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What Vitamins You Should Take Is a Personalized Decision

There are several vitamins and mineral supplements that many people can benefit from — but it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before you start one

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A lot of people turn to vitamin supplements to make sure they’re getting the nutrients they need each day. It’s estimated that about half of adults in the United States take some type of vitamin or mineral supplement daily.

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Supplements are one way to meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy body. But they’re not the only way. And they’re typically not the best way, says registered dietitian Kate Patton, RD, LD.

“We need vitamins to break down macronutrients like carbohydrates, fat and protein and help our bodies to function. It’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from eating a diet that’s healthy for you. But a supplement can give your body a boost if you need it,” she says.

Patton shares thoughts on some of the most vital vitamins you should have every day. And she offers advice on what vitamin supplements to talk with your provider about if you worry you’re not getting enough from the foods you eat.

What vitamins should you take daily?

Here’s the bad news: If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all recommendation for what vitamin supplements you should take each day, it’s not that easy.

Everyone’s needs are different. Some people need different amounts of certain vitamins and minerals because of the ways their bodies work. Or because of their health goals. Or because they eat a restricted diet.

“People might take a supplement if they don’t eat meat, for example. Or they don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables,” Patton notes. “Others might take supplements for the antioxidant benefits. And some people may have a true deficiency that can be best addressed with a supplement.”

But there’s good news, too: It’s entirely possible for most people to get at least the majority of the vitamins and minerals they need through their foods. And if not, a healthcare provider, like a registered dietitian can help you choose vitamins that you should consider taking.

The best way to get what your body needs is to talk to a healthcare provider before taking any kind of supplement. They can help you decide which product or products to take, or if you need to take any vitamin supplements at all. They can also help you avoid potential interactions between supplements and other medications you’re taking. That’s important because some supplements don’t play well with certain medicines.

That said, there are certain vitamins and minerals where deficiencies are more common. And without them, your body can’t function at its best.

Think of vitamin supplements as an insurance policy to make sure you’re getting everything you need — not as a replacement for healthy eating.

Patton shares some of the vitamins and minerals that are vital to your body and that you may not be getting enough of. Talk with your healthcare provider if you think you should take supplements for these important nutrients.

Vitamin A

What is it?

Vitamin A is also known as retinol. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means your body stores excess vitamin A. So, it’s possible to get too much vitamin A. Take caution to not take more than recommended by a healthcare provider.

Vitamin A helps your body in a number of ways, like:

  • Helping fight infection.
  • Maintaining healthy vision.
  • Playing a key role in heart, lung and kidney health.
  • Keeping skin healthy by fighting off toxins (also called free radicals).
  • Strengthening bones and teeth.

Recommended daily allowance (RDA)

  • Males age 14+: 900 micrograms (mcg).
  • Females age 14+: 700 mcg.
  • People who are pregnant age 18+: 770 mcg.*
  • People who are lactating age 18+: 1,300 mcg.

*Note: Vitamin A toxicity during pregnancy can lead to fetal development issues. People who are pregnant shouldn’t take excessive doses of vitamin A.

Vitamin A foods

Food
Sweet potato
Serving size
1 potato
Mcg per serving
1,403 mcg
% Daily value (DV) of vitamin A
156%
Frozen boiled spinach
Serving size
1/2 cup
Mcg per serving
573 mcg
% Daily value (DV) of vitamin A
64%
Raw carrots
Serving size
1/2 cup
Mcg per serving
459 mcg
% Daily value (DV) of vitamin A
51%
Atlantic pickled herring
Serving size
3 ounces
Mcg per serving
219 mcg
% Daily value (DV) of vitamin A
24%
Skim milk with added vitamin A
Serving size
1 cup
Mcg per serving
149 mcg
% Daily value (DV) of vitamin A
17%

B vitamins

What are they?

Eight B vitamins make up the vitamin B complex. Each has different specific functions in your body. They come from different food sources and have different RDAs. B vitamins are water-soluble.

