For a long time, I’ve cheated. I’ll admit it. I bought into the idea that synthetic vitamins or minerals would make up for an insufficient diet. I mean, they’re the same nutrients, right? No, they’re not. And in some cases, they may be worse for you than not taking them. There’s a lot of research (see link) supporting that idea.
Slowly, after discovering the work of Ray Peat and Danny Roddy, I realized most nutrients could come from diet as long as I’m eating the “right” foods. And by “right” I don’t just mean the token “eat lots of fruits and vegetables” diet. A nutritious diet is made up of a wide variety of foods – both plant and animal. You get a lot more bang for the buck from certain foods as my tables show below.
In making these tables, I tried to leave out “non-foods” in a lot of cases. Except for where there weren’t many other choices high in a given nutrient. For example, if you look up foods high in Niacin, a lot of sites aren’t smart enough to filter out the foods that have synthetic Niacin added such as Marmite, Vegemite (yeast extract) or a fortified cereal. If you don’t believe me, look at the ingredients of those products – they’ll have niacinamide listed as an ingredient meaning it’s not native to the food.
There are a few multivitamins that claim to be from whole foods – MegaFood, Garden of Life, or New Chapter. While they may be from food, a lot of them still use Brewer’s yeast to make the B vitamins. Brewer’s yeast gives me awful gas. I’ve used these, and perhaps, they are better than their synthetic counterparts, I don’t know. I do know when I use synthetic Riboflavin, it makes me piss radioactive orange. When I eat cheese or beef (high in Riboflavin), I do not.
Over at Doctor’s Research, the writer makes great points in the differences between food and synthetic vitamins. For example, folic acid (synthetic) is different from folate. Ascorbate is different from ascorbic acid. Additionally, a lot of derivatives from manufacture could remain such as coal tar, methanol, or formaldehyde. Not only that, many synthetic vitamins come with fillers, excipients or binders to help with the manufacture. Though, Dan Wich’s toxinless.com is a site that helps you avoid those.
As far as minerals go, a lot of mineral supplements are mined rocks that are chemically processed / bound to an acid or an amino acid. Minerals in a food just exist with the lipids, carbohydrates or amino acids within the plant, they are not bound to oxides, picolinates or phosphates. This other part of ingested mineral could lead to toxicity or incompatibility with the body. Generally, if the mineral has two names it is manufactured in some way. Plants absorb minerals in salt form with water from the soil through root hair cells sized somewhere between 15 and 17 micrometers (1 X 10^-6 meters). This is very small. This implies that minerals from food are much smaller in size than rocks processed with an acid, and possibly easier to digest and use by cells which are also 10-100 micrometers in size. I experienced selenium toxicity (hair falling out, nails brittle) from using selenomethionine. The risk of experiencing toxicity from food minerals is much lower even in diets high in a given mineral.
Getting on with it, here are foods high in first fat soluble vitamins. I broke out those different forms where I felt it was useful. Such as caretenoids are not nearly as effective as retinoids. The amount of Vitamin D you can get from the Sun’s UV rays depends on how clear the sky is and your location. Use the calculator here to figure out how much you need to satisfy minimum requirements. Note that Vitamin E can be fairly hard to get with a low PUFA diet, possibly requiring supplementation with a good vitamin E product. For more information on tocotrienols (the not well-known form of E), read here. Vitamin K1 is not nearly as effective as K2.
Continuing on, here are the foods highest in water soluble vitamins. I tried to remove most high PUFA or difficult to digest foods from this list. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds frequently show up on lists for B vitamins. Unfortunately, both of them are high in PUFA, and can irritate the gut. Thiamine is difficult to get if you’re mainly eating beef or dairy for your nutrients. Notice how consistently liver shows up on this list. It truly is a superfood. Vitamin C can also be fat soluble and is found in liver as well.
And on to the minerals. Yawn – minerals, right? Well, a lot of the above vitamins can be formed by the body (your gut specifically) from things you eat. Not the same with minerals. If you don’t eat these, you don’t get these. As you can see, potassium can be hard to get while most of the other macro minerals are relatively easy. If you’re not eating oysters, you’re going to have trouble getting enough copper and zinc unless you regularly eat red meat. Chromium, Boron and Sulphor do not have recommended daily allowances, but they are important for metabolism, bone health, and detoxification respectively. Brazil nuts are very high in selenium, and it doesn’t take much to reach your RDA. Unfortunately, they are also high in PUFA and phytic acid.
In summary, look to food first and supplements second. In the instant gratification world we live, it’s difficult to take the slow, more difficult route than just ordering something off of Amazon hoping for it to change your life. The charts above will help you make decisions to get your nutrients from food.