Add variety to your diet and fuel your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs with these often-overlooked foods
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You know it’s in: Citrus, red bell pepper
Surprising sources: Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps your body protect against free radical damage, heal wounds, and prevent disease. And luckily for your taste buds, it comes in a variety of produce, not just oranges and red bell peppers.
A cup of chopped broccoli packs more than an entire day’s worth of C, and a cup of sliced green pepper also satisfies your daily need. Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, cantaloupe, and cauliflower are also loaded, while cup of chopped cabbage or tomato both clock in at around a third of your DV.
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You know it’s in: Milk, yogurt, cheese
Surprising sources: While the vast majority—a whopping 99 percent—of calcium in your body takes up space in your bones and teeth and supports their structure and function, this mineral is also crucial for carrying messages between the brain and the rest of the body, and helping release hormones and enzymes for almost all bodily functions. And although you may not guess it because dairy hogs the spotlight, there are plenty of other sources of calcium.
Eating fish with edible bones—they’re soft so you won’t taste them—is one of the best ways to bump up your intake, says Kerry Neville, R.D., a Seattle-based nutritionist. Seven sardine fillets supplies 321 milligrams (mg), about a third of your daily value (DV), and 3 ounces of any type of canned salmon with bones provides 18 percent of your DV.
Firm tofu—but not soft—is also an excellent source, with 25 percent DV in a half cup. And while turnip greens and kale are good sources, the bioavailability of calcium from these greens is poor, Neville says. So if you’re vegan or vegetarian, make sure to consume foods fortified with calcium (such as soymilk or orange juice) or take calcium supplements.
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You know it’s in: Red meat, chicken liver
Surprising sources: Iron aids in delivering oxygen to cells throughout the body, so if you don’t get enough, it can lead to fatigue and decreased immunity. But if you’re not a fan of beef, don’t panic, as this essential mineral is found in many other foods in even higher amounts.
One form of iron, called heme iron, is better absorbed by the body and found solely in animal foods, Neville explains. Crack open a can of oysters for more than three times the iron found in lean top sirloin per ounce and a heck of a lot better taste than chicken liver.
The other type of iron, nonheme, is found in plant foods such as a cup of cooked soybeans or lentils, which provide 48 percent and 37 percent of your DV, respectively. Beans, including kidney, lima, black-eye peas, and navy, will all get you at least a quarter of your daily iron per cup. And while Popeye’s favorite isn’t the best source, spinach does have a decent amount: 18 percent DV in a half cup cooked.
To help your body absorb nonheme iron, pair plant sources with vitamin C-rich foods, Neville says. For example, when making a salad with beans or lentils should include some orange segments or red bell pepper slices, or top it with a dressing made with lime or lemon juice, she suggests.
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You know it’s in: Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin
Surprising sources: Most orange fruits and vegetables are good sources of this essential vitamin, which is important for normal vision, your immune system, and reproduction, Neville says. The telling color comes from the beta-carotene, the main carotenoid found in vitamin A. And yes, cantaloupe, mango, and dried apricots are good sources, but orange isn’t the only color to eat for A. Frozen spinach boasts 229 percent of your DV in a half cup cooked, and a cup of black-eyed peas or half a cup of cooked broccoli each provide a quarter of your needs.
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You know it’s in: Sunshine
Surprising sources: This vitamin is naturally present in very few foods, but it’s crucial for calcium absorption and bone growth. While we get most of our vitamin D intake from fortified foods, excellent natural sources include cod liver oil, sockeye salmon, and canned tuna. An egg is also a good source—if you eat the yolk, which has 10 percent DV.
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You know it’s in: Fortified grains and supplements
Surprising sources: While folate is a B vitamin that’s naturally present in some foods, folic acid is the more recognized synthetic form of folate used in dietary supplements and fortified foods. All women who could become pregnant should consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid since our bodies need it to make DNA and other genetic material.
Beef liver has the most naturally occurring folate at 54 percent DV in 3 ounces—but fortunately this essential vitamin is found in foods you’ll actually want to eat: Half a cup of cooked spinach has one third of your DV, and 4 cooked asparagus spears or a half cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provide 20 percent. Romaine lettuce, avocado, and broccoli are also good sources, so think green!
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You know it’s in: Bananas, white potatoes
Surprising sources: Potassium is an important mineral that’s necessary for proper functioning of the heart, kidneys, and other organs, and may even help lower blood pressure. While there is no daily value for this mineral, the adequate intake for adults is 4,700mg daily—and very few of us meet that goal, studies show.
Surprisingly, a banana, the food we tend to associate most closely with potassium, falls pretty far down on the list of top sources with only 422mg. Even the often-cited white potatoes are outshined by sweet potatoes: One medium baked has 542mg.
Other top sources include non-fat yogurt, tomato puree, canned clams, and legumes such as white beans, soybeans, lima beans, lentils, and kidney beans. Just be sure to buy beans with no salt added since excess sodium can increase blood pressure, Neville says. Three ounces of halibut and yellowfin tuna also provide more than a banana does and are considered good sources.
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You know it’s in: Oysters
Surprising sources: Another essential mineral, zinc plays a major role in immune function, promotes wound healing, and supports normal growth and development. While 3 ounces of oysters supplies almost five times your DV, beef, Alaskan king crab, lobster, pork chops, and dark meat chicken are other good animal sources. Zinc can also be found in non-meat foods: A half cup of baked beans, 8 ounces of yogurt, and 1 ounce of cashews all provide more than 10 percent of the DV.