With all the focus on calorie count, BMI, weight and exercise, getting the important vitamin and mineral building blocks of our body’s functions can take a back seat in daily food planning. Essential vitamins are not produced by the body and must be included in meals to keep people alive. While supplements of some nutrients are all the rage, according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “Nutrient needs should be met primarily through consuming foods.” Here’s how to get your daily recommended levels of Vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, and E according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Dietary Reference Intake recommendations* through familiar foods.
Vitamin A – 700 mcg
Vitamin A is required for the proper function of your eyes, skin and immune system, as well as other body processes. Animal-based foods provide preformed vitamin A which is absorbed as retinol, one of its most usable forms. From fruits and vegetables, it’s called provitamin A carotenoid, of which beta-carotene is most efficiently converted to retinol.
Eat It: One cup of cantaloupe, two cups of raw spinach, or one medium raw carrot will all get you over 100% of plant-based vitamin A. Of animal-based foods rich in vitamin A, 3 ounces of chicken liver has about 245% of the daily value, while a cup of whole milk offers only about 5%.
Vitamin B6 – 1.3 mg
Vitamin B6 supports brain function, metabolism, and immune response. It also plays a role in maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. Vitamin B6 is commonly absorbed well by the body, but may be lost through processing such as cooking, storage or drying. Plant foods lose the least during processing.
Eat It: One medium baked potato or a medium banana has about 35% of the daily recommended intake, while half of a baked chicken breast or a half cup of canned garbanzo beans offers up about 30%. A half cup of avocado, or one ounce of roasted sunflower seeds or walnuts offer another 10%.
Vitamin B12 – 2.4 mcg
Vitamin B12 plays a role in protein synthesis and cell division, helping to keep nerve and blood cells healthy. There’s a two-step process in absorbing vitamin B1: the stomach’s hydrochloric acid separates it from the protein it’s attached to, then attaches it to the stomach’s protein, intrinsic factor, to use it.
Eat It: Found primarily in animal products, some vegetarians and vegans opt to use supplements or get it through fortified foods like breakfast cereals or nutritional yeast, many of which offer 100% daily value in one serving. For meat eaters, three ounces of trout or salmon has about 100%. While a double patty cheeseburger or cup of plain yogurt offer up 35% and 23% respectively.
Vitamin C – 75 mg
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in the body, protecting our cells from damaging free radicals. It also helps make collagen, a protein tied to wound healing. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C, of which 80 to 90% is absorbed. However, in doses over 12 grams, vitamin C’s absorption rate is only 16%.
Eat It: A half cup of raw green bell pepper has 100%, while a half cup of fresh strawberries or steamed broccoli offers around 80% of the requirement. Three-fourths of a cup of tomato juice offers 55%, while the same serving of orange juice tops out at 155% of the recommended daily intake.
Vitamin D – 15 mcg
Vitamin D supports the body’s absorption of calcium and is thus important to bone health. It also helps nerves communicate from muscles to the brain, making it essential for movement. Its absorption is dependent on processes in the liver and kidney. Additionally, a recent study found it may be best absorbed after the largest or most fat-rich meal of your day. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays activates vitamin D synthesis as well.
Eat It: In addition to three ounces of sockeye salmon or mackerel, which provide about 100%, the same serving of canned tuna yields about 40%, while the yolk of a large egg has about 10% of the recommended daily intake.
Vitamin E – 15 mg
Like vitamin C, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and boosts the immune systems ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. Nuts, seeds, vegetable oil, and green leafy vegetables are the best sources of vitamin E.
Eat It: Just one tablespoon of wheat germ oil gives you 100% of what you need daily, while one ounce of roasted almonds or sunflower seeds have about 35%. An ounce of dry roasted peanuts or a half cup of boiled spinach adds just 10%.
*All recommended daily intakes are estimated average requirements of healthy females age 19 through 50 years old. Use the USDA’s Interactive DRI Tool to get a personalized daily nutrient recommendation.
by Carolyn Richardson