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If you are considering or new to a plant based / vegan diet and want to make sure you are getting proper nutrition, or if you are concerned that your vegan loved one may be suffering malnourishment, this article is for you. Plant based / vegan sources of vitamins and minerals are easy to obtain eating a variety of fresh whole plant foods. In this article I’ll discuss what micronutrients are, what the recommended daily intake for each vitamin and mineral is, the role each micronutrient plays in your bodies functioning, and where the vitamin is found in plants, sun beams, or the soil.
Micronutrients: Vitamins and Minerals Essential to Health
While macronutrients–including sugar, fat, protein, water, and fiber–are required in noticeably big amounts for good health, micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals our bodies need in relatively small amounts to be healthy. The amounts are generally so small we hardly notice these parts of our food, but they are critical for our bodies to function properly.
Recommended Daily Intake for Vitamins and Minerals
There are 12 vitamins and 14 minerals included in the Dietary Reference Intake guidelines currently used by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Canada. These guidelines establish recommended daily intake (RDI), in milligrams (mg) and micrograms (mcg), for each nutrient. This value is supposedly the amount of each nutrient needed to meet the requirements of 98% of the population. The RDI is used to calculate the percent of daily value for nutrients found on the Nutrition Facts label on food products.
A Plant Based, Vegetarian, or Vegan Diet is Endorsed by the American Dietetic Association
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
For optimal health it is advised that you consume a diet rich in nutrient dense foods. Nutrient dense foods have high concentrations of vitamins and minerals essential for wellness. Plant foods are the most nutrient-dense foods available to people. Below is a list of the vitamins and minerals that make up the essential nutrients recommended by the USDA. Next to each is the recommended daily intake (RDI), how the vitamin or mineral helps the body function, and where you can find this nutrient in plants or from the sun. The list of micronutrients is not exactly complete since some nutrients have no such established recommended value. Organic sulfur and phytonutrients are examples of essential nutrients that are abundant in fresh plant foods, but are not included in these government recommendations.
PLANT BASED SOURCES OF VITAMINS
Vitamin A, RDI: 900mcg
Body Function: Forms and maintains healthy bones, teeth, skin, mucous membranes, and soft tissue.
Plant Source: Carrots, winter squashes (acorn and butternut), sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach, kale, turnip greens, broccoli, red bell peppers, and other greens.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), RDI: 1.5 mg
Body Function: Assists body in turning carbohydrates into energy and also is essential for heart function and healthy nerve cells.
Plant Source: Legumes, whole grains, oats, and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B2 (Roboflavin), RDI: 1.7 mg
Body Function: Body growth and red blood cell production.
Plant Source: Greens, yeast, beans, cereals, whole grains, spinach, broccoli, wheat germ, and mushrooms.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin), RDI: 20 mg
Body Function: Maintains healthy skin and nerves and has cholesterol-lowering effects.
Plant Source: Tomato, broccoli, peppers, legumes, brown rice, green vegetables, potatoes, leafy greens.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid), RDI: 10 mg
Body Function: Essential for metabolism of food and plays a role in production of cholesterol and hormones.
Plant Source: Bananas, oranges, whole grain cereals, legumes, mushrooms, peanuts, soybeans, avocados, sunflower seeds, cooked collard greens, baked potato, and broccoli.
Vitamin B6, RDI: 2 mg
Body Function: Helps the body form red blood cells and helps make neurotransmitters which carry brain signals from one cell to the other to maintain brain functions; also important to making the hormones serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin which influence mood and the body’s internal clock.
Plant Source: Bananas, whole grains, legumes, nuts, soybeans, and watermelon.
Vitamin B12, RDI: 6 mcg
Body Function: Important to metabolism, red blood cells, and the central nervous system.
Plant Source: B12 is unique in that plants, animals, and fungi are unable to produce it. Bacteria are the producers of B12 and generally this bacterial growth is happening in the dirt or soil. Widespread B12 deficiency has been linked to decreased vegetable consumption and increased washing of fruits and vegetables. If you were growing and harvesting your food, consuming small amounts of dirt, you would meet your B12 requirement. But if since you probably prefer your food super clean, nori, tempeh, nutritional yeast and B12-fortified nondairy milks and cereals are good sources of B12.
Vitamin C, RDI: 60 mg
Body Function: Antioxidant promoting healthy teeth and gums; helps the body absorb iron, maintain healthy tissue, and heal wounds.
Plant/Sun Source: Berries, melon, papaya, strawberries, oranges/orange juice, grapefruit, tomatoes, Bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, potatoes, romaine lettuce, watercress, and other greens.
Vitamin D, RDI: 400 IU (10mcg)
Body Function: Helps the body absorb calcium to maintain healthy teeth and bones and maintain proper balance of nutrients in blood.
Sun Source: Sunlight on skin — 10-30 minutes, three times a week (depending on complexion).
Vitamin E, RDI: 30 IU
Body Function: Antioxidfant helps form red blood cells and helps the body use Vitamin K.
Plant Source: Leafy greens, spinach, sunflower seeds, raw wheat germ, nuts, peanuts, whole grains including whole wheat flour.
