Plant Sources Of Vitamins And Minerals
Plant Sources Of Vitamins And Minerals
During a nutritional consultation I am often asked what are the best plant sources of vitamins and minerals. So I put together this guide which is a good resource to have for a well-nourished healthy balanced diet. Herbs are also a powerful source of vitamins and minerals and a herbal tonic and herbal nutritional powder are a great way of supplementing your diet to get your daily amount of vitamins and minerals not to mention the added benefits of their anti-oxidant and photochemical properties.
A person can obtain all the vitamins they need from a balanced and varied diet. Vitamins are required in small amounts but are essential for many processes in our bodies. Vitamins are classified in 2 groups: fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K and water-soluble vitamins – C and B vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, folate, biotin and pantothenic acid. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body which means dietary sources are not needed every day. Excessive intakes of some fat-soluble vitamins can accumulate causing harm to the body. The body is less able to store water-soluble vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B12 which is stored in the liver) which means a dietary source is required daily. In general the body readily excretes any excess water soluble vitamins but very high intakes of vitamin B6 and niacin can have adverse effects.
Cooking & storage of vitamin rich foods
Perishable foods should be eaten as fresh as possible to gain the most nutritional value. Eating local, seasonal produce will also help to ensure the freshness of your food. Grains, flours, pulses and dried fruit should be stored in air-tight containers in a cool dark place. Heat, light and air interact with vitamins in foods with losses and damage occurring during cooking and storage. To reduce oxidation (exposure to air) of prepared vegetables, cut vegetables into big chunks and avoid shredding, grating and pureeing. The amount of vitamin C and B’s is most likely to be reduced during cooking. If cooking, steaming vegetables is the best method for retaining vitamins and minerals. Exposure to air can affect the vitamin E content in oils, nuts and seeds if they are kept for too long.
Vitamin A (and beta-carotene)
Vitamin A is required for healthy skin, tissue development and has an important role in reproduction, embryonic development, growth, infection resistance and vision in dim light. Beta-carotene is found in plant foods and can be converted to retinol by the body. Carrots, squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach and broccoli), red peppers, tomatoes, and yellow fruits such as apricots, mango and peaches are the most concentrated food sources of beta-carotene. Vitamin A is stable to heat but not when air is present.
Vitamin B1 Thiamin
Thiamin is necessary for breaking down and using energy from food e.g. carbohydrates as well as maintaining normal function of the nervous system. Thiamin is widely available in brown rice, wholemeal bread, green peas, nuts (macadamia), potatoes, sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast. Alcohol impairs the absorption of thiamin. Thiamin is unstable and easily lost if sodium bicarbonate is used in baking and if sulphur dioxide is used as a preservative.
Vitamin B2 Riboflavin
Riboflavin is necessary for growth, tissue respiration and maintaining the integrity of mucous membranes, skin, eyes and the nervous system. Riboflavin is present in small amounts in most food but is mainly obtained nutritional yeast, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach), mushrooms, almonds and sesame seeds.
Vitamin B3 Niacin
Niacin is needed for energy production, fatty acid metabolism, tissue respiration and many other metabolic pathways. Niacin is present in nutritional yeast, green peas, sunflower seeds, peanuts, avocados and coffee beans. Niacin is an exceptionally stable B vitamin.
Vitamin B6 Pyridoxine
Pyridoxine is essential for protein metabolism, in particular the conversion of tryptophan to niacin. Pyridoxine is present in wholegrains such as brown rice, oatmeal, potatoes, bananas, soya beans, pulses, nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, avocado, spinach and pistachio nuts. Pyridoxine absorption may be reduced with consumption of orange juice and wheat bran.
Vitamin B12 Cobalamin
Vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell formation, growth and a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B12 is not found in plants except from microbial contamination. A slight deficiency of vitamin B-12 can lead to anaemia, fatigue, mania, and depression, while a long term deficiency can cause permanent damage to the brain and central nervous system. Vitamin B12 can only be manufactured by bacteria the main sources are fortified plant foods including soya products, cereals, veggie burger mixes, some nutritional yeasts. Low vitamin B12 levels can cause anaemia but this can be masked if folate intake is high.
