Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are very important to your health. They are the grease that keeps all your machinery running smoothly. It may therefor surprise you that we advise against worrying about specific micronutrients. As long as you avoid highly processed foods, the old adage of “eat a varied diet” is still good advice. On top of that, although we don’t like the term “super foods”, some natural foods are extra rich in micronutrients:
- Liver (preferably from grass-fed beef)
- Eggs (especially the yolks)
- Fatty fish
- Kale/Spinach/Brussels sprouts
- Nuts (especially almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios)
- Mushrooms (especially Portobello and Shiitake)
There’s no need to eat these every day or to include them in your weekly repertoire, but if you feel you could use a little health and energy boost, these are all foods to consider.
Below is our complete-ish guide to essential nutrients (mainly vitamins and minerals, but we include a few other essential nutrients). For some situations, we will suggest supplementation as an alternative, but in general we recommend against using vitamin and mineral supplements. Many vitamins and minerals are easy to overdose, and structural use of supplements can upset the balance in your body. Whenever possible, you should get your micronutrients from eating a varied diet.
Essential amino acids
Essential amino acids are required by your body to build complete proteins. Proteins are extremely important and protein deficiency can have serious consequences for your health. The best sources of complete proteins are eggs, dairy, meat and fish. But it is possible to get all essential amino acids from plants. Quinoa and buckwheat are sources of complete protein. Another option is to eat fermented soy products like tempeh, natto or miso. Finally, you can combine pairs of plants into complete proteins. If you eat potatoes, mushrooms or rice together with peas, green beans or nuts, you also get all essential amino acids. If you are a vegetarian, it is especially important to vary your protein sources.
Essential fatty acids
Two types of fat, omega-3 and omega-6 fats, are essential because your body can’t produce them. They contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system. Omega-3 and omega-6 comprise many different fatty acids, not all of which are equally easy to absorb. For example, the omega-3 fats you get from vegetables first need to be converted in your body. Omega-3 fats from fatty fish are more readily available. The best sources of essential fatty acids are: fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, cod, tuna), meat and dairy (from grass fed cows), egg yolks, olive oil and some nuts (walnuts, brazil nuts, pistachios and hazelnuts).
Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein. However, as we age, our own production of collagen slows down, and adding collagen to your diet can help you maintain muscle mass. Good sources are the bones of cows, chickens and fish, as well as egg whites. Now, eating bones does not sound very appealing, but ask any michelin star chef and they’ll tell you they never throw the bones away. What they do is make a bone broth, a great base for soups and sauces. When shopping for it, look for bone broth made from grass-fed cows, because beef collagen is a good match for human collagen.
Eating probiotics can help maintain a healthy gut biome. Most fermented and pickled foods contain probiotics. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and even the humble pickle are all good candidates (check that the pickle does not contain artificial sweeteners). Beyond that, you can eat resistant starches and soluble fibers to feed the bacteria already living in your gut. Good sources of these are fruits and vegetables, especially apricot, grapefruit, mango, orange, Brussels sprouts, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes and asparagus.
Vitamins are extremely important if you want to live a balanced, healthy life. The complete list of vitamins is long, but if you eat a natural diet, getting enough of most vitamins will not be a problem. To keep this deep dive readable, we’ll only talk about the exceptions to this:
Vitamin B12 mainly comes from meat and fish, with beef/chicken liver and fatty fish leading the pack. Vegetarians can get some B12 by eating yogurt and eggs, but be aware that you may need to supplement B12 if you are a vegetarian. Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies.
By far the best way to get enough vitamin D is to expose yourself to the sun on a regular basis. Just 15 minutes in the morning or midday sun is enough to get your daily dose of vitamin D (if you are dark skinned, you may need a little bit longer, especially if you live in a colder climate). If getting enough sun is problematic, the best sources for vitamin D are fatty fish, eggs and mushrooms (especially maitake and portobello). Don’t supplement vitamin D; studies show this has little to no effect on your health.
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects your body from a long list of diseases. Good sources are olive oil, tomato paste, mango, avocado, butternut squash, broccoli, spinach, almonds and hazelnuts.
In the list below you can find good sources for the most important minerals. Be aware that antinutrients in your food can bind to these minerals, preventing your body from absorbing them. Limit your consumption of (whole) grains and legumes (both rich in these antinutrients) if you have symptoms that might indicate mineral deficiencies.
Good sources of calcium are sardines, yogurt, cheese, okra, almonds and leafy greens. Plant sources of calcium are preferable, because they also contain magnesium. Calcium needs magnesium and vitamin D to be absorbed properly. Getting too much calcium compared to these other nutrients might even have a detrimental effect on bone health. For this reason, we also advise against eating foods fortified with extra calcium.
Good sources include green leafy vegetables, almonds, cashews, avocado, figs, dark chocolate and bananas.
Good sources include spirulina (a type of algae), liver, grass-fed beef, dark chocolate, spinach, sardines, pistachios and raisins. Iron deficiency is common, so if you often feel tired or weak for no real reason, try eating the above foods 2-3x per day for a week to see if your health improves.
Iodine deficiency is another common problem, which may affect as much as 70% of the world’s population. Paying attention to your iodine intake is therefor especially important. Good sources include seaweed, cod, cranberries, yogurt, shrimp and eggs. If you live in a country that iodizes its salt, iodine can easily be supplemented by using regular table salt to season your meals. Although Himalaya salt and Celtic sea salt are less processed and contain some other trace minerals, what you are mainly buying is very expensive sodium chloride. The natural trace of iodine in sea salt is not enough to supplement your iodine intake. Although getting iodine through natural foods is preferable, using iodized table salt can help in a pinch.