Essential, health-promoting components of food

Video: Health Effects of Water, by Molly Niedermeyer, ND, LM

Over 100,000 nutritional components of foods have been identified. 41 nutrients (14 vitamins, 15 minerals, 9 amino acids, 2 fatty acids and water) are currently classified as being "essential" for human health. Definition of essential nutrients: "Nutritional substances required for optimal health. These must be provided in the diet, because they are not formed metabolically within the body."1 Essential nutrients have hundreds to thousands of currently known essential functions in human health (1,000+ for magnesium, 2,000+ for zinc, 2,700+ for vitamin D, etc.)!

  1. Essential Nutrients
  2. Conditionally Essential Nutrients
  3. Other Nutrients with Known Health Effects, Which May Be Classified as Essential Nutrients or Conditionally Essential Nutrients in the Near Future

1. Essential Nutrients

41 nutrients that our bodies cannot make on their own, which must be obtained from foods or nutritional supplements.

1.1 Vitamins

  1. Vitamin A
  2. Vitamin C
  3. Vitamin D
  4. Vitamin E
  5. Vitamin K
  6. Vitamin B 1 (Thiamin)
  7. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  8. Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  9. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
  10. Vitamin B6
  11. Vitamin B12
  12. Folate
  13. Biotin
  14. Choline

1.2 Minerals

  1. Calcium
  2. Chloride
  3. Chromium
  4. Copper
  5. Fluoride
  6. Iodine
  7. Iron
  8. Magnesium
  9. Manganese
  10. Molybdenum
  11. Phosphorus
  12. Potassium
  13. Selenium
  14. Sodium
  15. Zinc

1.3 Amino Acids

  1. Histidine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Methionine
  6. Phenylalanine
  7. Threonine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Valine

1.4 Essential Fats

  1. Linoleic Acid
  2. Alpha-linolenic Acid

1.5 Water

  1. Water

2. Conditionally Essential Nutrients

Most of the nutrients listed below can be produced in the body, but in certain circumstances, such as severe disease states or during infancy, additional amounts are required from foods or nutrititional supplements.

2.1 Conditionally Essential Amino Acids1

  1. Arginine
  2. Cysteine
  3. Glutamine
  4. Glycine
  5. Proline
  6. Tyrosine
  7. Taurine
  8. Glysine
  9. Serine

2.2 Other Conditionally Essential Nutrients

  1. Flavonoids (over 6,000 have been identified)
  2. Specific Retinoids or Carotenoids (over 600 have been identified), such as Lutein, Zeathanthin and Lycopene
  3. Coenzyme Q-10: "CoQ10 deficiency has been shown to be present in 39% of patients with high blood pressure, and supplementation with CoQ10 can lower blood pressure"1
  4. Alpha Lipoic Acid
  5. Betaine
  6. PABA (Para-aminobenzoic acid)

3. Other Nutrients, Which May Be Classified As Essential Nutrients, or Conditionally Essential Nutrients, In The Near Future

3.1 Minerals

  1. Cobalt
  2. Lithium
  3. Silicon
  4. Strontium
  5. Sulfur
  6. Many other minerals.

3.2 Fiber

"Although fiber is derived from one of the macronutrients [carbohydrates], the absence of a deficiency state prevents it from being considered an essential nutrient." ... "Although the classification of fiber may need to be further clarified in thefuture, it is currently known that foods that are naturally good sources of fiber contribute to the nutrient adequacy of a person’s diet and are vital to good health."1

  1. Lignans, which have demonstrated significant anti-cancer effects.
  2. Viscous soluble fiber, which has cholesterol lowering effects.
  3. Many other forms of fiber.

4. Nutrient functions and top food sources

Mon. 9/20/21 Note: The below chart currently under development.

