Want to get your nutrients the natural way? We break down the best food sources for 20 of the most important.
VITAMIN A TO ZINC
To keep itself running smoothly your body requires an array of essential nutrients, ranging from disease-fighting antioxidants to bone-building heavy metals. Although you can get many of these nutrients in a daily supplement, nearly all of them can also be found in the foods you eat—or should be eating—every day.
Want to get your vitamins and minerals the natural way? Our guide breaks down the best foods for 20 of the most important nutrients (and the accompanying recipes offer healthy and tasty ways to enjoy them).
Why you need it: The vitamin A family plays a key role in immunity, reproductive behaviors and especially vision. The A vitamins, which include beta-carotene, help the retina, cornea and membranes of the eye to function properly.
Where to get it: The highest concentration of vitamin A is found in sweet potatoes; just one medium-sized baked sweet potato contains more than 28,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A, or 561% of your recommended daily value (DV). Beef liver, spinach, fish, milk, eggs and carrots also are good sources.
Why you need it: Vitamin B6 is an umbrella term for six different compounds that have similar effects on the body. These compounds metabolize foods, help form hemoglobin (part of your red blood cells), stabilize blood sugar and make antibodies that fight disease.
Where to get it: Fish, beef liver and poultry are all good sources of B6, but the food richest in this vitamin—good news for vegetarians—is the chickpea, or garbanzo bean. One cup of canned chickpeas contains 1.1 milligrams (mg) of vitamin B6, or 55% of your DV.
Why you need it: Vitamin B12 is vital for healthy nervous-system function and for the formation of DNA and red blood cells. It helps guard against anemia, a blood condition that causes fatigue and weakness.
Where to get it: Animal products are your best bet for B12. Cooked clams have the highest concentration of any food, with 84 micrograms (mcg)—a whopping 1,402% of your DV—in just 3 ounces. (One milligram equals 1,000 micrograms.) Vitamin B12 also occurs naturally in beef liver, trout, salmon and tuna, and is added to many breakfast cereals.
Why you need it: Vitamin C is an important antioxidant, and it’s also a necessary ingredient in several key bodily processes, such as protein metabolism and the synthesis of neurotransmitters.
Where to get it: Most people think citrus when they think of vitamin C, but sweet red peppers actually contain more of the vitamin than any other food: 95 mg per serving (well ahead of oranges and just edging out orange juice, at 93 mg per serving). Other good sources include kiwi fruit, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cantaloupe.
Why you need it: Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. More than 99% is stored in—and helps fortify—teeth and bones, while the remainder goes toward blood vessel and muscle function, cell communication and hormone secretion.
Where to get it: Dairy products contain the highest amounts of naturally occurring calcium; plain low-fat yogurt leads the pack with 415 mg (42% DV) per serving. Dark, leafy greens (such as kale and Chinese cabbage) are another natural source of calcium, which can also be found in fortified fruit juices and cereals.
Why you need it: Vitamin D, which our body generates on its own when our skin is exposed to sunlight, helps spur calcium absorption and bone growth. It’s also important for cell growth, immunity and the reduction of inflammation.
Where to get it: Fatty fishes—including swordfish, salmon and mackerel—are among the few naturally occurring dietary sources of vitamin D. (Cod liver oil is tops, with 1,360 IU per tablespoon, while swordfish is second with 566 IU, or 142% DV.) Most people tend to consume vitamin D via fortified foods such as milk, breakfast cereals, yogurt and orange juice.
Why you need it: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from the harmful molecules known as free radicals. It’s important for immunity, and for healthy blood vessel function and clotting (such as occurs when you cut yourself).
Where to get it: While wheat germ oil packs more vitamin E than any other food source (20.3 mg per serving, or 100% DV), most people will find it easier to get their vitamin E from sunflower seeds (7.4 mg per ounce, 37% DV) or almonds (6.8 mg per ounce, 34% DV).
Why you need it: For pregnant women, folate—a type of B vitamin—can help prevent birth defects. For everyone else, it helps new tissues and proteins form.
Where to get it: Folate is found in a wide variety of foods, including dark leafy green vegetables, fruit, nuts and dairy products. Beef liver has the highest concentration, but if liver’s not to your taste, spinach also has plenty: 131 mcg per half cup(boiled), or 33% of your DV. Folic acid, a man-made form of folate, is also added to many breads, cereals and grains.
Why you need it: Proteins in our body use this metal to transport oxygen and grow cells. Most of the body’s iron is found in hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to tissues all over the body.
Where to get it: There are two forms of dietary iron: heme iron (found in animal foods such as red meat, fish and poultry) and nonheme iron (found in plant sources like lentils and beans). Chicken liver contains the most heme iron of any food, with 11 mg per serving, or 61% of your DV.
Why you need it: Vitamin K is a crucial ingredient in coagulation, or blood clotting. Without it, your body would not be able to stop bleeding when you bruise or cut yourself.
Where to get it: Green, leafy vegetables are the best source of this vitamin, also known as phylloquinone. Kale leads the pack with 1.1 mg per cup, followed by collard greens and spinach (about 1 mg per cup), and more exotic varieties like turnip, mustard and beet greens.
