Essential Nutrients Food Sources

The essential nutrients include the vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, amino acids, fibre, carbohydrates and water the body needs daily to meet optimum health. When a person becomes deficient in some nutrients, health conditions can begin to surface. A person can find out if they have a deficiency in any of the essential nutrients through having their blood tested at their doctor’s office, through a live blood analysis or through a hair analysis.

All the essential nutrients play a vital role in a person’s health. For example, vitamin B12 is important for the formation of red blood cells, increasing energy levels and for maintaining a healthy nervous system. Magnesium is essential for healthy muscles, bones and teeth; as well for normal growth development and healthy nerves.

Deficiencies arise when certain nutrients fail to make it into a person’s diet. Strict vegans for may experience deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Poor chronic health conditions can also deplete a person’s body of certain nutrients which can lead to further health complications. The most common deficiency people experience in Canada is with vitamin D, caused by the lack of adequate sun exposure.

Adding specific foods to a person’s diet is the healthiest way to correct a deficiency or to strengthen the immune system. In the following section, each of the essential nutrients are looked at for their health benefits and the symptoms of a deficiency; as well the best nutrient-rich whole food sources for each.

“Through looking at an essential nutrients role in health and its characteristics of deficiency,
one can come to appreciate its value in good nutrition.”-NHR

Vitamin A – Health Benefits and Food Sources

There are two primary sources of vitamin A, retinoids from animal-based foods and carotenoids from plant-based sources. Both forms of vitamin A provide their own unique health benefits, so it is a good idea to get this nutrient from a variety of food sources.

Retinoids are best known for their role in supporting good vision, helping to prevent eye problems such as night blindness and cataracts. This nutrient is also essential for bone growth, tissue repair, the creation of blood cells and reproduction. Retinoids are powerful antioxidants that support a strong immune system and helps to maintain healthy inflammation in the body.

Carotenoids, just like retinoids, work as powerful antioxidants protecting the cells in the body against oxidative stress, that leads to aging and disease. Carotenoids have also been studied and recognized in recent years for their impressive cancer fighting capacity.

Characteristics of a Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiencies can affect the eyes causing night blindness, dry eyes and eye inflammation. A person can develop dry and/or rough skin and lips. Low resistance to respiratory and urinary infections and disorders can also occur. Children are more seriously affected by vitamin A deficiencies which can cause blindness, visual impairment and stunted growth.

A vitamin A toxicity can occur when high amounts of vitamin A is taken over time. This can happen through the regular use of supplements, because the nutrient is not water-soluble it can build up in the body. A good reason why It is better to get your nutrients from real food sources over supplements.

A vitamin A deficiency is rare but can occur in people with compromised digestive systems caused by surgery or severe chronic illness. With a compromised digestive system a person is unable to adequately absorb the nutrients from their foods which can eventually lead to deficiencies.

Vitamin A Food Sources

Vitamin A Is rich in orange-coloured vegetables; like pumpkins, sweet potatoes and carrots; as well it can be found in dark-green leaf vegetables. Vitamin A can also be obtained from animal products like milk, yogurt and eggs.

Nutrient-Rich Whole Food Sources for Vitamin A

This chart lists the best food sources for vitamin A, along with that food source’s single serving size and the amount of vitamin A in that single serving.

The amount of nutrients per serving for some of the following food sources is not absolute for several reasons. Fresh foods will have a higher vitamin and mineral content when grown in healthier soil, as well vitamin content will deplete a little bit every day from the moment it is harvested. Therefore these figures should only be used as a generalization.

Vitamin A Daily Intake Recommendations for Child and Adult

These figures are referenced from the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) 2005 system; used in Canada and the United States. The DRI system provides the minimum daily intake requirements of vitamins, minerals and nutrients for child and adult; males and females.

To find out what your daily intake requirements are for all of the essential nutrients, see the article Essential Nutrients and Beneficial Foods, posted January 16, 2017.

Try our Black Bean Pumpkin Soup recipe! Pumpkin is an excellent whole food source for the essential nutrient vitamin A.


Writte by: J. Marshall


Additional Resources

Check out this infographic from entitled “A Healthy Look Into the World of Vitamins”. It contains information regarding the natural sources, uses, daily requirements, and deficiency signs of all 13 vitamins.

A Healthy Look Into the World of Vitamins (Infographic)

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