Which whole foods for which vitamins?

Which whole foods for which vitamins?

Team ErbologyErbology

Feel you are lacking something from your diet? Notice physical symptoms of nutrient deficiency? Let's dive into the multitude of vitamin-packed whole foods which can help you back on the way to feeling great.

April 27, 2022 4:54 pm

Beta-carotene: Precursor to Vitamin A

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant which the body turns into vitamin A. It is also a bright pigment, which gives sweet potato, carrots and sea buckthorn their cheerful colour. In fact, its name comes from the Latin word for carrot, Daucus carota.

It’s not surprising, then, that the humble carrot is one of the best whole food sources of beta-carotene, delivering around 8332μg of beta-carotene per 100g of cooked carrots.

There are lots of health benefits to getting plenty of vitamin A, including taking care of your eyesight. Beta-carotene may also improve how your skin responds to the sun.(2)

There a few good things to bear in mind when increasing your intake of beta-carotene. Firstly, unlike some other substances which are water-soluble, stores of beta-carotene may be higher in cooked vegetables than in raw.(3)

Secondly, vitamin A is fat-soluble. So, you should eat your cooked carrots with healthy fats in order to maximise your intake of beta-carotene. We love eating roasted carrots with lemon and rosemary and then drizzling them generously with extra virgin olive oil. A final scatter of vitamin-packed chopped almonds and pomegranate seeds turns this simple dish into a delicious side to almost any meal.→ View Related Products

If you visit Erbology regularly, you’ll know that we always advocate for getting your vitamins and minerals through your diet rather than via supplements. This is especially relevant for beta-carotene and vitamin A. Research suggests that consuming too much beta-carotene through supplements (it’s almost impossible to eat too much via whole foods) may increase the risk of lung cancer. This is particularly true for smokers.(1)


Other whole foods rich in beta-carotene

  • Sea buckthorn berry oil (3900μg)
  • Sweet potatoes (5219μg)
  • Dark leafy greens, such as spinach (5626μg) and kale (1731μg)
  • Butternut squash (4570μg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data


Seabukthorn balls

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B vitamins

All together, there are eight B vitamins (sometimes called B complex vitamins).

Among other things, B vitamins assist our bodies with energy levels and are essential for the brain as well as the nervous system.(4)

Unlike some other vitamins, which are soluble in fat, all eight B vitamins are water-soluble. Unfortunately, this means that our bodies are not too good at hanging onto them. As a result, you need to keep replenishing your stores of B vitamins through your diet.

Foods such as whole grains, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fresh fruit all contain useful amounts of various B vitamins.

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you will probably already be familiar with vitamin B12. Many people who don’t eat animal products are concerned about getting enough vitamin B12. However, there are plant-based sources which allow you to stock up on this important nutrient, including nori (seaweed). → View Related Products

Other whole foods rich in B vitamins

  • Lentils (0.2mg of thiamin – B1, 0.6mg of pantothenic acid – B5 and 181μg of folate – B9)
  • Bananas (0.4mg of B6)
  • Spinach (146μg of folate – B9)
  • Almonds (1.1mg of riboflavin – B2 and 3.6mg of niacin – B3)
  • Peanuts (0.6mg thiamin – B1, 12.1mg of niacin – B3, 1.8mg of pantothenic acid – B5 and 240μg of folate – B9)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Sources: My Food Data.


risotto with almonds

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Vitamin C

Our bodies need vitamin C to make collagen. Collagen is a protein found in skin, bones, joints, and digestive tract tissues.

To make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C, you can look to the most well-known source: citrus fruits.. But don’t forget kale!

One cup of kale contains as much vitamin C as an orange. Moreover, just this amount more than satisfies your daily requirement of vitamin C. Use kale as a salad green or stir into your stews and pasta sauces just after cooking. → View Related Products


Erbology values

Plant-based foods high in vitamin C

  • Sea buckthorn berries (400μg)(5)
  • Citrus fruits such as grapefruit (79.1mg), lemon (112.4μg), and bergamot (144mg)
  • Green and red peppers (119.8mg)
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as kale (93.4mg), spinach (28.1μg) and turnip greens (60μg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Sources: My Food Data and Eat This Much.

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immunity boost

'Vitamin C is also important for our immune system. Many raw fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C.'

