You’ve got vitamins A and C on lock. It’s so easy to keep your diet full of those oh-so-crucial vitamins with a healthy rotation of fruits and vegetables. But are you sure you’re getting enough magnesium? Would you know where to look for it? What about vitamin D and calcium, which go hand in hand? And B12, which can be a puzzle for vegetarians? While supplements and fortified milk and cereal can help, it turns out there are plenty of whole food, single-ingredient foods to turn to for the full spectrum of nutrients.
You’ve heard of it, but what’s magnesium all about? It turns out that this nutrient is required for crucial functions ranging from metabolism to regulating neurotransmitters. Deficiencies (though rare) can lead to loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, and more.
Nuts and seeds tend to be high in magnesium. Pepitas (pumpkin seeds), almonds, sesame and sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, and even watermelon seeds contain large amounts of magnesium. Dark leafy greens like spinach and chard are packed with magnesium, and even green herbs and seaweed have small amounts. Try whipping up an easy chimichurri sauce to serve with salmon—another source of magnesium. Oh, and don’t forget dessert—dark chocolate and cocoa are high in magnesium, too!
Typically found in meat products, B12 is critical for the body’s nerve and blood cells, as well as preventing anemia. The most reliable source of it is liver (lamb, beef, duck, and goose), followed by other organ meats. If you’re not ready to dive into offal, you can get a healthy amount from conventional cuts of meat.
Shellfish like clams and oysters are a great option for those who don’t eat red meat, as are eggs and dairy foods. B12 for vegans is trickier, as plant foods don’t contain it. One source is fortified nutritional yeast—though not all brands are fortified, so supplements may still be necessary.
If you drink milk or eat yogurt, you’re likely getting some vitamin D, since most dairy products are fortified with it. It promotes calcium absorption, making it critical for strong bones. It’s such an important vitamin that our body makes vitamin D with direct exposure to sunlight, but most of us don’t live far enough south to make all the vitamin D that we need.
It’s easy to get enough with supplements, but there are also whole foods high in vitamin D. And good news for those who are lactose intolerant, many are dairy free. Herring, salmon, trout, sardines, and mackerel are all loaded with D. If you don’t consume animal products, you can try vitamin D-fortified tofu and mushrooms that are treated with ultraviolet light.
We associate calcium with strong bones, but really, calcium is required by just about every cell in the body, from heart to nerve. Our bones store calcium for us, which is released into the blood and carried to cells as needed. It might seem puzzling about where to get enough calcium if you don’t eat dairy, but leafy greens like collards, kale, spinach, mustard greens, and arugula all contain calcium.
Add some white beans or black-eyed peas (a one-cup serving is rich in calcium) to the skillet with some cooked greens, tomatoes, and your favorite savory sauce for a plant-based meal that’s packed with calcium. And don’t forget about small tinned fish with edible bones, like sardines, mackerel, salmon and anchovies—these are some of the best overall sources of calcium, and a quick and flavorful add to a bed of arugula (top with a squeeze of lemon) for a healthy salad.