Why you need it: This chemical pigment, found in red fruits and vegetables, appears to have antioxidant properties. Some studies suggest that lycopene may help guard against a range of ailments, including heart disease and several different types of cancer.
Where to get it: Tomatoes are the best-known source of lycopene, and sure enough, tomato products—such as sauces, pastes and purees—contain up to 75 mg per cup. Raw, unprocessed tomatoes aren’t as lycopene-rich, however, and watermelon actually contains more per serving: about 12 mg per wedge, versus about 3 mg per tomato.
Why you need it: Lysine, also known as l-lysine, is an amino acid that helps the body absorb calcium and form collagen for bones and connective tissue. It also plays a role in the production of carnitine, a nutrient that helps regulate cholesterol levels.
Where to get it: Protein-rich animal foods, especially red meat, are good sources of lysine, as are nuts, legumes and soybeans.
Why you need it: The body uses magnesium in more than 300 biochemical reactions. These include maintaining muscle and nerve function, keeping heart rhythm steady, and keeping bones strong.
Where to get it: Wheat bran has the highest amount of magnesium per serving (89 mg per quarter-cup, or 22% of your DV), but you have to eat unrefined grains to get the benefit; when the germ and bran are removed from wheat (as is the case with white and refined breads), the magnesium is also lost. Other good sources of the mineral include almonds, cashews and green vegetables such as spinach.
Why you need it: Niacin, like its fellow B vitamins, is important for converting food into energy. It also helps the digestive system, skin and nerves to function properly.
Where to get it: Dried yeast is a top source of niacin, but for something more appetizing, try peanuts or peanut butter; one cup of raw peanuts contains 17.6 mg, more than 100% of your DV. Beef and chicken liver are particularly niacin-rich, as well.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Why you need it: Fats get a bad rap, but certain types of fats—including omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat—are actually very healthy in moderation. Omega-3s contribute to brain health and may help reduce inflammation.
Where to get it: There are two categories of omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant sources such as vegetable oil, green vegetables, nuts and seeds, while eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—the second category—are found in fatty fish. One cup of tuna salad contains about 8.5 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Why you need it: Potassium is an essential electrolyte, needed to control the electrical activity of the heart. It is also used to build proteins and muscle, and to break down carbohydrates into energy.
Where to get it: One medium-sized baked sweet potato contains nearly700 mg of potassium. Tomato paste, beet greens and regular potatoes are also good sources, as are red meat, chicken and fish.
Why you need it: Riboflavin—yet another B vitamin—is an antioxidant that helps the body fight disease, create energy and produce red blood cells.
Where to get it: At nearly 3 milligrams per 3-ounce serving, beef liver is the richest source of naturally occurring riboflavin. Not in the mood for liver? Luckily, fortified cereals (like Total or Kellogg’s All-Bran) provide nearly as much of the vitamin in a far more convenient (and palatable) package.
Why you need it: Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties. The body only requires small amounts of it, but it plays a large role in preventing chronic diseases. It also helps regulate thyroid function and the immune system.
Where to get it: Just six to eight Brazil nuts provide 544 mcg of selenium—that’s 777% of your DV. Too much selenium can actually be harmful, however, so stick with the mineral’s number-two food source—canned tuna (68 mg per 3 ounces, or 97% DV)—except on special occasions.
Why you need it: Thiamin, also known as vitamin B1, helps the body turn carbohydrates into energy. It’s also an important nutrient for keeping the brain and nervous system running properly.
Where to get it: As with riboflavin, dried yeast is the best food source for thiamin, containing 11 mg per 100-gram serving. However, you may find it easier to get your fill of thiamin with runners-up pine nuts (1.2 mg per serving) and soybeans (1.1 mg).
Why you need it: Zinc has been shown to play a role in immune function (you’ve probably seen it in cold remedies), and it’s also important for your senses of taste and smell.
Where to get it: Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food (74 mg per serving, or nearly 500% of DV), but people more often consume zinc in red meat and poultry. Three ounces of beef chuck roast, for example, contains 7 mg. Alaska King crab is a good source of the mineral, as well.
While big biceps and strong six-packs might be weight room headliners, these underrated muscles can literally stop the show.
There they are, every day, helping you walk forward, sit up straight and keep your eyes on the road, but when it comes time to hit the gym, you might overlook these crucial muscles, and that might lead to injury or pain in the future. We gathered together a panel of Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute experts and trainers to get their votes on the most ignored muscle groups.
“People tend to neglect the muscles we can’t see in the mirror,” says Adam Friedman. But important muscle groups are back there—ones that are vital for good posture and everyday activities, like walking and bending. Robert Reames, head fitness trainer on the Dr. Phil Show, concurs: “These are the muscles you normally don’t start training until you’re in physical rehab for back pain or some other injury.”
It’s all about balance, explains Dr. Eric Plasker, author of The 100 Year Lifestyle. “If you favor certain muscle groups over others, it causes the spine and nerves to age much more quickly and leads to injury,” he says. “Just like with the tires on your car, you can wear down your body unevenly.”