Biotin Vitamin H or co-emzyme R
Biotin is involved in fat metabolism and energy production. Biotin is produced by bacteria in our gut. Your body needs biotin to metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Biotin is often recommended for strengthening hair and nails. Biotin is also important for normal embryonic growth, making it a critical nutrient during pregnancy. Dietary sources include nuts (almonds, walnut & pecans), beans, black eyed peas, cauliflower, bananas, mushrooms and nutritional yeast. Absorption of biotin can be impaired by avidin, a substance in raw egg white, if large quantities are consumed. Food-processing techniques can destroy biotin.
Lycopene is currently the most powerful antioxidant which has been measured in food and is thought to play a role in preventing cancer and heart disease. How large a protective role lycopene plays is a controversial issue which is still under scientific study. Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives many fruits and vegetables their red colour, eating lycopene in excess amounts can cause the skin and liver to have a yellow colour. Dietary sources include watermelons, tomatoes, grapefruit, red peppers, red cabbage and carrots.
Folate, derived from folic acid, supports red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis and together with vitamin B12 is essential for cell division. Pregnant women require additional intakes of folate to reduce the risk of neural tude defects, such as spina bifida. Folate is present in potatoes, pulses (e.g. chickpeas, black-eyed beans), leafy green vegetables (e.g. broccoli & spinach), nuts, nutritional yeast and fruits such as oranges and bananas. Folate bioavailability may be reduced by consuming milk and wheat bran.
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Pantothenic acid has a central role in energy metabolism. Pantothenic acid is present in peanuts, Nutritional yeast and green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, avocados and sunflower seeds. Large amounts of pantothenic acid can be lost during cooking.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen and in turn the structure and maintenance of blood vessels, connective tissue and cartilage. It provides resistance to infection and is an important antioxidant. For vegetarians who have a relatively high-fibre diet vitamin C plays a key role in non-haem iron absorption. Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits, strawberries, guava, berries, currants, fruit juice, potatoes and nuts. Vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, kale and green peppers are rich sources but large amounts of the vitamin are lost during food storage, preparation and cooking.
Vitamin D influences calcium absorption and ensures continuous mineralisation of bones and teeth by supporting calcium blood levels. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is produced by the action of sunlight on our skin and found in some fortified products. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is derived from plant sources and used in fortified products. For most people the recommended exposure to sunlight provides adequate levels of vitamin D. Excessive intakes of vitamin D can cause excessive absorption of calcium which can damage the kidneys.Vitamin D is found in fortified foods such as soya milk and wholegrains. Also found in mushrooms. But the best source is getting out in the sun a little each day if possible.
Vitamin E is a group of 8 fat-soluble vitamins which help prevent oxidative stress to the body, and other vitamins within the body. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant which protects cells, in particular DNA and polyunsaturated fatty acids, from the effects of free radicals. Dietary sources of vitamin E come from sunflower seeds, almonds, tofu, and olive oil. High intakes of vitamin E from supplements can interfere with the function of vitamin K leading to problems with blood clotting.
Vitamin K is stored in the liver and plays an essential role in blood clotting. Vitamin K is also important in the production of some proteins which are required for bone formation, renal function and connective tissues. Vitamin K is present in dark leafy greens such as cabbage, kale, spinach and broccoli, olive oil, but not corn or sunflower oil. Human gut bacteria can also synthesise a form of vitamin K.
Minerals & Trace Elements
Minerals and trace elements are required in small amounts but are essential for processes in the body. They are necessary for tissue structure, enzyme systems, fluid balance, cellular function and neurotransmission. Minerals required in milligram quantities are referred to as ‘minerals’, but those required in microgram (smaller) quantities are known as ‘trace elements’.
Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, is required to develop and maintain skeletal structures. 99% of calcium is deposited in bones and teeth, constantly being withdrawn and re-deposited at controlled rates. The remaining 1% is necessary for cell membranes, enzyme activity and influencing functions such as muscle contraction, blood clotting and nerve transmission.
Vitamin D is essential to the absorption of calcium and is especially important in childhood and adolescence when bone growth and density is increasing. If you follow a vegan diet it is especially important to maintain your vitamin D intake to ensure calcium absorption. Calcium absorption is enhanced low sodium (including salt) intake and high potassium intake. However, absorption is inhibited by phytates (cereal foods, tea and coffee), oxalates in spinach, chard and rhubarb and supplemental intakes of minerals such as zinc.
