Nutrient Showdown: Best Sources of Vitamins & Minerals

We often discuss vitamins and minerals and their essential role in human health; however, that can be rather abstract until you take the time to examine nutrients and foods on a case-by case basis.   How exactly does vitamin K or riboflavin or selenium support our health?   Is liver really a nutritional powerhouse? How so?

Moreover, we consistently hear that plant foods – fruits, vegetables and whole grains – offer the very best sources of vitamins and minerals and while they certainly play a critical role in a wholesome diet, plant foods do not always represent the best source of nutrients.   Indeed, animal foods – particularly liver, roe and shellfish – offer some of the most concentrated sources of vitamins and minerals.   Turkey liver offers 3 times more vitamin A than the same quantity of sweet potato.     Keep in mind that vitamin A from animal foods (retinol) is more easily absorbed and metabolized than beta carotene from plant foods.  Indeed certain adults suffering from autoimmune diseases, babies and young children cannot convert beta carotene to true vitamin A at all, making all those carrots and sweet potatoes relatively worthless for their vitamin A content.  Similarly, vitamin K1 (found in leafy greens and vegetables) does not offer as substantial a benefit as vitamin K2 (found in animal foods, butterfat and fermented soy). Smoked salmon offers 40% more riboflavin than peanuts.   Plant foods are grossly lacking in all but nominal amounts of vitamin D and completely lacking in vitamin B12, while one could conceivably receive all one’s vitamins and minerals from animal foods alone – though I wouldn’t recommend it.   In the end, what you see in this chart is a beautiful balance between nutrient-dense animal foods and nutrient-dense plant foods: an omnivorous diet.

In examining these foods – a few nourishing foods kept appearing over and over again.   Liver appears 34 times on this list, while sesame appears 9 times and oysters 7.   Many of these foods are sacred foods – foods cherished by our ancestors and they should regain their rightful place on the kitchen table.   You’ll note that grain, dairy and even fruit are barely mentioned among these nutrient-dense foods which, I imagine, will pique the interest of many of Nourished Kitchen‘s primal readers.   While all truly natural foods can also be truly health-giving foods,   a mindful eye to maximizing nutrient-dense foods is vital.

As you examine these foods, their nutrients and the value they should play in your kitchen, please note that while much of the data regarding fish and shellfish is based on wild-caught seafood, the data regarding animal foods are based on conventionally-raised animals.   Data on the nutrient content of pasture-raised foods is very difficult to find on such a massive scale; rest assured that data consistently indicates that grass-fed and pasture-raised animals produce more nutrient-dense food than their confined, industrial counterparts.   Moreover, please note that while muscle meat is rarely listed – that doesn’t mean it offers no value, only that it is simply not as nutrient-dense as offal.   Quite often muscle meat scored higher than the plant food sources listed.   Similarly, in many instances, plant foods not listed scored higher than animal foods that are listed.

I omitted obscure ingredients – whale blubber and walrus meat for instance – as they’re unlikely to be widely available.   I also omitted heavily processed, fortified foods, choosing to rely instead of the natural value of food in their naked and unadulterated state as much as possible.

Nourish yourself mindfully and well.

Nutrient

Why You Need It:

Best Animal Food Sources1:

Best Plant Food Sources1:

Vitamin A
  • Vision Health
  • Skin Health
  • Reproductive Health
  • Immune Function
  • Turkey Liver (75,337 IU)
  • Calf Liver (70,559 IU)
  • Beef Liver (31,718 IU)
  • Liverwurst (27,671 IU)
  • Lamb Liver (25,999 IU)
  • Baked Sweet Potato (19,217 IU)
  • Boiled Carrots (17,036 IU)
  • Raw Kale (15,376 IU)
  • Boiled Dandelion Greens (14,545 IU)
  • Dried Apricots (12,669 IU)

Plants DO NOT contain true vitamin A; rather they contain beta carotene.

Vitamin C
  • Skin Health
  • Immune Function
  • Heart Health
  • Antioxidant Activity
  • Anti-inflammatory Properties
  • Cured Beef Pastrami (35 mg)
  • Chicken Liver (28 mg)
  • Pork Liver (24 mg)
  • Steamed Clams (22 mg)
  • Raw Fish Roe (16 mg)
  • Raw Acerola (1,677 mg)
  • Rosehips (426 mg)
  • Green Chili Peppers (242 mg)
  • Raw Guava (228 mg)
  • Sweet Yellow Peppers (183 mg)
Vitamin D
  • Immune Function
  • Reproductive Health
  • Bone Health
  • Cognitive Health
  • Longevity
  • Pickled Herring (680 IU)
  • Dried Trout (628 IU)
  • Mackerel Sashimi (360 IU)
  • Raw Oysters (320 IU)
  • Caviar (232 IU)
  • Mushrooms (21 IU)
  • NO OTHER SOURCES
Vitamin E
  • Antioxidant Activity
  • Reproductive Health
  • Skin Health
  • Heart Health
  • Formation of Red Blood Cells
  • Raw Fish Roe (7 mg)
  • Baked Conch (6 mg)
  • Salmon Sashimi (4 mg)
  • Raw Egg Yolk (3 mg)
  • Butter (2 mg)
  • Hazelnut Oil (47 mg)
  • Sunflower Oil (41 mg)
  • Almond Oil (39 mg)
  • Grapeseed Oil (29 mg)
  • Palm Oil (19 mg)
Vitamin K
  • Bone Health
  • Cognitive Health
  • Heart Health
  • Blood Clotting
  • Anti-inflammatory Properties
  • Broiled Beef (17 mcg)
  • Braised Veal (7 mcg)
  • Butter (7 mcg)
  • Broiled Lamb (6 mcg)
  • Fried Egg (6 mcg)

Animal foods contain vitamin K2.

