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Food and nutrients you should be eating, A-Z

Maggie Giuffrida is a graduate of The University of Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism. She is a contributing writer for SheKnows, specializing in health and fitness. Maggie is a certified yoga instructor and health and well...

Healthy foods and nutrients your body needs from A to Z

Not only is food a source of energy for all our bodily functions, but it also directly affects how our body and mind feel and operate, including thought patterns, physical activity, growth and healing.

"Your diet provides the nutrition you need at every life stage for body function and day-to-day health," writes Nancy Clark in an article for Jillian Michaels' official website. "If you want to avoid colds, flus, dental problems, bone fractures, breathing trouble and many more health issues, pay attention to the nutrition that you get from your diet every day."

So, here's a list of some of the most important foods and nutrients your body needs, all the way from A to Z.

Healthy foods and nutrients your body needs from A to Z

More: 21 Ingredients that shouldn't be on your food label

Vitamin A

Why you need it: Plays a major role in the immune system, reproductive behaviors and eye vision

Get it from: Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, cantaloupe, sweet red peppers, broccoli and tomatoes

Vitamin B6

Why you need it: Helps metabolize food, forms hemoglobin and stabilizes blood sugar, making antibodies for fighting disease

Get it from: Chickpeas or garbanzo beans, fish and chicken

Vitamin B12

Why you need it: Necessary for proper function of the nervous system and formation of DNA and red blood cells

Get it from: Clams, trout, salmon and tuna

Vitamin C

Why you need it: Powerful antiaging properties and protection from damage caused by free radicals — also a booster for the immune system, an important nutrient for good eye health and necessary for several key bodily processes, like protein metabolism and synthesis of neurotransmitters

Get it from: Fruits and veggies, such as red peppers, citrus, kiwi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cantaloupe

Calcium

Why you need it: Most essential mineral for human body; helps form blood vessels; and aids in muscle function, cell communication and hormone secretion

Get it from: Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese — or nonfat milk, soy milk or almond milk if you are sensitive to lactose or intolerant. Also found in dark, leafy greens, like spinach and kale, nuts and seeds

Chia

Why you need it: Superfood packed with magnesium, iron, calcium and potassium; helps the body stay hydrated longer; and may improve overall endurance

Get it from: Perfect addition to your morning smoothies, yogurt and pudding

Vitamin D

Why you need it: Helps spur calcium absorption and bone growth, and also useful for cell growth, immunity and reduction of inflammation

Get it from: Fatty fish, swordfish and salmon, or milk, yogurt, cheese and orange juice

Dates

Why you need them: Packed with fiber, potassium, selenium, copper and magnesium

Get it from: Perfect healthy recipe substitution for sugar and/or butter in baking

Vitamin E

Why you need it: Powerful antioxidant; protects the cells from free radicals; and plays a key role in immunity, normal functioning of blood vessels and clotting

Get it from: Wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds and almonds

Eggs

Why you need them: One of the best superfoods with just 70 calories and 6 grams of protein per egg. It's rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help with proper body function and heart health and protect the eyes from light and free radicals.

Folic acid

Why you need it: Useful for pregnant women to prevent birth defects — as it is involved in cell production and guards against a certain type of anemia — and also helps form new tissues and proteins

Get it from: Dark, leafy green vegetables (like spinach), fruits, nuts, dairy products and lentils

Fiber

Why you need it: Good for digestion, lowering cholesterol and maintaining blood sugar levels

Get it from: Fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole grain breads and cereals, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, millet and barley

Flaxseed

Why you need it: Helps lower cholesterol, reduces the risk of heart disease, and has a high fiber content

Get it from: Add flaxseed to your morning smoothies or use it in your baking recipes.

Ginger

Why you need it: Effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress and possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects. Ginger helps to reduce nausea and vomiting, is an anti-inflammatory, protects against colon cancer, kills ovarian cancer cells and stimulates the immune system.

Get it from: Fresh ginger root, dried ginger powder or ginger tea

H2O

Why you need it: Helps maintain the balance of body fluids, energizes muscles, controls calorie intake, rejuvenates skin, keeps the kidneys working efficiently, and maintains normal bowel function

Use it in: If you're not a fan of regular H2O, then try infusing your water with some citrus, like lemons, limes and oranges.

Hemp

Why you need it: Full of essential vitamins, fatty acids and protein and may help fight coronary heart disease, cancer and even symptoms of depression

Get it from: Add it to smoothies, yogurt and pudding.

Iron

Why you need it: Responsible for transporting oxygen to cells and tissues throughout the body

Get it from: Animal foods such as red meat, fish, eggs and poultry, as well as oatmeal, soybeans, kidney beans, lentils and edamame

Jalapeño peppers

Why you need them: Packed with capsaicin — which helps speed up metabolism and suppress appetite — and increase fat oxidation, so the body can more easily use fat as fuel

Get it from: Add these peppers to chicken dishes and salads or try using them in sauces and dips.

