11 Essential Vitamins and Minerals Your Body Needs

We all know vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients the body needs - but what does each vitamin do? And which foods are vitamin powerhouses? Here's the low-down on which letter does what, from A (that is, Vitamin A) to Z (or - zinc).

Oct 30, 2013
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Vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user Andrew Morrell Photography

For those among us who aren't nutritionists, dieticians or experts in natural health, the letters and numbers which explain the world of healthy food can seem pretty daunting. One thing's for sure – experts recommend fueling your body with healthy food before you turn to supplements. The best bet is to make sure you eat a balanced diet with as many wholefoods as possible –if you need a boost, here's the low-down on what letter does what, from A (that is, vitamin A) to Z (or - zinc).

1. VITAMIN A

GOOD FOR: Healthy eyes and general growth and development, including healthy teeth and skin.
NATURAL SOURCE: Carrots and other orange foods including sweet potato and cantaloupe melons – all of which get their hue from the carotene pigment.

Vitamin A - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user Ed Yourdon

2. B VITAMINS

GOOD FOR: Energy production, immune function and iron absorption.
NATURAL SOURCE: This crucial group of nutrients can be found in whole unprocessed foods, specifically whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils, chili peppers, beans, yeast and molasses.

B Vitamins - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user peddhapati

3. VITAMIN C

GOOD FOR: Strengthening blood vessels and giving skin its elasticity, anti-oxidant function and iron absorption.  
NATURAL SOURCE: Everyone knows this one – oranges! But they're not the only source – other fruits and veggies packed with Vitamin C include guava, red and green peppers, kiwi, grapefruits, strawberries, Brussels sprouts and cantaloupe.

Vitamin C - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user Rego - d4u.hu

4. VITAMIN D

GOOD FOR: Strong healthy bones.
NATURAL SOURCE: Apart from spending a few minutes out in the sun, which stimulates Vitamin D production, you can get this nutritional must from eggs, fish and mushrooms.

Vitamin D - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user nickwheeleroz

5. VITAMIN E

GOOD FOR: Blood circulation, and protection from free radicals.
NATURAL SOURCE: Our favorite Vitamin E-rich food is the mighty almond. You can also fill up on other nuts, sunflower seeds and tomatoes to reap the benefits.

Vitamin E - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user mynameisharsha

6. VITAMIN K

GOOD FOR: Blood coagulation – that is, the process by which your blood clots.
NATURAL SOURCE: Leafy greens are the best natural sources of Vitamin K – so make sure you're eating lots of kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Vitamin K - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user eraine

7. FOLIC ACID

GOOD FOR: Cell renewal and preventing birth defects in pregnancy.
NATURAL SOURCE: There are plenty of scrumptious natural sources of folic acid, including dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits, beans, peas, lentils, seeds, nuts, cauliflower, beets and corn.

Folic acid - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user itsjustanalias

8. CALCIUM

GOOD FOR: Healthy teeth and bones.
NATURAL SOURCE: This mineral is another one that most of us already know - the best sources are dairy products like yogurt, cheese and milk, along with tofu and black molasses.

Calcium - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user shutterbean

9. IRON

GOOD FOR: Building muscles naturally and maintaining healthy blood.
NATURAL SOURCE: You might be surprised to know that clams take the top spot for iron content, followed by oysters and organ meats like liver. For the vegetarians among us, soybeans, cereal, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils and spinach are great sources of iron.

Iron - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user Hanoi Mark

10. ZINC

GOOD FOR: Immunity, growth and fertility.
NATURAL SOURCE: Seafoods like oysters are also zinc-rich, along with spinach, cashews, beans and – wait for it – dark chocolate.

Zinc - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user Tasumi1968

11. CHROMIUM

GOOD FOR: Glucose function – making sure every cell in your body gets energy as and when needed.
NATURAL SOURCE: As long as your diet contains servings of whole grains, fresh vegetables and herbs, you should be getting enough chromium.

Chromium - essential vitamins and minerals

Photo by Flickr user jiva


As well as managing Goodnet.org, Elana writes happy headlines with a particular focus on yoga, meditation and family matters. She has a background in online journalism and web content.

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