13 Nutrients You Aren't Eating Nearly Enough Of

Discover what these vitamins, minerals, and fats can do for you—and how to eat way more of them.

December 22, 2016
sliced grapefruit
alicjane/ Shutterstock

You can't just depend on multivitamins to get all of the nutrients you need to thrive. In fact, University of Hawaii researchers looked at 180,000 men and women and found multivitamin users didn't live any longer or have lower rates of cancer and heart disease than people who didn't reach for the daily pills.

Luckily, you can nourish your body, fight fatigue, and ward off disease by changing what you eat. These are 13 of the most essential nutrients, according to some nutrition experts, and where to find them.

Related: 4 Superfoods That Aren't Worth The Hype

cherries
1/13 Photograph courtesy of Pixabay
Anthocyanins

Why You Need It: They act like powerful antioxidants, scrubbing away harmful free radicals that can damage cells, cause inflammation, and fuel chronic disease.

Your Daily Dose: Not established

Top Sources: Blueberries, red cabbage, eggplant, blackberries, black raspberries, cranberries, red grapes, strawberries, plums, purple potatoes, black currants, black rice, beets, cherries

Bonus Tip: Opt for organic anthocyanin-loaded produce whenever you can, especially berries. Environmental Working Group ranks non-organic strawberries and cherries among the most pesticide-contaminated fruits. (Here are 10 crazy things pesticides are doing to your body.)

bowl of yogurt
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Calcium

Why You Need It: Vital to bone health, proper calcium levels also help balance your hormones while maintaining artery, vein, and muscle function.

Your Daily Dose: 1,000 milligrams

Top Sources: Milk, cheese, yogurt, kale, tofu

Bonus Tip: Organic milk from grass-fed cows contains significantly higher levels of heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

carrots
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Carotenoids

Why You Need It: Carotenoids may protect against cancer, keep plaque from building up on your arteries, and strengthen mucous membranes to keep harmful germs out of your body. Some carotenoids help protect your vision, too, warding off macular degeneration.

Your Daily Dose: Not established

Top Sources: Carrots, winter squash, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, apricots, red bell peppers, mangoes, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato juice, watermelon

Bonus Tip: Eat a collection of different carotenoid-containing foods listed above, since individual ones help protect your body in different ways.

beans
4/13 Photograph courtesy of Pixabay
Fiber

Why You Need It: Fiber helps keep your digestive tract operating regularly, regulates blood sugar, and also binds with cholesterol in the gut, helping to ward off heart disease. Getting enough fiber helps you feel full and could prevent overeating and weight gain.

Your Daily Dose: 25 grams

Top Sources: Barley, pears, black beans and other beans, oat bran, oatmeal, apples, lentils, bulgur, artichokes, raspberries, pumpkin, broccoli, sweet potatoes (Here are 5 ways to sneak even more fiber into your diet.)

Bonus Tip: Avoid the temptation to reach for fiber-enhanced junk food. These convenience foods lack the phytonutrient, vitamin, and antioxidant advantages you'll get from fiber-rich whole foods.

avocado
5/13 Larisa Blinova/ Shutterstock
Folate

Why You Need It: Cells can't multiple and divide properly without proper folate levels. Adequate levels eaten by pregnant women also help prevent birth defects. Folate could even protect against heart disease, depression, and Alzheimer's disease.

Your Daily Dose: 400 micrograms

Top Sources: Broccoli, spinach, asparagus, lentils, avocado, papaya, corn, summer squash (which you can actually use in smoothies!), peanuts

Bonus Tip: The Food and Drug Administration suggests getting folate that occurs naturally in certain foods, along with eating some foods fortified with folic acid, the synthetic form of the nutrient.

lentils
6/13 Dream 79/ Shutterstock
Iron

Why You Need It: Iron helps make the body synthesize DNA, regulate cell growth, and oxygenate muscle. Not getting enough iron could cause depression, trouble processing thoughts, and weight gain.

Your Daily Dose: 18 milligrams

Top Sources: Oysters, lentils, beef, turkey, tuna, chicken, pork, crab, beans, tofu, fortified cereals, oatmeal (If you're a vegetarian, be sure to check out these 14 plant-based foods that have more iron than meat!)

Bonus Tip: To optimize iron absorption from plants, pair iron-containing vegetables and beans with vitamin C-rich foods such as lemon juice. Your body more readily absorbs heme iron, the type found in meat and seafood, than it does plant-based non-heme iron, but vitamin C can help change that.

swiss chard on a table
7/13 Svitlana Pimenov/ Shutterstock
Magnesium

Why You Need It: Essential for more than 300 cell reactions, magnesium keeps your nervous system happily firing messages off to your brain, builds bone, and regulates muscle contraction, and even helps curb sugar and chocolate cravings.

