Vary Your Plate to Meet Vitamin and Mineral Needs
By Laura N Brown, MS, RD, LDN, ACSM-CPT
Nutrient deficiencies can affect your overall health and energy levels, making it important to fill your diet with nutrient-dense foods high in vitamins and minerals. The body can better absorb nutrients when they’re naturally present in foods, so it’s best to consume vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet rather than supplements.
How to Get All the Vitamins and Minerals Your Body Needs
One simple way to balance your diet is to follow the MyPlate method. Aim for a minimum of 3 of the 5 food groups (i.e. fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy) on your plate at all meals, and pair 2 food groups together for snacks.
How to Build a Nutrient-dense Grocery List
Consult this list before grocery shopping to ensure that you’re building a balanced plate each week.
Citrus Fruits and Berries
Add a burst of freshness to your nutrition routine with the addition of citrus fruits and berries, which are rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that acts as an antioxidant, meaning it helps protect against cellular damage.
To get your daily dose of vitamin C, mix thawed berries in plain Greek yogurt or oatmeal for a punch of natural sweetness. At snack time, reach for a convenient and portable citrus fruit like a clementine or grapefruit, or give freeze-dried strawberries a try.
Green Leafy Vegetables
It’s no secret that dark green, leafy vegetables are nutritional powerhouses. Rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, kale, spinach and collard greens (to name a few) are excellent sources of vitamins A, C, E and K.
Green leafy vegetables make a great base for a delicious salad, but this isn’t the only way to enjoy them. Consider adding chopped spinach to your eggs at breakfast or snacking on kale chips for a healthy afternoon snack.
Calcium and vitamin D are two essential nutrients that work together to promote bone health. Dairy products are the most common source of both calcium and vitamin D, since vitamin D has been fortified or added to dairy products to assist the body with calcium absorption.
Aim to consume dairy or dairy alternatives 2-3 times per day. If drinking a glass of milk isn’t appealing, consider using milk when you make your oatmeal or in your morning smoothie. Yogurt and cheese are delicious options as well. When choosing plant-based dairy, look for options that are fortified with both vitamin D and calcium.
Fun fact: The yolk of an egg is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D found in the diet. While vitamin D (or the “sunshine vitamin”) can be created by the skin through exposure to sunlight, we absorb less of this crucial vitamin when there are fewer daylight hours. This makes the addition of eggs (the whole egg) to your food routine important.
For a quick breakfast option, prep egg muffins or breakfast burritos to grab and go, or enjoy a hardboiled egg for a delicious snack. Whenever possible, pair eggs with veggies as a snack, in a scramble or on top of a salad. Eggs will help to increase absorption of other vitamins and minerals present in the vegetables.
Plant-based Proteins (Lentils, Beans and Soy)
We often think of red meat and liver as our best sources of iron, but plant-based proteins like beans and lentils are excellent sources as well. Iron is an important mineral for many functions in the body, including growth and development. Specifically, iron is used to make hemoglobin, a protein found in our blood that carries oxygen throughout the body.
Beans and lentils are great additions to soups, chilis and even tacos. Since combining plant-based proteins with vitamin C-rich foods can help to increase iron absorption, consider pairing plant proteins with vitamin C foods, like lentil pasta with a tomato-based pasta sauce.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are loaded with many nutrients, including healthy unsaturated fats, dietary fiber and magnesium. Notably, walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds are excellent sources of an omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an essential fatty acid that the human body can’t make (but needs for brain and heart health).
Pair ¼ cup of nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter with a piece of fruit for a mid-morning energy boost. Peanuts or peanut butter will help to deliver a dose of B vitamins, while almonds are rich in calcium and vitamin E. To deliver your daily dose of ALA, consider adding flaxseed or chia seeds to yogurt or oatmeal.
Fatty Fish and Shellfish
The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming 3-4 ounces of fish at least two times per week, as they provide two additional omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body can only convert a very small amount of ALA into EPA and DHA, making it essential to consume DHA and EPA from food sources to benefit your cardiovascular and mental health.
Consider selecting one day each week to enjoy fish at dinner. Try blueberry salmon for a sweet option, or use fish as the protein for taco night. If you prefer shellfish, consider oysters, scallops or shrimp. Tuna packets are another great idea for a quick and convenient snack.
Lean Animal Proteins
In addition to fish and seafood, lean animal proteins are a great source of vitamin B12, a nutrient essential for blood cell and nerve function. Many animal proteins are also an excellent source of zinc, which plays a role in supporting the immune system.
You can throw grilled chicken strips into a whole wheat wrap for a quick lunch option, or add ground turkey to tomato sauce to provide protein for pasta night.
Whole grains can deliver many key nutrients, including iron and B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid). They’re also an excellent source of dietary fiber, a non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that supports a healthy digestive system.
To add more whole grains to your diet, swap out white pasta for whole wheat pasta instead, and choose brown rice or other complex grains like quinoa or farro instead of white rice.
Wanting to create a balanced nutrition plan, but not sure where to start? Schedule a visit with a Kroger Health Registered Dietitian. Our experts can meet with you via Telenutrition to help you develop personalized nutrition goals to ensure that you’re meeting your vitamin and mineral needs.
Explore more healthy living advice from our team of experts.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.