“The majority of B vitamins are used to turn food into energy,” Patton elaborates. “They also support healthy cell creation, growth and development.”

The B vitamins are:

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B vitamin foods

In the U.S., many cereals, flour, breads and pastas are routinely fortified with B vitamins to minimize the risk of deficiency. B vitamins are commonly found in leafy green vegetables, animal proteins and whole grains.

Vitamin B12 is most commonly associated with animal products. People who don’t eat meat are often advised to take a B12 supplement.

Niacin supplements used to be commonly recommended for people with high cholesterol. But research now shows that high levels of niacin have been associated with heart disease. Talk with a healthcare provider about niacin supplements.

Vitamin C

What is it?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin containing antioxidants that promote healthy tissue growth. It’s perhaps best known for giving your immune system a boost.

Among vitamin C’s many benefits are its ability to help:

  • May reduce your risk of getting the common cold.
  • Decrease the duration of the common cold.
  • Maintain healthy skin and tissue.
  • Strengthen bones and teeth.
  • Protect your body from the damage of free radicals.
  • Make collagen in your bones.

And for people who have an iron deficiency, vitamin C can help your body absorb it better.

“If you’re trying to maximize your iron absorption, having more vitamin C is beneficial,” Patton notes.

RDA

  • Males age 19+: 90 milligrams (mg).
  • Females age 19+: 75 mg.

People who smoke require an additional 35 mg per day of vitamin C to counteract some of the oxidative stress that smoking causes in your body. But no supplement can undo the effects of smoking. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health.

Vitamin C foods

Food
Raw red pepper
Serving size
1/2 cup
Mg per serving
95 mg
% DV of vitamin C
106%
Orange juice
Serving size
3/4 cup
Mg per serving
93 mg
% DV of vitamin C
104%
Orange
Serving size
1 medium
Mg per serving
70 mg
% DV of vitamin C
78%
Grapefruit juice
Serving size
3/4 cup
Mg per serving
70 mg
% DV of vitamin C
78%
Kiwi
Serving size
1 medium
Mg per serving
64 mg
% DV of vitamin C
71%

Vitamin D

What is it?

Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that is activated by ultraviolet (UV) light. So, people who spend considerable time indoors are at higher risk for deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiencies are pretty common,” says Patton. “Doctors may test your vitamin D levels and sometimes they are low enough that people need a prescription-strength dose of vitamin D.”

Vitamin D drops are also routinely recommended for babies who are breastfed (chestfeed). And many infant formulas are fortified with vitamin D.

The benefits of vitamin D include:

  • Influencing immune cell function.
  • Maintaining a healthy nervous system.
  • Supporting bone health.
  • Regulating blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.

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RDA

  • Adults age 19 to 70: 15 mcg.
  • Adults age 71+: 20 mcg.

Vitamin D foods

Food
Cod liver oil
Serving size
1 tablespoon
Mcg per serving
34 mcg
% DV of vitamin D
170%
Cooked rainbow trout
Serving size
3 ounces
Mcg per serving
16.2 mcg
% DV of vitamin D
81%
Cooked sockeye salmon
Serving size
3 ounces
Mcg per serving
14.2 mcg
% DV of vitamin D
71%
Raw white mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light
Serving size
1/2 cup
Mcg per serving
9.2 mcg
% DV of vitamin D
46%
2% milk, fortified with vitamin D
Serving size
1 cup
Mcg per serving
2.9 mcg
% DV of vitamin D
15%

Vitamin E

What is it?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s important for organ function.

“Vitamin E has the antioxidant benefits of keeping your immune system strong, but also can help with dilating blood vessels and preventing blood clots,” Patton explains.

It also:

  • Protects cells from damage from toxins.
  • Maintains muscle function.
  • Reduces risk of cancer.
  • Reduces risk of heart disease.
  • Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Note: High doses of vitamin E supplements can be dangerous, even life-threatening. Take caution with vitamin E supplements and always get advice from a healthcare professional before taking them.

RDA

  • People age 14 and older: 15 mg.
  • People who are lactating: 19 mg.