Below are our findings. Luckily, many of these muscles can be strengthened with simple moves that can be done while you type away at a computer or channel surf. These few extra moves are like flossing—they might not seem critical at first, but they’ll pay off in the long run.
Click on the glowing circles to find out why these muscles are essential and how you can start training them.
The Lifestyle In college, I played basketball and was in awesome shape. I weighed about 145 pounds, and frequent practices kept me working out all the time. After I graduated, got married, and had a baby, my weight stayed around 165 pounds. During my first pregnancy, I ate really healthy, exercised however I could, and did all the stuff you're supposed to do when you're pregnant. When the final 20 pounds of baby weight didn't come off, I didn't worry about it. I was more focused on trying to be a good mom than getting back into shape.
(Looking for a program that will help you get a flat tummy—and keep it that way? With our Lose Belly Fat—For Good routines, you can see results in as little as two weeks.)
Shortly after reaching 165 pounds, I got pregnant with my second baby and I put on more weight. Then, while I was still pregnant, we moved across the country for my husband's job, and I started using fast food as a crutch when I didn't feel like cooking. Worrying about my diet kind of went out the window.
When my second baby was born, I started going to Gold's Gym and taking Zumba classes, which I really loved. The weight started coming off slowly, but by my second daughter's first birthday, I weighed 186 pounds. I realized that the weight I'd gained from my pregnancy was no longer baby weight; it was all mine.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF JOHNELLE BURNETT
The Change I was sick of spending so much time (years!) trying to lose weight. I wanted to drop it and then spend years maintaining it instead. When I saw posters for a 12-week body transformation challenge at my gym, I thought, "I want to do this, and I want to win it by losing the most weight." I signed up that day.
When I started the challenge, I met with my trainer and she made a meal and exercise plan for me. It was so nice to have some direction. She taught me things I would have never known, like how to change my diet if I hit a plateau.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF JOHNELLE BURNETT
When I first started, I couldn’t even do 20 situps. It was so hard to realize that because I was a college athlete and I knew what my body was capable of. But my trainer cheered me on and kept me motivated.
I started working out six days a week for 90 minutes to two hours a day by taking classes like high intensity interval training, weight lifting, cycling, and Pilates. I also worked out with my trainer.
On top of that, I completely overhauled my diet. On the first day, we got a handout of what we could and couldn't eat. We had to be done eating for the day by 6 p.m. and had to cut way back on sugar and foods that were high in carbohydrates. We focused on eating non-processed foods, whole grains, and lean protein. Let me tell you—it wasn't easy!
We had a bunch of cool recipes we could make, but they were so time-consuming. The first week, I tried making a cauliflower crust pizza. I spent hours doing it, and when I took the first bite, I started crying because it tasted so bad.
From that point on, I started going basic. I would steam broccoli and bake my chicken with coconut oil or make a salad with Greek yogurt as dressing. As time went on, my taste buds started changing, and eventually I started to love eating healthy foods. By the end of the first week, I'd lost about four pounds.
12 weeks later, I'd lost 42 pounds, nearly 30 percent of my body weight, and won the Gold's Gym challenge for my age and gender.
Now that I've got my dream body, I maintain it by exercising six days a week—I consider it my "me time"—and eating what I want in moderation. I'm eating carbs all the time and let myself sugar again. I usually eat two super healthy meals a day and one that's not as healthy, like real pizza. I'm also setting new goals to train for a half-marathon and eventually a half Iron Man race. Those events keep me motivated to train and eat right to fuel my workouts.
I'm not scared of gaining weight because I know that I can lose it again. That being said, I weigh myself every so often to make sure that I'm staying somewhere in my healthy range between 140 and 145. If I'm on the low end, I'll be more lenient with what I eat. If I'm on the high end, I'll keep a better eye on what’s going in my mouth.
The Reward This is beyond what I ever thought I could accomplish. Doing the 12-week challenge has helped me learn to push myself to accomplish new things like the races I plan on doing.
Johnelle's Tips Set goals. I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't overweight just because I had kids, and my gym's challenge made me work to accomplish that. Whether it's a race, a goal weight, or a family reunion, it's important to find something that motivates you to push yourself. Then, stick with your weight-loss plan.
Invest in a trainer. They probably have more resources than you do. My trainer knew so much more about my capabilities than I did. She really gave me all the tools I needed to transform my body, and I still use her advice now that the challenge is over.
Track your food. This really helped me stay on point with what I was eating and kept me accountable.
GGX Schedule for Thursday, Jan.28 AM: Spin Bike (Gerald)-5:45am-6:45am Functional Fitness (Aaron,Valerie) -8:30am-9:30am Zumba (Nats)-9:30am-10:30am PM:TRX (Ferleen)-5:00pm-5:30pm Abs/Core (Ferleen)- 5:42pm-6:20pm Spin Bike (JP)- 5:15pm-6:15pm Zumba (Elly)-6:30pm-7:30pm