By Kirsten David, MS, RD, CSSD
The food pyramid and the healthy eating plate seem very simple to follow, however, it is very common for people to still have a difficult time getting the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day (5 servings of vegetables, 2-3 servings of fruit). Because of that, we are turning to supplementation instead to give us our daily vitamins and minerals.
Your body requires a certain amount of essential nutrients to function properly. Nearly all of these nutrients can be found in the food we eat. And not only that, but these nutrients, vitamins and minerals will be better absorbed if you consume them from food.
The first step in making sure you are getting enough nutrients from the food you eat is understanding which foods are the best sources of the essential vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin A is a vitamin that is good for healthy eyes, teeth, and skin. It also plays a role in immunity. It can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, mangos, peppers, and broccoli. The highest source being a sweet potato, which contains about 28,000 international units (IU) in just one. That is over 5 times the amount of Vitamin A that is recommended!
The B Vitamins like folate, B6, and B12, are another important group that help in a variety of functions like energy production, immune function, iron absorption and heart health. Foods that are high in B vitamins include: spinach, parsley, beets, bell peppers, mustard greens, and asparagus.
Calcium is an essential mineral to help prevent bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis. It is easy to think dairy products offer our only source of calcium. However, calcium is found in many non-dairy foods as well. Which is great news for anyone who is on a non-dairy diet! These include: collard greens, broccoli, kale, edamame, figs, okra, and oranges.
Vitamin K plays a key role in blood clotting. It regulates blood calcium levels and plays an active role in bone health. So along with the calcium rich fruits/vegetables listed above, make sure you are also consuming Vitamin K rich produce as well. Some examples are: avocado, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, tomatoes, artichoke, cabbage, broccoli, peas, cucumber, spirulina, and squash.
Vitamin C is one of the most important vitamins and one of the most studied antioxidants! Antioxidants like vitamin C, protect the body from the damage of oxidation which is caused by free radicals. Free radicals can cause cell damage that may contribute to heart disease and cancer. Some sources of Vitamin C include: grapefruit, guava, kiwi, brussels sprouts, butternut squash, kale, and pineapple. In just a single serving of one of these foods you will get your whole days’ recommended amount of Vitamin C!
There are simple ways that you can try to increase your nutrient intake naturally.
- Add more vegetables in your diet by having at least one vegetable snack per day, like sliced cucumbers and hummus, or celery with peanut butter.
- You can also add more vegetables to sauces, soups, and stews than what is recommended in the recipe.
- Next time you make pasta, try pureeing carrots and spinach in a blender with your pasta sauce!
- Smoothies are another great way to add a serving of vegetables and fruit! Spinach, kale, or other leafy greens are an easy addition to any smoothie.
If you are consuming the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day, you will be getting enough vitamins, minerals and other nutrients for your body to function properly. Remember to work on your diet first and only supplement when needed. Think of supplements as the icing on a cake. A healthy diet is the cake!
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