  • Amaranth Leaves (1,440 mcg)
  • Raw Swiss Chard (830 mcg)
  • Cooked Kale (817 mcg)
  • Raw Dandelion Greens (778 mcg)
  • Cooked Collards (623 mcg)

Plants contain vitamin K1.

Thiamin
  • Conversion of Carbs to Energy
  • Heart Health
  • Nerve Health
  • Emotional Well Being
  • Cognitive Health
  • Grilled Tuna (1 mg)
  • Pan-fried Pork Chops (1 mg)
  • Broiled Venison (1 mg)
  • Salami (1 mg)
  • Chorizo (1 mg)
  • Flaxseed (2 mg)
  • Sesame Tahini (2 mg)
  • Sunflower Seeds (1 mg)
  • Pine Nuts (1 mg)
  • Macadamia Nuts (1 mg)
Riboflavin
  • Bone Health
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Healthy Skin
  • Healthy Vision
  • Maintenance of Body Tissues
  • Lamb Liver (5 mg)
  • Beef Liver (3 mg)
  • Calf Liver (3 mg)
  • Turkey Liver (3 mg)
  • Chicken Liver (2 mg)
  • Dried Shiitakes (1 mg)
  • Dried Lychees (1 mg)
  • Almonds (1 mg)
  • Sesame Tahini (1 mg)
  • Cloud-ear Fungus (1 mg)
Niacin
  • Enzymatic Functions
  • Nerve Health
  • Digestive Health
  • Hormonal Balance
  • Cognitive Function
  • Smoked Salmon (23 mg)
  • Skipjack Tuna (19 mg)
  • Tuna Sashimi (16 mg)
  • Chicken Liver (16 mg)
  • Calf Liver (14 mg)
  • Peanuts (16 mg)
  • Dried Shiitakes (14 mg)
  • Sundried Tomatoes (9 mg)
  • Sunflower Seeds (8 mg)
  • Buckwheat (7 mg)
Vitamin B6
  • Macronutrient Metabolism
  • Blood Synthesis
  • Immune Function
  • Maintenance of Blood Sugar Levels
  • Wild Salmon (1 mg)
  • Grilled Tuna (1 mg)
  • Roast Pork (1 mg)
  • Roast Bison (1 mg)
  • Roast Elk (1 mg)
  • Pistachio Nuts (3 mg)
  • Sunflower Seeds (1 mg)
  • Dried Shiitakes (1 mg)
  • Sesame Seeds (1 mg)
  • Dried Prunes (1 mg)
Folate
  • Reproductive Health
  • Heart Health
  • Bone Health
  • Hormonal Health
  • Cognitive & Emotional Health
  • Fetal Development
  • Turkey Liver (691 mcg)
  • Lamb Liver (400 mcg)
  • Chicken Liver Pâté (392 mcg)
  • Beef Liver (260 mcg)
  • Broiled Conch (179 mcg)
  • Peanuts (246 mcg)
  • Sunflower Seeds (238 mcg)
  • Boiled Black-eyed Peas (208 mcg)
  • Boiled Cranberry Beans (208 mcg)
  • Raw Spinach (194 mcg)
Pantothenic Acid
  • Macronutrient Metabolism
  • Adrenal Support
  • Stress Response
  • Production of Healthy Fats
  • Chicken Liver (8 mg)
  • Beef Liver (7 mg)
  • Calf Liver (7 mg)
  • Pork Liver (5 mg)
  • Caviar (4 mg)
  • Dried Shiitakes (21 mg)
  • Sunflower Seeds (7 mg)
  • Triticale Flour (2 mg)
  • Boiled Mushrooms (2 mg)
  • Sundried Tomatoes (2 mg)
Vitamin B12
  • Brain Health
  • Nerve Health
  • Production of Healthy Fats
  • Maintenance of Red Blood Cells
  • Clams (99 mcg)
  • Lamb Liver (86 mcg)
  • Calf Liver (85 mcg)
  • Beef Liver (83 mcg)
  • Steamed Oysters (35 mcg)
  • NO SOURCES
Choline
  • Cellular Health
  • Emotional Health
  • Cognitive Health
  • Fetal Development
  • Raw Egg Yolk (682 mg)
  • Caviar (491 mg)
  • Beef Liver (426 mg)
  • Chicken Liver (327 mg)
  • Salt Cod (291 mg)
  • Dried Shiitakes (202 mg)
  • Sundried Tomatoes (105 mg)
  • Flaxseed (79 mg)
  • Miso (72 mg)
  • Pistachio Nuts (71 mg)
Betaine
  • Cardiovascular Health
  • Digestive Health
  • Smoked Whitefish (88 mg)
  • Mutton (34 mg)
  • Chicken Breast (29 mg)
  • Braised Beef (18 mg)
  • Braised Veal (17 mg)
  • Boiled Spinach (577 mg)