Vitamin E foods

Food
Wheat germ oil
Serving size
1 tablespoon
Mg per serving
20.3 mg
% DV of vitamin E
135%
Dry-roasted sunflower seeds
Serving size
1 ounce
Mg per serving
7.4 mg
% DV of vitamin E
49%
Dry-roasted almonds
Serving size
1 ounce
Mg per serving
6.8 mg
% DV of vitamin E
45%
Sunflower oil
Serving size
1 tablespoon
Mg per serving
4.6 mg
% DV of vitamin E
31%
Dry-roasted hazelnuts
Serving size
1 ounce
Mg per serving
4.3 mg
% DV of vitamin E
29%

Vitamin K

What is it?

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin. People who take blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin®) should be extra careful about vitamin K supplements because they can reduce the effectiveness of your medication. That’s because vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting.

It also:

  • Helps in rapid wound healing.
  • Creates strong bones.
  • Helps protect against heart disease.

RDA

  • Males age 19+: 120 mcg.
  • Females age 19+: 90 mcg.

Vitamin K foods

Food
Boiled collards
Serving size
1/2 cup
Mcg per serving
530 mcg
% DV of vitamin K
442%
Boiled turnip greens
Serving size
1/2 cup
Mcg per serving
426 mcg
% DV of vitamin K
355%
Raw spinach
Serving size
1 cup
Mcg per serving
145 mcg
% DV of vitamin K
121%
Raw kale
Serving size
1 cup
Mcg per serving
113 mcg
% DV of vitamin K
94%
Boiled broccoli
Serving size
1/2 cup
Mcg per serving
110 mcg
% DV of vitamin K
92%

Calcium

What is it?

Calcium is a mineral needed for healthy bone growth.

“Calcium also plays a role in muscle function and is necessary for nerves to carry messages from your brain to your body,” Patton adds.

It also:

  • Improves muscle function.
  • Helps to achieve healthy blood pressure.
  • Aids in hormone secretion.
  • Helps maintain strong bones.
  • Helps maintain strong teeth.
  • Decreases risk of osteoporosis.

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It’s possible to get too much calcium. In fact, high calcium levels (hypercalcemia) can cause a variety of issues that range from headaches to life-threatening heart problems. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether calcium supplements are right for you.

RDA

  • Males age 19–70: 1,000 mg.
  • Females age 19–50: 1,000 mg.
  • Females age 51–70: 1,200 mg.
  • Adults 70+: 1,200 mg.

Calcium-rich foods

Food
Tofu, prepared with calcium sulfate
Serving size
1/2 cup
Mg per serving
434 mg
% DV of calcium
33%
Plain, low-fat yogurt
Serving size
8 ounces
Mg per serving
415 mg
% DV of calcium
32%
Calcium-fortified orange juice
Serving size
1 cup
Mg per serving
329 mg
% DV of calcium
27%
Low-fat fruit yogurt
Serving size
8 ounces
Mg per serving
344 mg
% DV of calcium
27%
Part-skim mozzarella cheese
Serving size
1.5 ounces
Mg per serving
333 mg
% DV of calcium
26%
Cooked collard greens
Serving size
1 cup
Mg per serving
268 mg
% DV of calcium
21%
Canned sardines in oil
Serving size
3 ounces
Mg per serving
325 mg
% DV of calcium
25%

Iron

What is it?

Iron helps transport oxygen in your blood. Not enough iron may result in a weak immune system and fatigue.

Other benefits of iron include:

  • Improved immune function.
  • Higher levels of energy.
  • Improved brain function.
  • Improved ability to concentrate.

“People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are at risk for having an iron deficiency,” Patton shares. “While there are a lot of plant-based sources of iron, you just don’t absorb it as well. The amount of fiber in a vegetarian or vegan diet can block iron absorption.”

Combine vitamin C with plant-based sources of iron to increase absorption.

RDA

  • Males age 19+: 8 mg.
  • Females age 19–50: 18 mg.
  • Females age 51+: 8 mg.

