Let’s review the most important vitamins and minerals you need every day to maintain your health. We’ll also discuss the whole food sources rich in these nutrients and an ideal way to fill the nutritional gap when your schedule doesn’t allow time for cooking them at home.
Macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and fats—get all of the spotlight in nutrition, and it’s no wonder because they contain the calories that we need to monitor for weight management.
However, micronutrients are equally important. These calorie-free vitamins and minerals assist with hundreds of the body’s daily processes, including preventing illness and disease while supporting proper growth and recovery.
If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ve probably heard plenty about vitamin C and the mineral zinc, but these are not the only nutrients you need for an optimal diet.
What Is a Vitamin?
A vitamin is an organic nutrient that comes from plants and animals. For example, nuts and seeds are rich in vitamin E, while animal sources like beef contain plenty of B vitamins.
There are 13 essential vitamins that can either dissolve and be absorbed best in fat (fat-soluble) or water (water-soluble).
Fat-Soluble: When eaten with fat-based foods, these vitamins are highly bioavailable, meaning that your body can easily digest and utilize them. Foods that are rich in fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in your liver and muscle tissue for future use.
Water-Soluble: These vitamins dissolve in water. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they don’t require another food or resource to become bioavailable. Some water-soluble vitamins actually work better when paired together. They are not stored in your body, so you need to replenish water-soluble vitamins daily with diet and supplements.
What Is a Mineral?
A mineral is an inorganic compound that comes from the earth, soil, and water. For example, ocean water contains over 70 trace minerals, including sodium, magnesium, and calcium.
Experts will further break minerals down into either “macrominerals” or “microminerals,” depending on the value they provide the body. Minerals needed daily in large amounts are referred to as macrominerals. The minerals that you need in smaller quantities are called microminerals.
Macrominerals include the following:
Microminerals, better known as trace minerals, include the following:
Vitamins vs. Minerals: What’s the Difference?
Both vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that are important for optimal health. The biggest difference between them is where they come from.
As mentioned above, vitamins are organic substances that are made from plants or animals. Minerals are inorganic elements that come from the earth, soil, and water. Minerals are absorbed by plants and then eaten by animals. In turn, we get our vitamins and minerals from these sources.
Which Vitamins and Minerals Do I Need Every Day?
There are 13 essential vitamins that you need every day. While there are thousands of known minerals, your body only needs a fraction of those for optimal health.
Here are the most important vitamins and minerals you need daily and the benefits of each. We’ll start with vitamins.
Important Vitamins for Your Health
- Vitamin A
Vitamin A is fat soluble, and it is a key nutrient for your immune system, vision, and cellular health. While vitamin D is getting a lot of attention during the coronavirus pandemic because of its immune-boosting properties, studies show that vitamin A is just as helpful for building a strong immune system.  
Best sources of vitamin A:
- Sweet potato
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means that it prevents oxidative damage caused to cells from free radicals in the body. A free radical is an unstable atom that steals an oxygen molecule from other atoms, making them unstable as well. Antioxidants prevent this damage from occurring and support your cellular health in the process. Vitamin C also helps to increase the absorption of iron.  
Best sources of vitamin C:
- Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower)
- Vitamin D
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin” because your body can create it from sunlight, this fat-soluble vitamin is incredibly important for hormone health, mood, and disease prevention. As mentioned above, vitamin D is also a powerful nutrient for your immune system. Experts suggest pairing vitamins A, D, and K with food and supplements for optimal immune benefit.  
Best sources of vitamin D:
- Fortified foods (e.g., milk, cereal)
Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin that has antioxidant properties, protecting your cells from oxidative breakdown. Studies show that vitamin E can support your eye health. It’s also helpful in preventing and treating age-related diseases.  
Best sources of vitamin E:
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Vitamin K
Vitamin K is another fat-soluble vitamin, but one that rarely gets talked about unless it’s in reference to a deficiency, which is rare. Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting. Without it, you would be at risk for excessive bleeding. It is also important for heart and bone health. Taking it with vitamin D helps to increase its absorption.  
Best sources of vitamin K:
- Soy-based foods (e.g., soybeans, tofu)
- Vitamin B1
A water-soluble nutrient, vitamin B1 (thiamine), is necessary for breaking down the foods we eat into usable energy. It’s also important for a number of cardiac and cognitive processes, including neurotransmitter health. 
Best sources of vitamin B1:
- Nuts and seeds
- Vitamin B2
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is water soluble, and it is needed to create red blood cells and support cellular health. Studies show that healthy levels of vitamin B2 can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and help to promote eye health. 
Best sources of vitamin B2:
- Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower)
- Wheat grain
- Vitamin B3
Vitamin B3 is another water-soluble nutrient needed throughout your body for its day-to-day processes from metabolism to recovery. Evidence suggests that vitamin B3 can effectively increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels while lowering triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol. 
