, nuts, seafood and eggs
Carbohydrates: pasta, rice, cereals, breads, potatoes, milk, fruit, sugar
Lipids (most commonly called fats): oils, butter, margarine, nuts, seeds, avocados and olives, meat and seafood
Vitamins: common vitamins include the water soluble B group vitamins and vitamin C and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K

    • Fruits and vegetables are generally good sources of Vitamin C and A and folic acid (a B group vitamin)
    • Grains and cereals are generally good sources of the B group vitamins and fibre
    • Full-fat dairy and egg yolks are generally sources of the fat soluble vitamins A, D and E
    • Milk and vegetable or soya bean oil are generally good sources of vitamin K, which can also be synthesised by gut bacteria

Minerals: (sodium, calcium, iron, iodine, magnesium, etc.): all foods contain some form of minerals.

    • Milk and dairy products are a good source of calcium and magnesium
    • Red meat is a good source of iron and zinc
    • Seafood and vegetables (depending on the soil in which they are produced) are generally good sources of iodine

Water: As a beverage and a component of many foods, especially vegetables and fruits.

Daily Intake Levels

The reference values used for the Daily Intake Guide are based on those provided in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (FSC). The FSC has outlined the composition and labelling requirements for food.

According to the FSC, a balanced diet for an average adult is made up of the following nutrients each day:

Nutrient Quantity Per Day
Energy 8,700 kilojoules
Protein 50 grams
Fat 70 grams
Saturated Fatty Acids 24 grams
Carbohydrates 310 grams
Sugars 90 grams
Sodium (salt) 2.3 grams
Dietary Fibre 30 grams

The FSC lists the above reference values for daily intake levels based on an average adult diet of 8,700 kJ. However, an individual’s intake may vary depending on their energy needs and lifestyle.


It’s important to remember that the Daily Intake Guide is just that – a guide.

It has been designed to provide you with a guide to the nutrional composition of the food you’re eating and beverages you’re drinking. It can help you decide what’s right for you!

The DI values are based on an average adult’s daily requirement of 8700kJ. Your DIs may be higher or lower depending on your energy needs.
DIs are not recommendations, but rather an acceptable intake which provides a benchmark suitable for the majority of people.
The DI values are not a target for your day’s intake nor are they an average. The DI values should be used as a guide to help you make informed choices about the foods you eat.

Did you know?

Food Standards Australia New Zealand is a bi-national government agency. Its main responsibility is to develop and administer the Australia and New Zealand Food Standards Code, which lists requirements for foods such as additives, food safety, food labelling and GM foods. The Daily Intake Guide is made up of nutritional information and guidelines from the Food Standards Code.

Water is the Most Important Nutrient

Nutritionists spend a lot of time discussing total digestible nutrients, minerals, crude protein and even various fractions of protein. However, we often take for granted the most important nutrient, the one required in the greatest amount by any class of livestock water.

All animals require water. Water is needed to transport compounds via the blood, maintain cellular structural integrity, regulate temperature, etc. Livestock can satisfy water needs by drinking free water, consuming feedstuffs high in water content or doing both. In fact, if stocker cattle are provided abundant quantities of lush winter annual pasture (70 to 80 percent water), they may not need an additional water source. Domestic animals in otherwise good health can live for approximately 60 days without food, but only seven days without water. Dehydrated cattle will appear gaunt and listless and will have dry noses and sunken eyes. Hearing and sight both are adversely affected in a dehydrated state.

Adequate water status is absolutely critical for newly received stocker cattle, because dehydration severely impairs the ability of the trachea and lungs to resist and expel disease-causing organisms. Many stockers may be unfamiliar with water troughs, but locating them along the fence line will allow cattle walking the fence to find them. Also, letting the tank overflow or setting up a splashing fountain for the first few days can help calves find the water. Then the question becomes, “Can you make them drink?”

  • Water intake is highly variable and depends on many factors, including:
  • Animal (species, weight, physiological status, adaptation/experience, diet, disease)
  • Environment (temperature, humidity, presence of shade)
  • Water (location, quality, amount, temperature)

Tables 1 and 2 provide some guidelines for water intake.

Water quality should be monitored with regular testing. High levels of certain chemicals in stock water can lead to low water intake and mineral toxicity and can also interact with, and prevent absorption of, nutrients from feedstuffs. Items to consider are total dissolved solids (TDS see Table 3), pH, sulfates, nitrates, trace minerals, microbes and chemical residues. The Noble Research Institute offers basic water analysis services through Ward Labs in Kearney, Neb.

Water delivery systems
Water delivery systems should be designed to meet the anticipated maximum demand from livestock. Generally, it is recommended to have one to two inches of water trough edge per 1,000 pounds of cattle in a pen. Cattle can drink 1.0 to 1.5 percent of their body weight per minute, which in the case of cows is about two gallons per minute (GPM). A water system using small troughs with no storage capacity should have enough flow to provide water to meet the herd’s requirement in one hour. Storage capacity of the tank can partially offset low water flow. Table 4 shows how to calculate water demand in terms of GPM. A common problem when designing water systems is the tendency to use small lines to cut costs.

Other factors to consider are changes in elevation from the water source to the tank, friction loss in the line (generally only a concern if the line is longer than 1,000 feet) and maximum/minimum acceptable pressure.

Research has shown that cattle prefer to drink from water tanks or troughs rather than ponds or streams. Ponds can be used to hold water and supply a tank out in the pasture via a pipe over or through the dam. In cases where there are human or wildlife/fishery interests associated with the pond, access points should be used to control animal impact on the pond.

Water is the most important nutrient. Adequate supply of acceptable quality water is crucial for high levels of production and absolutely paramount when animals are stressed.

Livestock water resource on-line:

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