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Vitamins and Minerals: How to Get What You Need

Last Updated November 2023 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Deepak S. Patel, MD, FAAFP, FACSM

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in food. They nourish your body and are essential to your overall health. Choosing foods each day that are rich in vitamins and minerals is the best way to give your body what it needs to be healthy. This is because it is easier for your body to absorb micronutrients through food than a multivitamin alone.

Every 5 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publish The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These Guidelines are based on scientific evidence and provide recommendations to make healthy eating choices. The current Guidelines (2020-2025) include 4 main themes:

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at each life stage (infancy through adulthood).
  • Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages based on preference, culture, and budget.
  • Balance the food groups and maintain healthy calorie limits.
  • Limit intake of sodium, saturated fat, added sugars, and alcohol.

According to the USDA, most Americans do not meet these guidelines. An average American’s diet scores 59 out of 100 on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI). A person’s individual eating choices are critical to creating healthy eating habits over time.

Path to improved health

The purpose of The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to improve your overall health. This can decrease your chance of having a diet-related chronic condition and increase your length of life. Keep in mind, it is never too late or too early to eat healthy.

The Guidelines include 3 key dietary principles to help improve Americans’ eating choices and patterns.

  • Consuming healthy foods and beverages is the best way to meet your body’s nutritional needs.
  • Selecting a variety of foods and beverages from each food group is necessary to create a balanced diet.
  • Following recommended portion sizes helps to maintain calorie intake.

Research consistently finds that most Americans don’t get enough vitamins and minerals in their diets. In fact, more than 50% of adults have one or more diet-related chronic conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer. In particular, Americans do not get enough of the following nutrients:

  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Fiber
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron

Below are examples of foods and beverages that are high in certain micronutrients. Keep in mind that not all examples are appropriate for each life stage. Talk to your doctor or refer to the Guidelines for more recommendations and specific information on portion sizes. 


Your body needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth in childhood and adolescence. As an adult, you need additional calcium to maintain bone mass. Calcium can also affect muscle movement, blood flow, and the release of hormones. According to the USDA, the average American adult (ages 19-50) eating roughly 2,000 calories per day should get 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day.

The following foods and beverages are good sources of calcium:

  • Nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt (4 to 8 oz)
  • Nonfat or low-fat cheese (3/4 to 1 1/2 oz)
  • Low-fat milk (1%), fat-free milk, or unsweetened soy, almond, or rice milk (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Fish and seafood, such as salmon or sardines (1 to 3 oz)
  • Tofu (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • Cooked spinach or kale (1/2 to 1 cup)

Who might not get enough?

  • Adolescents ages 4 to 18 years
  • Adults older than 50 years
  • Adults who have gone through menopause
  • People who are Black or Asian
  • People who are lactose intolerant
  • People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet

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. It is also required for normal cell function, kidney function, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. The USDA recommends that the average American adult should consume 280 mg of potassium each day.

The following foods and beverages are good sources of potassium:

  • Nonfat or low-fat plain or Greek yogurt (4 to 8 oz)
  • Low-fat milk (1%), fat-free milk, or unsweetened soy milk (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Coconut water (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked potato or sweet potato (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked butternut squash (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked spinach or broccoli rabe (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked portabella mushrooms (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Raw carrots (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Avocado (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • Cooked beans, such as white, kidney, or pinto (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • 100% vegetable or tomato juice (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • 100% orange or pineapple juice (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Banana or grapefruit (1 piece)
  • Kiwi, melon, or cherries (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Dried peaches, prunes, apricots, or raisins (1/4 cup)
  • Fish and seafood, such as salmon, tilapia, or catfish (1 to 3 oz)
  • Meat, such as pork, beef, or lamb (1 to 3 oz)
  • Tofu (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • Pistachios (1/2 to 1 oz)

Who might not get enough?