Vitamin D

We need vitamin D to help us take in calcium gained through diet and to allow our muscles to work properly. What’s more, it may have protective qualities against many diseases and conditions, such as several types of cancer. Our bodies can make vitamin D if we get enough sunshine. However, many people cannot or do not get enough – and so may need dietary sources of vitamin D.

That’s where mushrooms come in.

Although we find them among the fruits and vegetables at the supermarket, we often forget that mushrooms are not plants. Fungi are formed entirely differently to plants.

Mushrooms, unlike plants, have a substance called ergosterol in their cell walls. When exposed to ultraviolet light, either through sunlight or in artificial conditions, the ergosterol becomes a form of vitamin D that can be accessed by humans. However, not all mushrooms will have been exposed to light. Do your research.(6) 

Plant-based food sources of vitamin D

  • Mushrooms exposed to UV light, such as maitake, chestnut, portobello and white button mushrooms. To clarify, vitamin D2 levels in mushrooms vary depending on the type of light and duration of exposure. For instance, 100g of raw maitake mushrooms provide over 1,100 IU of vitamin D (7)
  • Hemp seeds and cold-pressed hemp seed oil

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is the name given to a group of dynamic antioxidants.

Antioxidants help our bodies fight oxidative stress, which can lead to all manner of diseases including cancers and many types of infections.(8)

Most of us get enough vitamin E through our diets, especially in the developed world, and vitamin E deprivation is rare. However, it’s good to know which foods contain vitamin E so you can better understand how certain foods contribute to a healthy diet.

There are several forms of Vitamin E. Of these, the most active type is called alpha-tocopherol. Many cooking oils, such as almond oil and sunflower oil, are rich in Vitamin E. However, make sure that you search out cold-pressed oils in order to maximise the amount of nutrients present in the oil. → View Related Products

Plant-based foods high in Vitamin E

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data


organic milk thistle oil

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Vitamin K

Care for an interesting factoid about vitamin K? Its name comes from the German word for blood clotting, ‘koagulation’. This is because vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and thus, wound healing. It also plays an important role in bone development. 

Fortunately, there are many plant-based sources for vitamin K. One of these is the helpfully named kale. Easy to remember, right? Plus, you’ll be getting a good dose of vitamin C, too. 

Another multi-tasking health food is sauerkraut, which not only provides vitamin K but is also a great source of both prebiotics and probiotics.(9)

Plant-based sources of Vitamin K

  • Aronia berries (60μg)
  • Brussels sprouts (177μg)
  • Broccoli (101.6 μg)
  • Romaine lettuce (102.5 μg)
  • Blueberries (19.3μg) 

 Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data


aronia juice

Your toolkit of vitamin-packed foods

So, there you have it! Once you understand which whole foods contain which vitamins, it’s easy to make sure you’re including them all in your diet.

Don’t feel obliged to stick only to the suggestions we’ve made here; seek your vitamins far and wide. We know that a diverse diet bursting with colourful fruits, vegetables and whole grains is the best way to look after yourself. So, go forth and explore the wonderful world of whole foods. Just remember to pick up some kale!

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  • References

    (1) Tanyetyanon, T and Bepler, G, “Beta-carotene in multivitamins and the possible risk of lung cancer among smokers versus former smokers: a meta-analysis and evaluation of national brands.”  Cancer, 2008.

    (2) Stahl, Wilhelm and Sies, Helmut, “β-Carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2012.

    (3) Livny et al, “β-carotene bioavailability from differently processed carrot meals in human ileostomy volunteers”, European Journal of Nutrition, 2003.

    (4) Kennedy, David O, “B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review”, Nutrients, 2016.

    (5) Gutzeit et al, “Vitamin C Content in Sea Buckthorn Berries (Hippophae rhamnoides L. ssp rhamnoides) and Related Products: A Kinetic Study on Storage Stability and the Determination of Processing Effects” Journal of Food Science, 2008.

    (6) Cardwell et al, “A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D”, Nutrients, 2018.

    (7) Food Data Central, “Mushroom, Maitake, Raw“, US Department of Agriculture, 2019.

    (8) Rizvi et al, “The Role of Vitamin E in Human Health and Some Diseases”, Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, 2014.

    (9) DiNicolantionio et al, “The health benefits of vitamin K”, Open Heart, 2015.


    Photo credits: Leilani AngelGabriel Gurrola

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