Calcium is present leafy green vegetables (but not spinach), nuts, sesame seeds, tofu, pulses, celery, butternut squash and spirulina.
Iron is required for the production of haemoglobin in the blood, the maintenance of the muscle protein ‘myoglobin’ and is required in many metabolic processes. The body is efficient at recycling iron because it renews blood cells, but children and women have enhanced needs for iron.
Maintaining healthy iron levels is important in any diet. Calcium, proteins and phytates affect the absorption of iron, whereas vitamin C enhances iron absorption. Iron is present in pulses, nuts and seeds (pumpkin), green leafy vegetables (kale), tofu, dried fruit, spirulina and molasses.
Magnesium plays an essential role in skeletal development, protein synthesis, muscle contraction and neurotransmission. Magnesium is present in green leafy vegetables (magnesium is a component of chlorophyll), wholegrains, nuts, potatoes, peas, butternut squash and spirulina.
Phosphorus is present in all cells in the body and is essential for bone health and, in conjunction with the B vitamins, the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Phosphorus is present in most foods such as peas, potatoes, pumpkin seeds and spirulina.
Potassium plays an important role in acid-base regulation, fluid balance, muscle contraction and nerve conduction. Potassium is widely found in plant foods, such as fruit (bananas, apricots, citrus fruits and fruit juice), vegetables (potatoes, beetroot, and mushrooms), pulses, nuts, nutritional yeast, and wholegrains
Sodium regulates fluid balance, blood pressure and cell membrane transport. Chloride is also important in fluid balance. Sodium and chloride are maintained in the fluid around cells by a number of mechanisms. The kidneys keep sodium and chloride blood levels within a specific range but kidneys in older adults and infants cannot tolerate high sodium intakes.
Most of the sodium consumed in the diet is in the form of sodium chloride, or salt. 75% of salt intake comes from processed foods. Plant sources include celery, fennel, kale, spirulina. Nutritional yeast often recommended as part of vegetarian diet as a source of B vitamins and potassium, should be consumed in a low-salt form.
Zinc has a variety of biological functions, including a role in enzyme and protein synthesis, cell division and growth. Good sources are green leafy vegetables, pulses, almonds, walnuts and pumpkin & sunflower seeds. Zinc absorption is inhibited by high intake of cereal foods which contain phytates. Vegetarians and vegans should be aware of their zinc intake.
Vegetarians and vegans should be especially aware of the need for iodine and selenium.
• Copper has an important role in enzyme activity, iron metabolism, defence against infection and red blood cell formation. Found in wholegrain foods, potatoes, green vegetables, wheatgerm, and nuts.
• Chromium is necessary for maintenance of blood glucose levels and influences metabolism. Found in nuts, potatoes, cereal products, pulses and brewer’s yeast.
• Iodine forms part of the thyroid hormones necessary for maintaining metabolic rate, thermoregulation, protein synthesis and connective tissue integrity. The major source of iodine is sea salt and edible seaweeds such as nori, kelp and Kombu. Also found in watercress.
• Manganese is required for enzyme activity and forms bone and cartilage. Found in green vegetables, potatoes, nuts, fruit, spices and tea.
• Molybdenum is required for enzyme activity involved in DNA and sulphite metabolism. Found in above-ground plants such as nuts, legumes, leafy vegetables, peas and oats.
• Selenium plays a key role in antioxidant defence, immunity and thyroid hormone metabolism. Found in nuts, white button mushrooms, chia seeds, brown rice, sunflower, Horsetail (herb) & flax seeds.
Herbal Sources Of Minerals & Vitamins
A well-blended herbal tonic and a herbal nutritional powder can be good source of many valuable nutrients. Here is a list of herbs that supply commonly needed nutrients.
