What Vitamins Do You Really Need?

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Read on to find out which vitamins are essential and what types of foods you should be eating.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, at least one-third of all U.S. adults take a multivitamin, and many also take more individual supplements throughout the day.

In my medicine cabinet you’ll find a multivitamin, calcium pills, vitamin E, fish oil, and zinc. I started taking multivitamins every day when I was young. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve added other supplements whenever I read a new study toting their effects. Now I’m starting to think I have too many, so I set out to figure out just what I needed in a day and how I could get it.

The results are below. If you’re taking supplements, you might be surprised by what I found out.

What you need in a day…

As long as you’re over 4 years old, the Food and Drug Administration has done the math for you. You can find the recommended daily values (i.e. what you should be getting) based on a caloric intake of 2,000 calories on the FDA’s Food Labeling Guide:

Vitamin A – 5,000 International Units

Vitamin C – 60 mg

Calcium – 1,000 mg

Iron – 18 mg

Vitamin D – 400 IU

Vitamin E – 30 IU

Vitamin K – 80 micrograms (µg)

Thiamin – 1.5 mg

Riboflavin – 1.7 mg

Niacin – 20 mg

Vitamin B6 – 2 mg

Folate – 400 µg

Vitamin B12 – 6 µg Biotin – 300 µg

Vitamin B5 (a.k.a. Pantothenic acid) – 10 mg

Phosphorus – 1,000 mg

Iodine – 150 µg

Magnesium – 400 mg

Zinc – 15 mg

Selenium – 70 µg

Copper – 2 mg

Manganese – 2 mg

Chromium – 120 µg

Molybdenum  – 75 µg

Chloride – 3,400 mg

How to get it from food…

Getting what your body needs takes more than eating a few servings of fruits and veggies each day – you need a well-rounded diet. Thankfully, with the help of the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, we’ve made a list of good foods packed with vitamins and minerals you need.

Vitamin A:

  • Vegetables and fruits such as carrots, spinach, mangoes, broccoli, and whole sweet potatoes
  • In meat, high amounts of vitamin A can be found in beef liver
  • Dairy products such as eggs and cheese

Vitamin C:

  • Orange juice, oranges, grapefruit, kiwis
  • Sweet red peppers (raw), green pepper (raw), broccoli


  • Dairy products such as yogurt, milk, and cheeses, especially mozzarella
  • Sardines and salmon
  • Calcium-fortified cereals


  • Chicken liver, beef liver, and beef
  • Oysters
  • Fortified cereals and instant oatmeal
  • Beans such as soybeans, lentils, lima, and kidney

Vitamin D:

  • Fish rich in fats such as salmon and tuna
  • The body can also synthesize vitamin D from sun exposure

Vitamin E:

  • Wheat germ
  • Almonds and hazelnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sunflower oil and almond oil

Vitamin K:

  • Kale, spinach, turnip greens, collards, Swiss chard, parsley, mustard greens


  • Yeast
  • Lean pork
  • Legumes
  • Enriched cereals and breads


  • Eggs, milk, and dairy products
  • Lean meats
  • Broccoli
  • Enriched cereals and breads

Niacin (also known as vitamin B3):

  • Beets
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Beef liver and beef kidney
  • Fish, salmon, swordfish, tuna
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Fortified breads and cereals

Vitamin B6:

  • Chickpeas
  • Beef liver and chicken breast
  • Tuna and sockeye salmon
  • Fortified cereals


  • Beef liver
  • Spinach
  • Black eyed peas
  • Fortified cereals
  • White rice

Vitamin B12:

  • Clams
  • Beef liver
  • Fortified cereals
  • Rainbow trout, salmon, and canned tuna

Biotin (Vitamin H):

  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Eggs
  • Sardines
  • Almonds, pecans, peanuts, and walnuts

Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5):

  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Kale, corn, cauliflower, tomatoes, broccoli
  • Egg yolks
  • Avocado
  • Legumes and lentils


  • Meats, poultry, and fish rich in protein
  • Eggs and dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Legumes


  • Seaweed
  • Iodized salt
  • Cod
  • Low-fat yogurt and reduced-fat milk


  • Wheat bran (crude)
  • Almonds and cashews
  • Spinach
  • Raisin bran cereal
  • Soybeans


  • Oysters
  • Chuck roast beef
  • Alaska king crab
  • Broiled beef patties


  • Brazil nuts
  • Tuna and cod
  • Turkey and chicken breast
  • Egg bagels


  • Oysters and shellfish
  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Potatoes
  • Organ meats


  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains and unrefined cereals
  • Legumes
  • Pineapples


  • Broccoli
  • Grape juice
  • English muffins


  • Table and sea salt
  • Seaweed
  • Rye
  • Tomatoes, lettuce, celery
  • Olives

It may seem like a lot to take on, but a little planning is all you need to get a healthy, well-rounded diet. We’ve made it a little easier for you in our recent article, What’s for Dinner? Five Menu-Planning Sites to Consider. Each site was tested and proven to do what they promise – help you get healthy meals on the table quickly. And be sure to check out our new series, Frugal Family Feasts, for healthy meals under $15. For example, the traditional French dish ratatouille has tomatoes (chloride) and bell peppers (vitamin C).

Do you need supplements?

The question of whether you should take a multivitamin or another vitamin supplement every day is debatable. Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study of 14,641 males over the age of 50. The goal: determine if a daily multivitamin has any effect on cancer. The study had mixed results. There was a significant reduction in the total cases of cancer, but it did not have much of an effect on pre-existing cancer.

Vitamin pills also come with warnings. For example, Consumer Reports published a list of 10 surprising dangers found in vitamins and supplements. Here is what you should know:

  1. There were more than 6,300 reports of serious health risks associated with supplements between 2007 and 2012, including 2,100 hospitalizations, 1,000 serious illnesses, 900 visits to the emergency room, and 115 deaths.
  2. Some supplements can contain actual prescription drugs. For example, some supplements intended for weight loss contained a drug pulled off the market in 2010.
  3. It is possible to overdose on vitamins.
  4. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require warning labels on any supplement unless they contain iron.
  5. No supplement has been proven to cure disease.
  6. Herb stores (often toted as “healing centers”) are not regulated by the FDA.
  7. Supplements have not been proven to treat or prevent heart disease or cancer.
  8. Supplements can irritate the esophagus, and there is some choking risk.
  9. Vitamins can be synthetic.
  10. Few people are severely vitamin-deficient. You may not need to take vitamin supplements at all.

So how do you know if you should take them? The Mayo Clinic says that as long as you eat a well-balanced diet, you probably don’t need a daily multivitamin. If you’re concerned about genetic illnesses or cancer, you’re better off changing your diet and getting regular exercise.

Stacy Johnson

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