Vitamin K

Why you need it: Enables the body to stop bleeding when cut and helps the body heal

Get it from: Leafy, green vegetables, collard greens, spinach, turnips, mustard and beet greens

Kiwi

Why you need it: Contains a massive amount of vitamin C, is a fantastic source of folate — which is essential for overall cell health — and may reduce the risk of heart disease and colon cancer

Get it from: Add it to your morning smoothie or fruit and yogurt parfait.

Lycopene

Why you need it: Helps guard against ailments such as heart disease and several types of cancer

Get it from: Tomatoes and watermelon

Lysine

Why you need it: Helps the body absorb calcium and form collagen and also helps regulate cholesterol levels in the body

Get it from: Protein-rich animal foods, especially red meat, nuts, legumes and soybeans

Magnesium

Why you need it: Maintains muscle and nerve functionality, keeps heart rhythm steady and bones strong

Get it from: Almonds, cashews and spinach

Niacin

Why you need it: Plays key role for converting food to energy and helps the digestive system, skin and nerves to function properly

Get it from: Peanuts, peanut butter, beef, chicken and shrimp

Omega-3 fatty acids

Why you need it: Contributes to brain health and helps reduce inflammation

Get it from: Plant sources, such as vegetable oil, green veggies, nuts and seeds, and also found in fatty fish (like tuna) and some yogurts

Potassium

Why you need it: Plays a key role in maintaining muscles, nerves and fluid balance; promotes strong bones and energy production by breaking down carbohydrates; and helps lower blood pressure

Get it from: Bananas, orange juice, broccoli, cantaloupe, baked sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beet greens, red meat, chicken and fish

Quinoa

Why you need it: A good source of protein, fiber, iron, lysine, magnesium, riboflavin (B2) and manganese

Use it in: Incorporate more quinoa into your diet by using it in place of heavier carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, pasta or rice. You can also put quinoa in smoothies, add it to salads or use it to make your own energy bars.

Riboflavin

Why you need it: Helps the body fight disease, create energy and produce red blood cells

Get it from: Milk, beef, eggs, nuts and asparagus

Selenium

Why you need it: Plays major role in preventing chronic diseases and helps regulate thyroid function and the immune system. Note: Too much selenium can be harmful, so it's recommended to only consume small amounts.

Get it from: Brazil nuts and canned tuna

Thiamine

Why you need it: Helps the body turn carbohydrates into energy and keeps the brain and nervous system running properly

Get it from: Dried yeast, pine nuts and soybeans

Tea

Why you need it: Boosts endurance, reduces the risk of cardiovascular issues and may help fight certain types of cancer

Ugli fruit

Why you need it: A cross between a grapefruit, Seville orange and tangerine, this fruit contains about 140 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C with only about 90 calories.

Get it from: Use it in a fruit smoothie.

Apple cider vinegar

Why you need it: Apple cider vinegar has been credited with curing everything from the flu to warts. While not all of its benefits have been proven true, experts do agree that adding a splash of vinegar to your diet can help with weight loss and management, control diabetes and blood sugar levels and aid in digestion.

Get it from: Add it to homemade pickles, marinades and salad dressings

Watercress

Why you need it: Contains high levels of antioxidants, as well as vitamins A and C and beta-carotene; improves appetite and digestion; enhances sexual arousal; helps kill germs; and has been linked to lowered rates of cancer risk

Get it from: Toss some raw watercress (which you can typically find at your local market) in a salad with olive oil and vinegar to improve digestion and proper assimilation of nutrients.

Xigua (aka watermelon)

Why you need it: Xigua is a specific type of watermelon, so it's naturally high in vitamins A and C, as well as the amino acid citrulline, which helps the body produce another amino acid arginine. It can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus, it's a great source of lycopene and can protect the body from UV rays, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer.

Get it from: Eat it as a snack or use it in smoothies and salads.

Yams

Why you need them: Low on the glycemic index — meaning they can be consumed without negatively affecting blood sugar levels, making them great for sustaining energy. Also a great source of fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese

Use it in: Bake, roast or toss into vegetables dishes.

Zinc

Why you need it: Plays a key role in immune function, also important for sensing taste and smell

Get it from: Oysters, red meat and poultry

Zucchini

Why you need it: Packed with vitamins C and B6, potassium, manganese and folate; low in calories; and has a high water content, making it great for hydrating

Get it from: Use it to make zucchini bread or add it to savory grilled dishes. You can even use zucchini in place of spaghetti by preparing zucchini noodles.

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