Nutrition A-Z: A College Girl's Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and Nutrients

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Fresh vegetables


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Whether you're navigating through the dining hall or cooking on your own, maintaining a healthy diet during college can be trickier than it seems.

To help steer you down the path of making smart choices for optimal health and nutrition, we've created a guide detailing the key vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that our bodies need, the role they play in keeping us healthy, and in which food sources they can be found. Read on to learn more:

Vitamin A

Baby carrots


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Why It's Important

  • Essential for good vision and eye health
  • Promotes skin repair and a healthy complexion
  • Supports bone growth
  • Boosts immune system response

Good Sources

carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, mangoes, apricots, cantaloupe, spinach, kale, papaya, asparagus, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Chia seeds


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Why It's Important

  • Aids in energy metabolism
  • Promotes healthy nerves and brain cells
  • Essential for healthy functioning of the nervous and muscular systems

Good Sources

nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, lentils, peas, tuna, mushrooms

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Brown and wild rice


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Why It's Important

  • Aids in energy metabolism
  • Key role in red blood cell production
  • Supports healthy skin, hair, and nails

Good Sources

eggs, yogurt, whole grains, mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, soybeans, potatoes

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Peanuts


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Why It's Important

  • Aids in energy metabolism
  • Maintains healthy digestive system functioning
  • Promotes healthy nerves and brain cells
  • Supports healthy skin, hair, and nails

Good Sources

fish, poultry, meat, whole grains, peanuts and peanut butter, mushrooms, leafy green vegetables, green peas

Vitamin B6

Eggs


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Why It's Important

  • Key role in red blood cell production
  • Boosts immune system response
  • Supports healthy cognitive functioning and neurotransmitter production

Good Sources

fish, poultry, eggs, potatoes, bananas, sunflower seeds, spinach, avocado

Vitamin B12

Nothing beats fresh fish


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Why It's Important

  • Aids in red blood cell production and function
  • Protects nerve cells
  • Promotes cellular growth and repair

Good Sources

fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy

Vitamin C

Orange slices


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Why It's Important

  • Boosts immune system response
  • Aids in collagen production and wound healing
  • Powerful antioxidant for protecting cells from damage
  • Essential for tissue growth and repair

Good Sources

oranges, kiwis, strawberries, bell peppers, pineapple, lemons, mangoes, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, dark leafy greens, cabbage, watermelon

Calcium

Yogurt


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Why It's Important

  • Builds and protects strong teeth and bones
  • Assists in blood clotting
  • Helps maintain healthy blood pressure
  • Promotes healthy functioning of the nervous and muscular systems

Good Sources

dairy, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, almonds, salmon, sardines, rainbow trout

Vitamin D

Soaking up sun


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Why It's Important

  • Boosts immune system response
  • Aids in absorption of calcium and maintenance of healthy bones
  • Supports healthy cognitive functioning
  • Regulates blood pressure

Good Sources

Our bodies can naturally produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, so aim to get 15-20 minutes of sun exposure in order to synthesize enough of this vitamin.

Some foods, such as fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, contain small amounts of vitamin D, but generally only 20% of the vitamin D we need comes from dietary sources.

Vitamin E

Almonds


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Why It's Important

  • Promotes wound healing and cellular repair
  • Powerful antioxidant for protecting cells from damage

Good Sources

nuts, seeds, plant oils, olives, leafy green vegetables

Folic Acid (Folate)

Broccoli


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Why It's Important

  • Aids in red blood cell production
  • Essential for new cell and DNA synthesis
  • Supports healthy nervous system functioning

Good Sources

lentils, beans, lettuce, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, beets, avocado, papaya, asparagus

Iron

Kale


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Why It's Important

  • Essential for blood clotting and red blood cell production
  • Aids in the production of amino acids, collagen, hormones, and neurotransmitters

Good Sources

meat, eggs, poultry, beans, lentils, leafy green vegetables, raisins, prunes, oysters, clams, artichokes, olives

Vitamin K

Cabbage


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Why It's Important

  • Essential for blood clotting
  • Maintains healthy functioning of the liver
  • Strengthens bones

Good Sources

leafy green vegetables, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, grapes, blueberries, prunes

Magnesium

Sesame seeds


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Why It's Important

  • Helps regulate blood pressure and heart rhythm
  • Supports healthy bones and teeth

Good Sources

leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Salmon fillet


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Why It's Important

  • Reduces inflammation in the body
  • Improves memory and cognitive functioning
  • Combats against free radical damage
  • Hydrates skin and hair
  • Key role in disease prevention

Good Sources

salmon, sardines, walnuts, flax seed, vegetable oils

Potassium

Bananas


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Why It's Important

  • Key role in nervous system functioning
  • Supports healthy functioning of the heart and kidneys
  • Regulates blood pressure and fluid balance in the body

Good Sources

bananas, prunes, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, apricots, lentils, beans, avocado, potatoes, spinach

Selenium

Brazil nuts


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Why It's Important

  • Powerful antioxidant for protecting cells from damage
  • Promotes healthy functioning of the thyroid gland

Good Sources

Brazil nuts, seafood, seeds, mushrooms

Zinc

Oysters


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Why It's Important

  • Important role in wound healing and cellular repair
  • Promotes enzyme production
  • Strengthens sense of smell and taste

Good Sources

seafood, poultry, meat, eggs, seeds, peas, mushrooms, oats, yogurt

Why Supplements Are Not the Answer

Supplement pills


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While you may think that taking supplements or a multivitamin is a surefire way to ensure that you are getting all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need, think again!

There's no replacement for a healthy diet, and no amount of vitamins can counterbalance making poor dietary choices. The nutrients within supplements are also chemically synthesized and cannot be utilized by the body as efficiently as naturally occurring forms.

If you eat a well-balanced diet full of fresh, whole, minimally processed foods, you should be getting all the nutrition your body needs to stay healthy and function efficiently. In addition, certain vitamins are toxic in high doses and can cause a variety of harmful side effects from hair loss to nerve damage!

Generally speaking, the only supplement recommended for most people to take is vitamin D as it is difficult to obtain enough of this vitamin from dietary sources alone and people living in the Northern Hemisphere (mostly North American and Europe) do not receive adequate sun exposure during the colder months of the year to naturally synthesize enough of this vitamin. If your diet lacks animal products, your calcium and vitamin B12 levels may also be of concern.

Always keep in mind to consult a medical professional when it comes to dietary supplementation. A supplement may be necessary if you have a vitamin deficiency or other health concern, but most people do not need vitamin supplements.

What Do You Think?

Are you getting enough of these key vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in your diet? Thinking of tossing your multivitamins? Comment below!