8 Foods That Can Replace Your Multivitamin

Skip the pharmacy and shop the produce department instead.

Medically reviewed in April 2020

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About one-third of Americans take a multivitamin. These supplements typically contain a blend of vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C and K, calcium, iron and folic acid, among others. In 2014, sales of multivitamins reached $5.7 billion.

Despite claims that these supplements ward off disease and protect your heart and brain, evidence to support this is hard to come by. In 2013, the US Preventive Services Task Force even concluded there was too little evidence to recommend the use of multivitamins to prevent conditions like heart disease and cancer.

So, why are we still taking them? There are a number of reasons people take supplements, but many, like vegans and people with conditions that prevent proper nutrient absorption—like Crohn’s disease—rely on multivitamins to get the nutrients their diets don’t provide. If you’re at risk of vitamin deficiency, speak with your healthcare provider about ways to get what your body needs.

Most of us, however, can get the daily recommended amounts of most vitamins and minerals from food alone. If you’re looking to up your vitamin and mineral intake, without popping a multivitamin, check out some nutrient-rich foods to add to your diet in addition to the nutritious foods you’re (probably) already eating.

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Vitamin A: sweet potatoes

These spuds are packed with immune-boosting vitamin A.

This fat-soluble vitamin comes in two forms: preformed, found in animal products like fish and milk, and provitamin A, which is abundant in fruits and veggies like carrots and kale. When we consume provitamins, like beta-carotene, the body converts the compounds into vitamin A.

On average, men should aim for about 3,000 International Units (IU) of preformed vitamin A; women need just 2,300 IUs each day. It takes a lot more provitamin A to meet your daily needs. The calculations can get complicated, but it’s important to note, vitamin A deficiency is rare in the United States.

Eat a varied diet and incorporate sweet potatoes into your repertoire to boost your vitamin A intake. One potato, baked with the skin, provides up to twice the recommended daily amount.

Bake and mash a sweet potato and enjoy with a sprinkle of cinnamon, or chop and roast with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh herbs, like rosemary and thyme.

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Iron: lentils

These small seeds, part of the legume family, contain more than 6 milligrams (mg) of iron per cooked cup.

Iron is a mineral essential for the production of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. Without enough, you may experience fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and other worrisome symptoms. Iron deficiency is common worldwide, primarily in developing countries, but toddlers and women of childbearing age have the highest risk in the US.

The recommended daily intake for men is just 8 mg, but women should aim for about 18 mg. Pregnant women need more still, and should consume about 27 mg.

To up your intake, toss together an iron-rich nourish bowl with lentils, fresh spinach, a serving of your favorite beans, a few shrimp and your choice of seasonal veggies.

The body can’t absorb plant sources of iron as well as it can animal sources of the same mineral. Plus, how well your body can absorb the nutrient depends also on the foods you pair it with.

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Vitamin C: broccoli

These veggies can put a damper on a youngster’s day, but if you’re looking to up your vitamin C intake, broccoli may be a good start.

Vitamin C helps protect your body from free radical damage, boosts collagen production and bolsters the immune system. One chopped cup of broccoli contains 81 mg—that’s more than 100 percent of the daily recommended value. Guidelines suggests women consume about 75 mg of the vitamin, while men need about 90 mg per day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should get more, about 85 mg and 120 mg, respectively.

Severe deficiencies are rare, but its possible many people function with low levels of vitamin C. Cigarette smoking decreases vitamin levels, so habitual smokers are at a higher risk of deficiency.

Add this hydrating veggie to your lunchtime salad, stir into whole wheat pasta with a touch of your favorite sauce or dunk raw florets into healthy, homemade hummus. Pineapple and strawberries also pack a sweet punch of vitamin C.

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Vitamin D: salmon

Vitamin D is essential for the health of your whole body; it helps keep bones strong, promotes proper nerve and muscular function and even boosts the immune system.

About two-thirds of the United States population gets enough vitamin D, so supplements aren’t a necessity for most Americans. But they might be for some. One in every four Americans is at risk for inadequate vitamin D, and one in 12 is at risk of full-blown deficiency.