Iron-rich foods

Food
Iron-fortified breakfast cereal
Serving size
1 serving (per packing label)
Mg per serving
18 mg
% DV of iron
100%
Cooked Eastern oysters
Serving size
3 ounces
Mg per serving
8 mg
% DV of iron
44%
Canned white beans
Serving size
1 cup
Mg per serving
8 mg
% DV of iron
44%
Pan-fried beef liver
Serving size
3 ounces
Mg per serving
5 mg
% DV of iron
28%

Magnesium

What is it?

Magnesium is the fuel that powers more than 300 essential processes within your body. That includes things like:

  • Regulating your blood pressure and glucose levels.
  • Making protein, bone and DNA.
  • Helping with proper function of your bones and nerves.

Magnesium deficiency is common in the United States. Some researchers estimate that about half the U.S. population isn’t getting enough magnesium.

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RDA

  • Males age 19–30: 400 mg.
  • Females age 19–30: 310 mg.
  • People who are pregnant age 19–30: 350 mg.
  • People who are lactating age 19–30: 310 mg.
  • Males age 31+: 420 mg.
  • Females age 31+: 320 mg.
  • People who are pregnant age 31+: 360 mg.
  • People who are lactating age 31+: 320 mg.

Magnesium-rich foods

Food
Roasted pumpkin seeds
Serving size
1 ounce
Mg per serving
156 mg
% DV of magnesium
37%
Chia seeds
Serving size
1 ounce
Mg per serving
111 mg
% DV of magnesium
26%
Dry-roasted almonds
Serving size
1 ounce
Mg per serving
80 mg
% DV of magnesium
19%
Boiled spinach
Serving size
1/2 cup
Mg per serving
78 mg
% DV of magnesium
19%
Dry-roasted cashews
Serving size
1 ounce
Mg per serving
74 mg
% DV of magnesium
18%

Zinc

What is it?

Zinc is only needed in small amounts, but it does a number of important jobs in your body, like:

  • Reducing the risk of cancer.
  • Improving your immune system.
  • Supporting a strong memory.
  • Reducing the symptoms of the common cold.

“Zinc helps boost your immune system and possibly prevent infection like pneumonia,” Patton shares.

RDA

  • Males age 19+: 11 mg.
  • Females age 19+: 8 mg.
  • People who are pregnant: 11 mg.
  • People who are lactating? 12 mg.

Zinc-rich foods

Food
Cooked Eastern oysters
Serving size
3 ounces
Mg per serving
32 mg
% DV of zinc
291%
Cooked Pacific oysters
Serving size
3 ounces
Mg per serving
28.2 mg
% DV of zinc
256%
Roasted bottom sirloin beef
Serving size
3 ounces
Mg per serving
3.8 mg
% DV of zinc
35%
Cooked blue crab
Serving size
3 ounces
Mg per serving
3.2 mg
% DV of zinc
29%
Hulled hemp seeds
Serving size
3 tablespoons
Mg per serving
3 mg
% DV of zinc
27%
Zinc-fortified breakfast cereal
Serving size
1 serving (per packing label)
Mg per serving
2.8 mg
% DV of zinc
25%

How to choose vitamins

If you’re going the supplement route to ensure you have adequate levels of these nutrients and others, know that supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or USDA.

Patton advises a few precautions to help ensure you’re choosing safe supplements:

  • Consult your healthcare provider. Before adding any supplements, talk to a healthcare provider to make sure you need them and that they won’t interact with any medications.
  • Look for third-party testing. Some companies will send their products to an outside company to verify that the ingredients are accurate.
  • Look for the USP seal. The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) is an independent, nonprofit organization whose goal is to supply safe, quality products.
  • Consider ingredients. Stick with the basics. Vitamins with added ingredients or claims aren’t necessary and can cause side effects.

While daily vitamin supplements can be helpful, remember that your diet is the best route to getting proper nutrition.

“Supplements aren’t a replacement for healthy eating,” Patton reiterates.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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