Vitamins and Minerals: What You Need, How to Get Them

Dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, fatty fish and more — eating well is truly easier than we think

by HealthZette Staff | Updated 08 Apr 2017 at 10:58 AM

No matter what we eat, we often wonder if we’re truly getting all of the vitamins and minerals we need to stay at our optimum health.

We try eating “colorfully” much of the time — and many of us take multivitamins as well, figuring “it can’t hurt.”

It’s still a struggle for many — who just aren’t sure if they’re truly eating smartly or not.

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Take comfort, though. As Dr. Robert Huizenga, a health expert, author and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the SheKnows website, “The days of gross life-threatening vitamin deficiencies in America are behind us. I have never seen a case of scurvy, beriberi, pellagra [from a niacin deficient] or rickets — but flagrant cases continue to occur in those with intestinal diseases and those who eat extremely limited, repetitious ‘tea and toast’-like diets.”

He stressed the importance of consuming a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. “If you eat the ‘rainbow’ of colors of fruits and vegetables (don’t forget white!), whole wheat grains, healthy fats (like tree nuts, avocado, whole eggs), lean protein (fish, shellfish, non-fat dairy) and if you have normal digestive function, the chance you have any nutrient deficiency is essentially zero,” he told SheKnows.

People do sometimes get caught up in an eating routine that isn't always best for them — simply because "they're used to it," it's easy for them, it's what they know, or it's what they were taught. One woman in New York, for example, recalls how during her college years she got caught up in a cycle of eating wheat toast, pasta, coffee and the occasional piece of fruit — and little else. "It was all I had time for, or at least I thought so," she said.

When people get into an eating rut, they may wind up lacking certain nutrients in their diet — and that can lead to problems. If they lack Vitamin A, for example, they may experience lowered immune function or night blindness. If they lack Vitamin C, they may experience muscle aches, easy bruising, and/or bleeding gums. Vitamin D deficiencies may lead to weaker bones. And on and on it goes — always check with a doctor if you can't explain any symptoms you might be experiencing.

In the meantime, here are some excellent tips for eating well and eating right.

Eat spinach and kale for magnesium. Magnesium is known as the anti-stress, anti-anxiety mineral, according to Dr. Carolyn Dean, a Maui-based physician and stress management expert. "Numerous studies have shown its effectiveness in boosting mood, lowering anxiety and depression, and reducing stress levels as well as helping with deeper more restful sleep," Dean told LifeZette.

Most Americans are magnesium-deficient, she added, because the mineral has been depleted from our soils and foods. "Over 75 percent of Americans do not get their recommended daily allowance of this mineral, which is a co-factor in 700 to 800 enzyme reactions in the body." Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale as well seeds and nuts such as pumpkin seeds and almonds are good sources of magnesium.

Eat an egg for choline and vitamin D. Packed with protein, healthy fats, and 13 vitamins and minerals — including choline and vitamin D — eggs are now recognized as a healthy part of our diets. The most recent dietary guidelines have lifted cholesterol restrictions, Courtney Ferreira, a nutritionist with the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, told LifeZette.

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"Enjoy an egg in the morning with a piece of fruit or healthy whole grain for optimal energy, blood sugar control, and satiety. Eat the yolk, skip the cereal, and say hello to a healthier and tastier morning."

Eat citrus fruits for vitamin C and more more. Oranges, grapefruits, limes and lemons offer many benefits. Citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system and helps keeps skin smooth and elastic, according to Authority Nutrition, a health and wellness publication. Citrus fruits also contain other important vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and copper.

Don't forget the kiwi! This bright green fruit not only is packed with vitamin C — it has plenty of vitamin A, K, E and B, potassium, copper, folate and fiber. Also, the fruit's "high level of potassium helps keep our electrolytes in balance by counteracting the effects of sodium," according to the Care2 website.  

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Eat fatty fish for omega-3 fatty acids. Fish choices such as salmon, sardines, herring, and anchovies help ensure we're getting enough omega-3 fatty acids to reduce diet-induced inflammation, according to Dr. Barry Sears, author of "The Zone Diet" and president of the nonprofit Inflammation Research Foundation.

Variety is best. Experts say that vitamins and minerals work together best when we eat a wide variety of foods.

We should also never forget exercise — which helps build strong bones, improves circulation, reduces stress, and keeps the heart and other organs in good shape.

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