Those most at risk include:

  • Older adults
  • Breastfed infants
  • Obese individuals
  • People with dark skin
  • Those with conditions that disrupt nutrient absorption, like Crohn’s or celiac disease

Vitamin D can be found in fish, like salmon, egg yolks and in fortified products, like milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals. The body can also produce vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun.

The amount of vitamin D your body can produce depends on the time of day, your location, the color of your skin and the amount of skin you have exposed. Fairer-skinned individuals may need just a few minutes; people with darker skin will need to spend more time sunbathing to reap the same benefits. Regardless of your complexion, it’s best to wear sunscreen or protective clothing if you plan to spend more than a few minutes in the sun.

Before you break out the lawn chairs, speak with your doctor about the right amount of sun for your skin and the best ways to protect yourself from powerful rays.

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Vitamin E: nuts and seeds

Many foods, like asparagus, red bell pepper and even peanut butter are rich with vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties. Deficiencies in the US a rare, and affect less than 1 percent of people, though it’s possible to consume too little vitamin E and not know it. Vitamin E deficiency doesn’t cause symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals.

Looking to get more? Nosh on some nuts and seeds. A 1-ounce serving of almonds contains more than 7 mg of vitamin E. The same serving of sunflower seeds is packed with more than 9 mg, and an ounce of pine nuts has more than 2 mg. Soybean, canola, corn and other vegetables oils are also rich in vitamin E. In fact, most vitamin E in American diets comes from these sources.

Nuts and seeds are versatile, and a great snack to munch when you’re out and about. Toss a small handful of sunflower seeds into a salad, sauté some fresh spinach with a sprinkle of pine nuts or combine plump blueberries with slivered almonds for a sweet and crunchy snack.

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Vitamin K: kale

From crispy chips to fresh juices, kale is nearly everywhere. And for good reason.

This “superfood” is loaded with nutrients like vitamins A and C and manganese. Manganese is a mineral that:

  • Promotes brain and nerve function
  • Aids healthy blood clotting
  • Helps in the production of sex hormones
  • May even strengthen bones

Most notably, kale is packed with vitamin K, about 547 mg per chopped cup. The daily recommendation is only 90 micrograms (mcg) for women and 120 mcg for men. Vitamin K is found in a variety of foods, like spinach and Brussels sprouts.

Give crunchy kale a try, as the base of a nutrient-packed salad, blended into your morning smoothie or slow-cooked into a hearty pot of soup.

A word of caution: Those taking certain medications, namely blood thinners, may need to limit the amount of vitamin K they consume. If you’re taking a medication that thins the blood, speak with your doctor about the right diet for you.

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Calcium: yogurt

Calcium is an essential mineral for strong teeth and bones, and helps regulate blood clotting, muscle function and hormones.

Dietary guidelines recommend adults under the age of 50 consume about 1,000 mg a day. Starting your day with plain nonfat Greek yogurt is a good way to add some calcium (and protein) to your diet. A 5-ounce single-serve yogurt contains about 165 mg of calcium.

Getting enough of this mineral doesn’t have to be bland. Top your yogurt with fresh fruit and unsweetened shredded coconut for a healthy dose of fat, extra vitamins and a bit of natural sweetness.

Those most at risk for inadequate calcium consumption, a condition that can lead to osteoporosis, are post-menopausal women, vegans and people with a lactose intolerance. These groups should find ways to add more calcium to their diet. Spinach, salmon and soybeans are decent sources, but even then, a calcium-rich diet may not be enough for some. If you’re at risk for too little calcium, speak with your doctor about adding a supplement to your daily routine.

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Folate: beans

Black, navy and kidney beans, among others, are great sources of plant-based protein, but that’s not all. A cup of cooked black beans contains 256 mcg of folate, a B vitamin naturally found in certain foods. Folate is also found in peanuts, Brussels sprouts and whole grains.

Folate is a key component in the formation of DNA and other genetic compounds. The daily recommendation for adults, both men and women, is 400 mcg, so a single cup of beans takes care of more than half of your daily need. Almost anyone can become deficient in folate, but those who consume too much alcohol, have a diet low in fruits and vegetables or have a condition, like celiac disease, that prevents proper absorption of nutrients, are at the highest risk.

Women of childbearing age, especially those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, should speak with a healthcare provider about increasing daily intake. Your doctor will likely recommend a folic acid supplement and a list of fortified foods to eat.

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