Vitamin K, RDI: 80 mcg
Body Function: Essential for blood to coagulate (stick together) and for promoting bone health.
Plant Source: Green leafy vegetables, spinach, turnip greens, kale, parsley, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, soybeans, cabbage, green tea, and tomatoes.
Choline, RDI: 425-550 mg
Body Function: Essential for healthy liver function and brain development.
Plant Source: Bananas, apples, oranges, dates, raisins, avocado, oats, soy and almond milks, lettuce, nuts, raisins, beans, carrots, avocado, tomatoes, potatoes, and seeds.
PLANT BASED SOURCES OF MINERALS
Biotin, RDI: 300 mcg
Body Function: Essential for helping enzymes with metabolism and also for gene expression.
Plant Source: Almonds, onions, legumes, whole grains, breads, yeast, almonds, peanuts, onions.
Calcium, RDI: 1,000 mg
Body Function: Healthy teeth and bones, helps muscles contract and relax, important to blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health, and nerve functioning.
Plant Source: Broccoli, green leafy vegetables (such as kale, bok choy, collard and turnip greens), tofu, blackstrap molasses, chickpeas, many beans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, flax seeds, brazil nuts, dried figs, and dried fruit.
Chromium, RDI: 120 mcg
Body Function: Works with insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels.
Plant Source: Apples, whole grains, nuts, broccoli, peanuts, cooked spinach, and mushrooms.
Copper, RDI: 2,000 mcg
Body Function: Needed for iron metabloism and part of many enzymes.
Plant Source: Nuts and seeds, whole grains, dried beans, and mushrooms.
Folic Acid (folate), RDI: 400 mcg
Body Function: Essential for proper brain functioning and emotional and mental health.
Plant Source: Oranges, spinach, romaine lettuce, legumes, lentils, whole grains, and asparagus.
Iodine, RDI: 150 mcg
Body Function: Found in thyroid hormone which helps regulate metabolism, growth, and development.
Plant Source: Cranberries, strawberries, potatoes, navy beans, iodine-rich sea vegetables, kelp, vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil.
Iron, RDI: 18 mg
Body Function: Part of hemoglobin found in red blood cells that carries oxygen to body; necessary for metabolism.
Plant Source: Watermelon, dried fruits, prune juice, green leafy vegetables, tomato sauce, sea vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, blackstrap molasses, spinach, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal and whole grains.
Magnesium, RDI: 400 mg
Body Function: Found in bones and needed for muscle contraction, making protein, nerve ttansmission and immune system health.
Plant Source: Bananas, dried figs, brown rice, cooked spinach, beans and lentils, nuts, broccoli, cooked oatmeal, wheat germ/bran, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and peanuts.
Manganese, RDI: 2 mg
Body Function: Part of many enzymes.
Plant Source: Strawberries, pineapple, almonds, brown rice and whole grains, cereals, cooked oatmeal, wheat germ, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, cooked spinach & kale, onions, and avocados.
Molybdenum, RDI: 1000 mg
Body Function: Part of many enzymes.
Plant Source: Beans, breads, cereals, cooked spinach, and strawberries.
Phosophorus, RDI: 1000 mg
Body Function: Important for healthy teeth and bones. Part of the system maintaining an acid-base balance.
Plant Source: Avocados, beans, lentils, brown rice, cereal grains, almonds, nuts, dried beans, peas, peanuts, spinach, many vegetables.
Potassium (K), RDI: 80 mcg
Body Function: Proper fluid banlance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction.
Plant Source: Raisins, bananas, raw and cooked spinach, potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, winter squash, raw cauliflower, avocados, kiwifruit, dried fruits, tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and dried apricots.
Selenium, RDI: 70 mcg
Body Function: Antioxidant.
Plant Source: Brazil nuts, whole grains, kidney beans (depending on the soil they are grown in), and yeast.
Zinc, RDI: 15 mg
Body Function: Part of many enzymes; necessary for making protein and DNA. Has function in production of sperm, normal fetal development, wound healing, normal growth and sexual maturation, immune system health, and making protein.
Plant Source: Spinach, peas, pumpkin seeds, corn, whole grains, legumes, lentils, soy, nuts, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, yeast, garbanzo beans, and raw collard greens.
Sources: 1. Food and Nutrition Board, Inst. of Med., Dietary... 2. Jack Norris, RD, Choline 3. The New York Times, Health Guide, Vitamins 4. The World's Healthiest Foods, Vitamin B1 - Thiamin 5. Web MD, Minerals: Their Functions and Sources 6. The World's Healthiest Foods, What's New and Beneficial About Onions 7. Pop Sugar, RDI vs. RDA 8. University of Maryland, Vitamin B9 (Folic acid) 9. Nutrients, Vitamin B12-Containing Plant Food Sources for Vegetarians 10. Oregon State University, Biotin 11. Self Nutrition Data, Bananas Raw Nutrition Facts and Calories 12. Healing With Plants, Plant Based Sources of Essential Micronutrients 13. Journal of American Dietetics Association, Position of the American Dietetic...