Your Daily Dose: 400 milligrams

Top Sources: Pumpkin seeds, edamame, Swiss chard, almonds, spinach, cashews, oatmeal, pinto beans, brown rice

Bonus Tip: Getting magnesium from food can help ease PMS, provide headache relief, and promote better sleep (just like these 8 foods that help you fall asleep fast). Look for organic pumpkin seeds for an economical, potent source of magnesium.

salmon on plate
8/13 vanillaechoes/ Shutterstock
Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Why You Need It: These all-star fats are required for healthy cell membrane functioning, and they help block the release of inflammatory compounds that can raise your risk of diseases like diabetes.

Your Daily Dose: 1,000 milligrams

Top Sources: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout, walnuts, flaxseeds, organic canola oil, dark leafy greens

Bonus Tip: When cruising the seafood aisle for omega-3s, stay away from salmon from the Atlantic or an unidentified source—it was likely farmed in filthy conditions. Instead, look for wild-caught Alaskan salmon. When looking for mackerel, choose Atlantic, not king or Spanish, which could be much higher in contaminants. (Here are 7 questions you should always ask about your seafood before you buy it.)

figs on a plate
9/13 Vladislav Nosik
Potassium

Why You Need It: This mineral helps regulate the among of sodium in your body, a process vital for healthy blood pressure. It also helps protect against stroke, and kidney stones.

Your Daily Dose: 3,500 milligrams

Top Sources: Beets, dates, white beans, raisins, lima beans, figs, salmon, mushrooms, chicken breast, clams, sweet potatoes, potatoes, apricots, avocado, cantaloupe, honeydew, nectarines, milk, yogurt, oat bran

Bonus Tip: While everyone things bananas are the go-to source for magnesium, look to things like little red potatoes. Compared to a large banana with 474 milligrams of potassium, a single small red baked potato packs 750 milligrams.

eggs in a skillet
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Vitamin B12

Why You Need It: This vitamin supports your metabolism, keeps your nervous system working properly, and helps with the formation of red blood cells, which you need to oxygenate your body. It also may help fight depression, alleviate migraines, and protect eye health.

Your Daily Dose: 6 micrograms

Top Sources: Clams, crab, beef, trout, salmon, tuna, haddock, milk, yogurt, eggs (here's why you should eat the whole egg—not just the whites)

Bonus Tip: Since vitamin B12 is bound to protein in food, seafood and animal products are the best sources. If you choose salmon, opt for wild-caught—it's higher in omega-3s and lower in contaminants typically found in farmed (aka Atlantic) salmon.

slices of grapefruit
11/13 alicjane/ Shutterstock
Vitamin C

Why You Need It: Adequate vitamin C levels help reduce wrinkles, absorb damaging free radicals, and aid in neurotransmitter production, wound healing, and metabolizing of protein.

Your Daily Dose: 60 milligrams

Top Sources: Brussels sprouts, strawberries, red bell peppers, oranges, kiwi, green bell peppers, broccoli, grapefruit, tomato juice, cantaloupe, cabbage

Bonus Tip: Don't only rely on citrus for vitamin C. A red pepper contains nearly twice the vitamin C of a medium navel orange! Just choose organic to avoid pesticide residues inside and outside of the pepper. (Check out these 9 foods with more vitamin C than an orange.)

sardines on toast
12/13 ziashusha/ Shutterstock
Vitamin D

Why You Need It: Vitamin D is essential for bone health, but it also may help keep cancer from spreading. Adequate D levels could protect you from developing type 2 diabetes. (Here are 5 signs you're not getting enough vitamin D.)

Your Daily Dose: 400 IU

Top Sources: Sardines, wild salmon, milk, tuna, yogurt, eggs, Swiss cheese

Bonus Tip: Get your vitamin D levels checked at your doctor's office. If you're low, you may need a higher dose, likely through supplements, to bring your levels up.

seeds and nuts spillling onto table
13/13 yesyesterday/ Shutterstock
Vitamin E

Why You Need It: Vitamin E is like the cleanup crew, acting like an antioxidant that destroys free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage DNA and promote disease. That makes it a key nutrient to help neutralize the damage created by UV radiation and the everyday pollution we encounter.

Your Daily Dose: 30 IU

Top Sources: Peanuts, almonds, kiwi, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, mango, peanut butter, olive oil, spinach

Bonus Tip: Vitamin E has been shown to improve the response to vaccinations in older people whose immune systems don't always respond as robustly to the shots as needed.

Related: 6 Superfoods Your Grandmother Ate

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