Question:

Which unprocessed meats, vegetables, and fruits should I eat each day to get 100% daily value of vitamins and minerals without supplements?

– Charles E.

Answer:

Great question, Charles! There are over 20 vitamins and minerals which need to be obtained in the diet because the human body cannot make them. The Reference Daily Intake levels – either Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Adequate Intake (AI) – for each micronutrient show how much is needed for men, women and children of various age groups. Your question’s wording refers to the Daily Values, which are not so specific.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “one value for each nutrient, known as the Daily Value (DV), is selected for the labels of dietary supplements and foods. A DV is often, but not always, similar to one’s RDA or AI for that nutrient.” The Daily Values are set by the U.S. FDA for labeling so that consumers can see how much of a nutrient is provided in a serving of a food compared to their approximate requirement for it. The Nutrition Facts panel shows the percent DV for certain vitamins and minerals. Readers – if you’re interested in more about food labels, check out our Living Health Podcast Episode 21!

Okay, so on to whether it’s possible to plan a 100% micronutrient complete day from whole foods. Yes! Though the amount of produce may not be realistic for a person to consume on a daily basis, or the energy provided may be inadequate or excessive for you. That’s one reason why a variety of food selected across several days is best for meeting one’s nutritional needs.

If you’re looking for a list of what to eat in one day that meets 100% DV, the best one could do would be to construct a day using nutrient analysis software which would still be compared to the RDA or AI for your age and gender, not DV. The following list shows how you can meet the DV for about half the essential micronutrients:

Vitamin C: 1 large orange

Vitamin D: 3 1/2-ounces salmon

Vitamin E:  1 cup raw broccoli, plus 2 ounces almonds

Vitamin K: raw broccoli from above

Folic Acid: 1 cup peas, 1 cup cooked spinach, and 5 long asparagus

B12 and B6: 1 cup plain yogurt and a banana, 1 ounce sunflower seeds, and 3 ounces roast beef

Calcium: cooked spinach and yogurt from above plus an 8-ounce glass skim milk, and 1 fig

Iron: red meat from above plus a large spinach salad, and 1 cup lentil soup

Magnesium: almonds from above plus 2 slices of whole-wheat bread, 1 ounce raisins, a baked potato, and 4 ounces grilled halibut

Zinc: whole wheat bread from above plus a burger patty, and 1 slice cheese

 

Restricting intake to only the three food groups you mentioned is more work, so you are on your own there. If you are adamant about doing so, I’d suggest using a sample menu as a template for starters then substituting for foods you won’t eat. Truly a personalized custom menu!

 

References:

  • “Daily Values.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/dailyvalues.aspx.
  • Harvard Health Publishing. “Getting Your Vitamins and Minerals through Diet.” Harvard Health, Harvard Medical School, July 2009, www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/getting-your-vitamins-and-minerals-through-diet.
  • “How to Eat Your Vitamins.” Real Simple, www.realsimple.com/health/nutrition-diet/vitamins/eat-vitamins.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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