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10 Foods More Nutrient-Dense Than Vitamins

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Are vitamins or whole foods better? Read on to find out the benefits of eating nutrient-dense foods and the importance of a nutrient-rich diet.

In previous decades, most individuals believed that if they took a daily multivitamin, they would receive all the necessary nutrition for the day in that one little pill.

Today, we know that this is not the case. Whole foods are always the best.

While vitamins and supplements can provide missing nutrients, specifically providing benefits for specific health conditions and any lacking nutrients, whole foods are still the best source of nutrition in the world today.

In fact, many common multivitamins sold at grocery stores offer levels of vitamins far below the required levels for optimal health, and some even contain synthetic vitamins that are not usable by the body at all. This is why it is important both to continue to each whole, nutrient-rich foods and supplements that offer high-quality, useable vitamins.

Read on to see which whole foods have vitamin-like effects in the body, providing the most powerful package of nutrients from a single source, beating out most multivitamins.

Cod Liver Oil

According to a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, most Americans are severely deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is mainly synthesized when sunlight hits the skin. There are few dietary sources of vitamin D, which combined with the sun-shunning ways of most Americans, results in an overall deficiency. Dietary sources of vitamin D are largely found in fatty fish and a few other foods, including eggs and mushrooms.

However, fish is the main source of dietary vitamin D. Vitamin D is used both to support the immune system and to build stronger muscles and bones. One of the easiest places to find high doses of dietary vitamin D is in cod liver oil and other fatty fish oils.

A tablespoon of cod liver oil a day can provide the entire day's worth of vitamin D. According to the National Institutes of Health, a tablespoon of cod liver oil has between 2 and three grams of omega 3 fats as well as 1,360 IUs of vitamin D, which is about 360 percent of the daily recommended intake for vitamin D (although the recommended intake may be lower than optimal levels).


Kale is the darling of the health food world as evidenced by the hundreds of kale-containing products at most health food stores. At any health food store, you will find kale chips, kale salad, kale baked foods, kale cookies, kale supplements, and maybe even kale ice cream.

Although kale is now ubiquitous, it does contain numerous nutrients that are incredibly beneficial (some benefits may be negated if you only eat deep-fried kale). Kale is one of the only sources of vitamin K1 in the plant world, which is a nutrient necessary for proper blood clotting, bone health, and tooth health. According to the USDA, one cup of fresh kale contains the following nutrients:

Nutrients in Kale
  • 134 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C
  • 900 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K1
  • 111 percent of the recommended daily intake of copper

Kale also contains high levels of manganese, vitamin B6, potassium, iron, and fiber. If you are feeling nutrient deficient, eat a leaf or two of kale every day.


Watercress is listed as the current leader of the world's healthiest foods. Watercress contains high levels of beta carotene, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin A, and manganese. The vitamin B6 content of watercress is particularly beneficial, as fewer vegetables have vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is used to convert food into usable energy and deficiencies in vitamin B6 have been linked with depression, memory loss, anxiety, and other mental problems according to the University of Maryland.

Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are one of the highest natural sources of selenium. Brazil nuts contain high levels of the nutrient. In fact, just by eating one Brazil nut you can receive all of the daily recommended intake for selenium. Because the nuts are so high in selenium, it is not recommended to eat more than about five to seven of the nuts in one setting or unwanted side effects may occur.


Shellfish contain a wide variety of nutrients that are difficult to find elsewhere. Shellfish are particularly high in vitamin B12, essential for energy levels and brain health. 100 grams of shellfish contain about 1600 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12. Shellfish also contain high levels of selenium, iron, other B vitamins, and potassium.


A study from 2013 published in the journal Thyroid found that iodine deficiency is extremely common and is a contributing factor to a sluggish thyroid. According to the study, one-third of the global population suffers from a deficiency of iodine. Seaweed is naturally high in iodine and other beneficial ingredients such as iron, magnesium, and manganese. Seaweed contains high levels of iodine, but the iodine content varies by type. Wakame seaweed contains about 110 micrograms of iodine per gram of seaweed, while one gram of kelp can contain up to 1500 micrograms of iodine.


Liver is a shunned food, because of the taste, texture, and "ick" factor, but animal liver is a high source of nutrients. Liver contains essential nutrients like vitamin A, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin B9, and copper. According to Self Nutrition Data, beef liver contains the following nutrients:

Nutrients in Liver
  • Up to 700 percent of the daily recommended intake for vitamin A
  • Up to 1200 percent of the recommended daily intake for vitamin B12
  • Up to 700 percent of the recommended daily intake for copper

Because of their high levels of nutrients, liver is beneficial but is not recommended for daily intake to prevent the excessive build-up of nutrients like vitamin A or copper, which can have negative effects in large doses.


Just like cod liver oil, sardines are surprisingly healthy. Sardines contain high levels of omega 3 fats, vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, and calcium. According to the USDA, sardines contain almost all of the nutrients that we need to eat each day.

Colorful Bell Peppers

While green bell peppers are often eaten, yellow and red peppers are eaten less often, to our detriment. Colorful peppers have surprisingly high levels of vitamin C. A red or yellow bell pepper contains up to four times the amount of vitamin C as an orange. So rather than eat an orange a day, try eating a colorful pepper instead. According to the USDA, one yellow pepper contains 134 percent of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C.


Blueberries are one of the healthiest fruit in the world. In addition to containing many essential vitamins, blueberries are also high in fiber and antioxidants.

According to Nutrition Self Data, blueberries contain high levels of:

Nutrients in Blueberries
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K1
  • Manganese
  • Fiber

Eating a cup of blueberries per day is a healthy way to boost antioxidant levels and nutrient intake.

Vitamins are Supplements, not Replacements

Although vitamins can be beneficial in supplementing for lacking nutrients or in treating specific health issues, they should not completely replace whole foods. You will retain more benefits from eating whole foods rich in nutrients rather than eating nutrient-deficient foods and taking vitamin supplements. When you combine a healthy diet with targeted supplements, your overall health is improved significantly. Vitamins should never take the place of real food.





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