  • People who have inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD), Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis
  • People who use certain medicines, such as diuretics or laxatives

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

Dietary Fiber

Fiber is a necessary nutrient to keep your digestion system working correctly. It also helps your body regulate blood sugar, control hunger, and maintain a healthy weight. Getting enough fiber in your diet can help prevent diabetes and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. On average, an American adult should consume 28 grams (g) of dietary fiber each day based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

The following foods and beverages are good sources of fiber:

  • Whole grain, wheat, oat, or bran cereal (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Popcorn (1 1/2 to 3 cups)
  • Cooked bulgur or barley (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • Whole wheat crackers or tortilla (1/2 to 1 oz)
  • Cooked beans, such as white, black, or garbanzo (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • Cooked peas, artichoke, or Brussels sprouts (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked broccoli, cauliflower, or carrots (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked spinach, kale, cabbage, or collard greens (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked beets or mushrooms (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Pear, apple, orange, or grapefruit (1 piece)
  • Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Dried figs, prunes, or dates (1/4 cup)
  • Almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, or pine nuts (1/2 to 1 oz)
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds (1/2 to 1 oz)
  • Chia or flax seeds (1/2 to 1 tablespoon, Tbsp)

Quick tip: Add berries and chia seeds to your morning cereal to boost your fiber intake.

Vitamin D

Your body needs vitamin D so that it can absorb calcium to promote bone growth, maintain strong bones, and prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D also helps your muscles move and your immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses. The average American adult needs 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D each day. It can be 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 and beverages are good sources of vitamin D:

  • Nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt (4 to 8 oz)
  • Nonfat or low-fat cheese (3/4 to 1 1/2 oz)
  • Low-fat milk (1%), fat-free milk, or unsweetened soy, almond, or rice milk (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Nonfat kefir (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • 100% orange juice (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Fish and seafood, such as salmon, canned tuna, tilapia, or freshwater rainbow trout (1 to 3 oz)
  • Raw mushrooms (1/2 to 1 cup)

Who might not get enough?

  • Infants who are breastfed
  • Adults older than 70 years
  • People who don’t get sun exposure (especially those living in the northern parts of the U.S.)
  • People who have dark skin
  • People who have obesity
  • People who have health conditions that limit fat absorption, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or ulcerative colitis

Quick tip: Most milks in the United States are fortified with vitamin D. Start or end your day with a serving of low-fat, fat-free, or unsweetened milk.


Iron is a mineral that your body needs to support proper growth and development. Your body uses iron to produce hemoglobin, myoglobin, and some hormones. The average daily recommended amount of iron for an adult American (ages 19-50) is 13 mg.

The following foods and beverages are good sources of iron:

  • Cooked beans, such as lima, soy, garbanzo or white (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • Cooked potato with skin or sweet potato (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked spinach, collard greens, or Swiss chard (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked beets, leeks, or acorn squash (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cooked mushrooms (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • 100% prune juice (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Cashews (1/2 to 1 oz)
  • Seafood, such as shrimp, clams, mussels, oysters, or clams (1 to 3 oz)
  • Meat, such as beef, duck, lamb, or turkey (1 to 3 oz)
  • Organ or game meats (1 to 3 oz)

Who might not get enough?

  • Infants ages 7 to 12 months
  • Adolescents and adults who have menstrual cycles
  • People who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • People who have a low immune system
  • People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet

Quick tip: Enjoy a baked potato with black beans or mushrooms for a tasty lunch and healthy dose or iron.

Things to consider

Not getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs can have serious consequences for your health. An overall lack of nutrients can lead to malnutrition. Some deficiencies can even be life-threatening.

Additionally, getting too much of certain vitamins or minerals in your system can also be dangerous. For example, high levels of vitamin A during pregnancy can cause problems with fetal development. 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 existing health conditions.

When to see a doctor

A lack of one or more vitamins or minerals can be hard to diagnose. Some nutrient deficiencies do not have symptoms, while others have symptoms that vary. General symptoms include:

  • Loss of hair
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Increased irritability
  • Worsening vision or dry eyes
  • Tingling or numbness in your hands and feet
  • Bleeding gums
  • Cracks in the corners of your mouth
  • Acne-like bumps on your cheeks, upper arms, thighs, or buttocks

Your doctor may perform blood tests to check the levels of certain vitamins or minerals. If you are unable to get all the nutrients you need from food alone, your doctor can help you decided if dietary supplements are needed.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How do I know if I’m getting enough vitamins and minerals?
  • What can I do to increase the amount of vitamins and minerals I get through food?
  • 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?
  • Depending on where I live, could I get enough vitamin D from sun exposure?


National Institutes of Health (NIH): Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets

U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025

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