• Vitamin A: Alfalfa, Burdock, Cayenne, Dandelion, Garlic, Kelp, Marshmallow, Papaya, Parsley, Pokeweed, Raspberry, Red clover, Saffron, Watercress, Yellow dock
• Thiamine (B1) : Cayenne, Dandelion, Fenugreek, Kelp, Parsley, Raspberry
• Riboflavin (B2) : Alfalfa, Burdock, Dandelion, Fenugreek, Kelp, Parsley, Raspberry
• Niacin (B3): Alfalfa, Burdock, Dandelion, Fenugreek, Kelp, Parsley, Sage
• Pyridoxine (B6) :Alfalfa, Wheat, Corn, Mugwort
• Cobalamin (B12) : Alfalfa, Kelp
• Vitamin C : Alfalfa, Burdock, Boneset, Catnip, Cayenne, Chickweed, Dandelion, Garlic, Hawthorn Berry, Horseradish, Kelp, Lobelia, Parsley, Plantain, Pokeweed, Papaya, Raspberry, Rose Hips, Shepherd’s purse, Strawberry, Watercress, Yellow Dock
• Vitamin D: Alfalfa, Watercress
• Vitamin E: Alfalfa, Dandelion, Kelp, Raspberry, Rose hips, Watercress
• Vitamin K: Alfalfa, Plantain, Shepherd’s purse
• Rutin : Dandelion, Rose hips, Rue
• Calcium: Coltsfoot, Chive, Chamomile, Caraway seed, Cleavers, Dandelion, Dill, Horsetail, Meadow sweet, Mistletoe, Nettles, Parsley, Pimpernel, Plantain, Poppy seed, Raspberry, Shepherd’s purse, Silverweed, Watercress, Yellow dock
• Chlorophyll: Alfalfa, most leafy green potherbs
• Chlorine : Alfalfa, Dandelion, Dill stems, Fennel stems, Goldenseal, Kelp, Myrrh, Nettles, Parsley, Plantain, Raspberry, Uva ursi, Watercress, Wintergreen
• Copper :Agar-agar, Dandelion, Dulse, Kelp, Liverwort, Nettles, Parsley, Sorrel
• Fluorine : Corn silk, Dill, Garlic, Horsetail, Plantain, Watercress
• Iodine :Dulse, Garlic, Irish moon, Kelp, Sarsaparilla, Mustard, Parsley
• Iron : Alfalfa, Burdock, Blue cohosh, Cayenne, Dandelion, Dulse, Kelp, Mullein, Nettles, Parsley, Pokeweed, Rhubarb, Rose hips, Yellow dock
• Magnesium: Alfalfa, Blue cohosh, Carrot leaves, Cayenne, Dandelion, Dill, Kelp, Mistletoe, Mullein, Nettles, Peppermint, Primrose, Raspberry, Skullcap, Walnut leaves, Willow, Wintergreen, Manganese Agar-agar, Bladderwrack, Burdock, Dulse, Kelp, Nettles, Sorrel, Strawberry leaves, Wintergreen, Yellow dock
• Phosphorus: Alfalfa, Blue cohosh, Calamus, Calendula, Caraway, Cayenne, Chickweed, Dandelion, Garlic, Irish moss, Kelp, Liquorice, Parsley, Purslane, Pokeweed, Raspberry, Rhubarb, Rose hips, Watercress, Yellow dock
• Potassium : Alfalfa, Blue cohosh, Birch, Borage, Chamomile, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Centaury, Dandelion, Dulse, Eyebright, Fennel, Irish moss, Kelp, Mistletoe, Mullein, Nettles, Papaya, Parsley, Peppermint, Plantain, Primrose, Raspberry, Shepherd’s purse, White oak bark, Wintergreen, Yarrow
• Selenium : Kelp, most seaweeds
• Silicon : Alfalfa, Blue cohosh, Burdock, Chickweed, Corn silk, Flaxseed, Horsetail, Kelp, Nettle, Poppyseed, Raspberry, Sunflower seed
• Sodium: Apple tree bark, Alfalfa, Cleavers, Dandelion, Dill, Dulse, Fennel, Irish moss, Kelp, Mistletoe, Nettles, Parsley, Shepherd’s purse, Thyme
• Sulphur: Alfalfa, Burdock, Cayenne, Coltsfoot, Eyebright, Fennel, Garlic, Irish moss, Kelp, Mullein, Nettles, Parsley, Plantain, Raspberry, Sage, Shepherd’s purse, Thyme
• Zinc: Kelp, Marshmallow
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