Gaining Your Essential Minerals and Vitamins from Foods
People looking to gain muscle or lose weight often focus exclusively on the “big picture” stuff. You know, how many calories they’re consuming, how much protein they’re getting each day, and so on.
And while tracking calories and macros will typically be all that you need to lose fat or gain muscle, there’s a whole world of other nutrients out there which can make all the difference to your overall health, including your hormone balance, organ function, and more.
Here’s a look at some of the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to function optimally. Since food is always a better option that supplements, wherever possible, we’ll also take a look at how you can get enough of these micronutrients through your diet.
Vitamin A (also known as retinol) is essential for the healthy growth of all tissue in the body, and is famously associated with healthy eyesight (this is the basis of that old-timey idea that eating carrots helps you see in the dark). This isn’t just anecdotal, either. Studies have found that vitamin-A-rich foods (or foods rich in vitamin A precursors) help to alleviate night blindness in pregnant women.
Other research has found that vitamin A plays a significant role in brain function, including the ability to learn, and neurogenesis – the growth of new nervous tissue.
The NHS suggests that men should be consuming about 0.7mg of vitamin A per day, while women should be consuming 0.6mg.
Yellow, red and (leafy) green vegetables such as spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes are all great sources of vitamin A, as are dairy products, eggs, and oily fish.
Carrots are probably the ideal source as they contain beta-carotene – a precursor which the body turns into vitamin A as required. This basically removes any risk of overdosing on vitamin A - when your body’s produced enough, it’ll just stop converting the excess beta carotene.
This is especially important for pregnant women, as high vitamin A intake during pregnancy has been associated with foetal complications.
B vitamins (vitamin B1, B2, B3, pantothenic acid, B6, B7, folic acid and B12) are important for proper immune function as well as energy storage and production. They may also help to protect against various chronic diseases, while also ensuring good neurological health.
A deficiency in B vitamins results in anaemia, which includes symptoms ranging from lack of energy, to extreme fatigue and weight loss.
Men need around 1mg of vitamin B1 (thiamin) per day, while women need 0.8mg.
Eggs, whole grain breads, liver, and fresh or dried fruits are good B1 sources.
B2 (riboflavin) is found abundantly in milk, eggs, fortified cereals and rice. Men need 1.3mg of B2 per day, women 1.1mg.
B3 (niacin) is found in meat, fish, eggs, milk and wheat flour, with men needing 17mg and women needing 13mg per day.
Pantothenic acid is found in abundance in just about all meat and vegetables, including beef, potatoes, tomatoes and broccoli. You should get your daily helping of pantothenic acid easily, without needing to focus on it specifically.
B6 (pyridoxine) is abundant in pork, poultry, whole cereals, eggs, and vegetables, with men needing 1.4mg and women 1.2 per day.
B7 (biotin) is needed in very small quantities by the body, and is produced naturally by your internal bacteria, meaning it may not be necessary to seek out in your diet.
Folic acid complements vitamin B12 and is found in leafy greens, liver, broccoli, and peas, with adults requiring around 0.2mg per day.
Finally, B12 is found in meat, oily fish and dairy products, with adults needing around 0.0015mg per day.
Vitamin C also has a significant effect on blood vessel and heart health, with some research suggesting it might even be as effective as exercise for ensuring good blood vessel health. 
It’s no secret where vitamin C comes from, either. Oranges, Brussel sprouts, and broccoli, are all great sources. Adults should aim for 40mg per day in their diet.
Plant oils such as soya, corn, and olive oil are the best sources of vitamin E, with almonds, other nuts and seeds all being excellent sources as well. Men should aim to get around 4mg of vitamin E a day, while women should aim for 3mg.
Vitamin K is primarily known for allowing blood to clot and wounds to heal, in turn preventing excess bleeding. The benefits certainly don’t end there, however. Research has also found vitamin K to play a significant role in the formation of healthy bones, as well as having anticancer effects and helping to regulate insulin sensitivity, among other things.
The premier sources of vitamin K are leafy greens such as spinach and kale, with adults requiring around 0.001mg of vitamin K per day for each kilogram of their body weight.
Iron plays a critical role in a wide range of biological functions, from oxygen transport to DNA repair and synthesis. In addition to that, iron deficiency anaemia is the world’s most common nutritional deficiency disease, meaning that you’ve really got to pay special attention to getting enough of the stuff in your diet.
Liver, red meat, beans, and whole grains are excellent sources of iron, but you can even increase the amount of iron in your food by simply cooking with cast iron pots and pans, as backed up by the research.
According to the NHS, men should aim to consume 8.7mg of iron a day, while women should aim for 14.8mg.
Meat, shellfish, and dairy are good sources of zinc, with men needing between 5.5-9.5mg per day, and women needing 4.0-7.0mg per day.
Hollie Miles, GM & Nutritionist