  • Raw Lambsquarters (332 mg)
  • Dark Rye Flour (146 mg)
  • Raw Beets (129 mg)
  • Bulgur (83 mg)
Calcium
  • Bone Health
  • Nerve Health
  • Muscle Health
  • Heart Health
  • Renal Function
  • Parmesan Cheese (1,184 mg)
  • Romano Cheese (1,064 mg)
  • Gruyere Cheese (1,011 mg)
  • Goat Cheese (895 mg)
  • Dried Whitefish (810 mg)
  • Poppyseeds (1,438 mg)
  • Sesame Seeds (989 mg)
  • Fireweed (429 mg)
  • Lambsquarters (366 mg)
  • Almonds (291 mg)
Iron
  • Blood Health
  • Muscle Health
  • Maintaining Energy Levels
  • Cellular Function
  • Neural Development
  • Steamed Clams (28 mg)
  • Pork Liver (18 mg)
  • Chicken Liver (13 mg)
  • Oysters (12 mg)
  • Caviar (12 mg)
  • Pumpkin Seeds (15 mg)
  • Sesame Seeds (15 mg)
  • Poppyseeds (10 mg)
  • Sundried Tomatoes (9 mg)
  • Natto (9 mg)
Magnesium
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Muscle Function
  • Nerve Function
  • Regulating Blood Sugar
  • Heart Health
  • Caviar (300 mg)
  • Broiled Conch (238 mg)
  • Fish Sauce (175 mg)
  • Salt Cod (133 mg)
  • Grilled Salmon (122 mg)
  • Pumpkin Seeds (535 mg)
  • Cocoa Powder (495 mg)
  • Sunflower Seed Butter (369 mg)
  • Sesame Tahini (353 mg)
  • Poppy Seeds (347 mg)
Potassium
  • Heart Health
  • Skeletal Health
  • Renal Health
  • Digestive Function
  • Dried Trout (1,720 mg)
  • Salt Cod (1,458 mg)
  • Gjetost Cheese (1,409 mg)
  • Dried Whitefish (1,080 mg)
  • Smoked Salmon (960 mg)
  • Sundried Tomatoes (3,427 mg)
  • Cocoa Powder (2,509 mg)
  • Dried Apricots (1,850 mg)
  • Raw Hearts of Palm (1,806 mg)
  • Dried Shiitakes (1,534 mg)
Zinc
  • Immune Function
  • Reproductive Health
  • Skin, Hair & Nail Health
  • Prostrate Health
  • Sexual Function
  • Oysters (182 mg)
  • Calf Liver (12 mg)
  • Lamb (10 mg)
  • Bison (9 mg)
  • Cooked Crab (8 mg)
  • Sesame Tahini (10 mg)
  • Poppyseeds (8 mg)
  • Dried Shiitakes (7 mg)
  • Pumpkin Seeds (7 mg)
  • Peanuts (7 mg)
Copper
  • Maintenance of Connective Tissue
  • Bone Health
  • Immune Health
  • Formation of Red Blood Cells
  • Calf Liver (15 mg)
  • Beef Liver (15 mg)
  • Lamb Liver (15 mg)
  • Oysters (8 mg)
  • Squid (2 mg)
  • Dried Shiitakes (5 mg)
  • Sesame Tahini (4 mg)
  • Cocoa Powder (4 mg)
  • Cashew Nuts (2 mg)
  • Sunflower Seeds (2 mg)
Manganese
  • Macronutrient Metabolism
  • Bone Development
  • Healing
  • Collagen Formation
  • Mussels (7 mg)
  • Oysters (1 mg)
  • Clams (1 mg)
  • Grilled Bass (1 mg)
  • Trout (1 mg)
  • Hazelnut Flour (13 mg)
  • Pine Nuts (9 mg)
  • Fireweed (7 mg)
  • Poppyseeds (7 mg)
  • Pecans (5 mg)
Selenium
  • Skin, Hair & Nail Health
  • Neutralizing Free Radicals
  • Thyroid Health
  • Immune Function
  • Pork Kidneys (312 mcg)
  • Oysters (154 mcg)
  • Turkey Skin (153 mcg)
  • Chicken Skin (137 mcg)
  • Lamb Liver (115 mcg)
  • Brazil Nuts (1,917 mcg)
  • Sesame Seeds (98 mcg)
  • Sunflower Seeds (79 mcg)
  • Whole Wheat Flour (71 mcg)
  • Dried Cloud Ear Fungus (43 mcg)

1. Nutrient data is based on 100-gram servings of foods listed. Nutrient information was sourced from NutritionData.com and is provided exclusively for educational and informational purposes.   I make no warranties about its accuracy or reliability.

2. Photo credit.