Best sources of vitamin B3:
- Nuts and seeds
- Vitamin B5
By now, you’re probably noticing a trend with the B vitamins: all of them are needed to assist with metabolism, particularly the conversion of food into usable energy. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is no different.
Besides helping to maintain healthy eyes, hair, and skin, vitamin B5 is important for the production of coenzyme A, which is necessary for breaking down fatty acids. 
Best sources of vitamin B5:
- Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower)
- Nuts and seeds
- Sweet potatoes
- Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is water soluble, and it’s essential for metabolism and neurotransmitter health. Vitamin B6 is helpful for improving mood and alleviating symptoms of depression. It has also been linked to improved cognitive health while reducing the risk for developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  
When B6 is taken with zinc and magnesium, this combination is often referred to as “ZMA” in the sports supplement industry. It’s been shown to significantly improve recovery from vigorous exercise by supporting healthy sleep and hormone health.
Best sources of vitamin B6:
- Vitamin B7
Outside of maintaining the health of your heart, nervous system, and skin, this water-soluble nutrient is necessary for your immune system. Research shows that vitamin B7 (biotin) deficiencies are linked to higher rates of illness and infection. 
Best sources of vitamin B7:
- Vitamin B9
Also known as folate, vitamin B9 is especially useful for neurologic disorders and promoting brain health. Studies show that vitamin B9 can improve cognitive function while lowering the risk of developing dementia. What’s more, deficiencies in vitamin B9 are associated with a higher risk of depression. Proper levels of vitamin B9 can support mental health.  
Best sources of vitamin B9:
- Beef liver
- Citrus fruits
- Vitamin B12
The last of the B vitamins and perhaps the most popular, vitamin B12 (cobalamin), is often associated with higher energy levels. While B12 has been singled out in this function, it’s important to understand that all of the B-vitamins together are necessary to maximize the body’s energy.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for bone health and lowering your risk for osteoporosis. It’s also useful for promoting heart, skin, mood, and eye health.  
Best sources of vitamin B12:
Essential Minerals for Your Health
Calcium is often associated with the health of your bones and teeth because most of the body’s calcium is stored there. But the role of this electrolyte goes beyond bones and teeth. Calcium is needed for muscle activation as well as hormone health. It’s also important to note that vitamin D is required to absorb calcium.  
Best sources of calcium:
- Chia seeds
- Parmesan cheese
- Whey protein
Iron is crucial during developmental stages from infancy to adolescence. Even in adulthood, iron is important because it is needed to produce hemoglobin and myoglobin. Studies show that iron is also needed for healthy sleep and cognitive functioning.  
Best sources of iron:
Most people aren’t getting enough of this important mineral that assists in over 300 bodily processes every day. Magnesium is essential as an electrolyte, supporting the electrical superhighway for cellular communication, but it’s also required for hormone, cognitive, and muscular health. Supplementing the diet with magnesium is also considered an effective way to naturally alleviate symptoms of depression. 
Best sources of magnesium:
- Cacao (dark chocolate)
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Often looked at as the clean-up and recovery mineral, phosphorus is responsible for promoting waste filtration, cellular recovery, and tissue repair. Despite being the second most plentiful mineral in the body (after calcium), it’s important to include foods and supplements containing phosphorus in your diet.
Phosphorus and calcium are both needed for optimal bone health as the bioavailability of one depends on the other. 
Best sources of phosphorus:
Potassium is an electrolyte that is important for exercise since it promotes healthy muscle contractions while maintaining a proper fluid balance. Beyond the gym, potassium is needed for regulating the nervous system—everything from your heartbeat to your reflexes. 
Best sources of potassium:
- Sweet potatoes
Sodium is eaten in the form of table salt, and while it is a great way to flavor food, it’s also an important nutrient for your health. Sodium is an electrolyte, helping with fluid balance, muscle contractions, and cellular communication. 
Best sources of sodium:
- Mineral water
- Tomato products (e.g., sauce, juice)
- Turkey bacon
Only during the last several years has zinc gotten the attention it deserves. It is a mineral that has become the subject of numerous studies, revealing its benefits. Zinc is necessary for regulating your immune response, metabolism, and cellular functions.
Recently, it’s been suggested that zinc can boost the immune system and improve cognitive functioning.  
Best sources of zinc:
- Fortified foods (e.g., milk, breakfast cereal)
Do I Need a Multivitamin?
You should always focus on whole foods as the foundation for your diet. Consuming a wide variety of vitamins and minerals from whole food sources is ideal because it optimizes bioavailability, benefits, and overall nutrition.
Unfortunately, modern diets usually don’t provide you with all of the vitamins and minerals mentioned above, especially if you are eating processed foods. A multivitamin is a simple solution for filling in the nutritional gaps.
Taking a multivitamin supplement helps people get the recommended requirements of vitamins and minerals when they are unable to meet these needs from food alone.
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Edited and Fact Checked: Gina Jansheski, MD