Have you ever wondered what people ate or how much when food groups weren’t discovered, when calories wasn’t a word, and when numbers didn’t exist? Couldn’t count, wouldn’t eat healthy?
People stuck to local, seasonal produce, or were forced to do so for the sake of convenience. They went with their gut most of the time, listened to grandparents and folklore, ate when hungry and till they were full, and were very aware of what agreed with them and what didn’t. They ate healthy.
Since then, man’s lifestyle evolved. Man didn’t.
Spoilt for choice and upsold even junk food, trying to eat healthy today can be extremely confusing. And it doesn’t help that we’ve lost touch with a very basic instinct, the ability to understand our food.
Trying to simplify things for us, the Food and Nutrition Board came up with a bunch of numbers, Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), to tell you how much of each nutrient you need every day – to stay healthy. They set slightly higher standards in the best interests of everyone, so there’s no need for panic if you’re shy by a few units.
To make things even easier, we’ve put together a list of the most important vitamins and minerals with their RDAs and what they look like on your plate. This should only serve as a guide. You still need to keep your diet varied and packed with foods that agree with your sensibilities and metabolic personality.
Note: You don’t have to eat everything on this list, every day. Thankfully for us, most common foods have more than one essential mineral and vitamin. You won’t need to eat a week’s worth of food in a day.
Here we go…
- Vitamin A: 700 mcg (women); 900 mcg (men)
= 1 medium, baked sweet potato (1096 mcg)
Look for: Brightly colored foods
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 1.1 mg (women); 1.2 mg (men)
= 1 tbsp flax seeds (0.16 mg) + 3 slices whole wheat bread (0.34 mg) + 1 cup green peas (0.4 mg) + ½ plain bagel (0.3 mg) OR 6 oz lean pork chops (1.1 mg)
Look for: Whole grains, meat, fish
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 1.1 mg (women); 1.3 mg (men)
= 1 cup white mushrooms, stir-fried (0.5 mg) + 1 cup 2% fat milk (0.5 mg) + 1 whole hard-boiled egg (0.26 mg)
Look for: Meat, eggs, low-fat milk, green vegetables
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 14 mg (women); 16 mg (men)
= 3 oz yellowfin tuna cooked (dry heat) (18.76 mg) OR 1 cup of portabella mushrooms (7.57 mg) + 1 oz peanuts (3.42 mg) + 1 cup of boiled fresh green peas (3.23 mg) + 1 cup of cooked medium-grained brown rice (2.59 mg)
Look for: Mostly meat, fish, and nuts
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 5 mg
= ½ cup cooked Shiitake mushrooms (2.6 mg) + ¼ cup sunflower seeds (2.4 mg) OR 3 oz boiled beef liver (8.3 mg)
Look for: Virtually all plant- and animal-based foods
- Vitamin B6: 1.3–1.7 mg
= 1 cup sliced bananas (0.55 mg) + 1 oz pistachios (0.48 mg) + 1 cup boiled spinach (0.44 mg)
Look for: Protein-rich foods
- Vitamin B12: 2.4 mg
= 2½ oz canned tuna (2.2 mg) OR 2½ oz canned salmon (3.7 mg) OR 2½ oz fortified soy burger (1.8 mg)
Look for: Animal sources as they are the only natural sources. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, look for fortified foods.
- Vitamin C: 75 mg (women); 90 mg (men)
= 1 medium orange (70 mg) OR ½ medium red bell pepper (156 mg) OR 1 cup raw strawberries (95 mg)
Look for: Vegetables and fruits
- Vitamin D: 15 mcg
= 3 oz salmon (11.1 mcg) + 1 large egg yolk (0.9 mcg) + 1 cup fortified milk (2.9 mcg) + 10–15 mins of sunlight 2/3 times a week
Look for: Not found in many foods so you have to go for fortified foods, fatty fish, egg yolks, margarine.
- Vitamin E: 15 mg
= ¼ cup toasted almonds (18 mg) OR ½ avocado (4 mg) + 2 tbsp almond butter (8 mg) + 1 tsp sunflower oil (3 mg)
Look for: Foods that contain fat like vegetable oil, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish
- Vitamin K: 90 mcg (women); 120 mcg (men)
= 265 ¼ cup boiled kale
Look for: Green leafy vegetables
- Folate (vitamin B9): 400 mcg
= ¾ cup cooked lentils (265 mcg) + ½ cup cooked spinach (121 mcg)
Other sources: ½ cup cooked beets (72 mcg), ½ avocado (81 mcg)
Look for: Dark green vegetables and dried legumes
- Calcium: 1000 mg
= 1 cup buttermilk (370 mg) + ¾ cup plain yogurt (180 mg) + 2½ oz canned sardines (286 mg) + 1½ oz processed cheese slices like swiss, cheddar (276 mg)
Look for: Milk-based products and milk alternatives
- Potassium: 4700 mg
= ½ cup dried apricots (1300 mg) + 1 cup stir-fried white button mushroom (888 mg) + 1 medium baked sweet potato (694 mg) + 1 cup yogurt (579 mg) + ½ cup cooked spinach (520 mg) + ½ avocado (487.5 mg) + 1 large banana (487 mg)
Look for: Fruits and vegetables
- Iron: 18 mg (women); 8 mg (men)
= ¾ cup hummus (1.5 mg) + ½ cup cooked spinach (2 mg) + ¼ cup dried apricots (1.6 mg) + ¾ cups soy yogurt (2.1 mg) + 1 cup cooked tofu (2.4 mg) + 30 g cereal (4.3 mg) + 1 medium potato with skin, cooked (1.9 mg) + ½ cup tomato puree (2.4 mg)
Other sources: 2½ oz cooked pork liver (13.4 mg)
Look for: Animal sources because they are richer in iron. So, vegetarians and vegans need to work harder to get their fill. Women too.
- Magnesium: 320 mg (women); 420 mg (men)
= ¼ cup pumpkin seeds (317 mg) + ½ cup cooked spinach (83 mg) + 1 medium cooked potato with skin (55 mg) + ½ cup cooked quinoa (63 mg)
Look for: Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains
- Zinc: 8 mg (women); 11 mg (men)
= ¼ cup wheat germ cereal (5 mg) + ¾ cup lentils (2 mg) + ¾ cup regular yogurt (1 mg) + 2.5 oz pork (3 mg)
Look for: High-protein foods like seafood, meat, beans, and lentils
- Phosphorous: 700 mg
= 2½ oz canned sardines (368 mg) + ¾ cup cooked tempeh (380 mg)
Other sources: ¼ cup sunflower seeds without shell (375 mg)
Look for: High-protein foods like dairy, meat, and their alternatives
Coming back to where we started, don’t get intimidated by these numbers or the long lists in certain cases. As long as you keep your meals interesting with different colors and preparations, you’ll be right on track.