* = Essential
Functions Top Food Sources (per calorie; top sources first; primarily from one ingredient foods, not packaged foods or foods with added nutrients)
and vitamin-like nutrients
*Vitamin A Vitamin A is found in different forms in plant (carotenoids) and animal (retinoids) sources. Carotenoids are precursors to vitamin A, and they are commonly considered to convert to vitamin at the below listed rates (see alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin), when needed by our bodies. And, as carotenoids, they provide additional (non-vitamin A related) health effects. To include both forms as contributors to vitamin A levels, vitamin A is commonly listed as RAE (retinol activity equivalents). Likely not included in the below conversion rates: "The capacity to convert beta-carotene to vitamin A is in part genetically determined, and may be reduced in as many as 27-45% of the population."1 "These individuals have a capacity to form only 9% vitamin A from beta carotene compared with those who are classified as normal converters."2 Liver (beef), red leaf lettuce, broccoli leaves, red hot chili peppers, carrots, mustard spinach, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, carrot juice, mustard greens, carrot-parsley-spinach juice, pumpkin, spinach, spinach juice, mustard spinach, dandelion greens, vine spinach (basella), mustard greens, lamb liver, turnip greens, veal liver, dock, Chinese cabbage, water convolvulus (Chinese spinach, Chinese watercress), mixed greens, Swiss chard, collards, grape leaves, duck liver, cilantro, watercress, beet greens, sourdock, butternut squash, lambsquarters, Boston/Bibb/Butterhead lettuce, chicory greens, sweet red peppers, parsley, laver, nori, goose liver, basil, dandelion greens, chives, garden cress, sweet potato, turkey liver, acerola, borage, celtuce (Chinese lettuce), broccoli raab, taro leaves, paprika, dill, purslane, pork liver.
Alpha-carotene  24 mcg alpha-carotene = 1 mcg Vitamin A Pumpkin, carrots, carrot juice, carrot-parsley-spinach juice, carrot-celery juice, carrot-beet juice, butternut squash, red peppers (sweet), red hot chili peppers, winter squash (all varieties), hubbard squash, bitter gourd, pimento, grape leaves, fiddlehead ferns, dandelion greens, yellow beans, green beans, chili powder, peppers (hot), dandelion greens, mandarin orange, yellow bell pepper, seaweed salad, napa cabbage, pasilla peppers, tangerines, plantains, collard greens, green tomato, cactus pads (nopales), stinging nettles, coleslaw, Swiss chard, acerola, kumquat, clementine, paprika, yellow tomato, pickles, cilantro, plums, ancho peppers, banana peppers, raspberries, green cabbage, cowpeas (black-eyed peas).
Beta-carotene  12 mcg beta-carotene = 1 mcg Vitamin A Red leaf lettuce, red hot chili peppers, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, spinach juice, dandelion greens, mustard greens, carrots, carrot juice, turnip greens, carrot-parsley-spinach juice, dock, Chinese cabbage, pumpkin, carrot-celery juice, mixed greens, Swiss chard, carrot-beet juice, collards, grape leaves, watercress, beet greens, cilantro, sourdock, beet greens, lambsquarters, Boston/Bibb/Butterhead lettuce, chicory greens, parsley, nori, basil, red sweet peppers, chives, garden cress, sweet potato, acerola, butternut squash, broccoli raab, taro leaves, dill, purslane, paprika, laver, nori, scallions, kale, chives, red curry paste, amaranth leaves, fireweed leaves, yellow tomato, chrysanthemum, endive, escarole, kim chi, buttercup squash, winter squash (all varieties), hubbard squash, drumstick leaves (moringa), pumpkin flowers, taro leaves, cayenne pepper, pimento, red peppers (sweet), sweet potato, red bell peppers, fiddlehead fern, Persian (crenshaw) melon, cantaloupe, pasilla peppers, arugula.
Beta-croptoxanthin  24 mcg alpha-cryptoxanthin = 1 mcg Vitamin A Butternut squash, hot chili pepper, hubbard squash, ancho peppers, paprika, persimmon, mandarin orange, cayenne pepper, sweet red peppers, red bell peppers, papaya, papaya juice, tangerines, goji berries, chili powder, loquat, cilantro, clementine, carrots, tangerine juice, peaches, pasilla peppers, pickles, orange juice, acerola, jalapeno peppers, rose hips, kumquat, dandelion greens, orange peel, watermelon, watermelon juice, oranges, tangelo, taco spice mix, lemon juice, spearmint, relish, plum, nectarine, apricot, basil, peaches, cucumber, spirulina juice, corn, mustard greens, hot green chili peppers, sweet potato leaves, zucchini, serrano peppers, dijon mustard, yellow beans, green beans, Hungarian peppers, chrysanthemum, prunes, collard greens, red curry paste.
Lutein+zeaxanthin These commonly grouped together carotenoids are non-vitamin A precursors. Health effects: antioxidants (helping keep cells healthy) and vision health. Swiss chard, spinach, watercress, spinach juice, chicory greens, dock, sourdock, turnip greens, mustard greens, garden cress, radicchio, sweet potato leaves, fireweed leaves, collards, dandelion greens, basil, mixed greens, kale, purslane, chrysanthemum, dill, parsley, arugula, summer squash (all varieties), zucchini, red leaf lettuce, amaranth leaves, lambsquarters, scallop squash, escarole, endive, green leaf lettuce, stinging nettles, pumpkin leavers, balsam pear (bitter gourd and leafy tips), beet greens, broccoli raab, paprika, chervil, spearmint, wild spinach, pumpkin, cholla buds, broccoli, bay leaf, taro leaves, watercress, Chinese broccoli, cayenne pepper, carrot-parsley-spinach juice, asparagus, buttercup squash, winter squash (all varieties), Brussels sprouts, mace (ground), scallions, leeks, peas.
Lycopene This carotenoid is a non-vitamin A precursor. Health effects: antioxidant, excellent anti-cancer supporting research. Tomato sauce, tomato puree, non-alcoholic blood Mary mix, V8, tomato juice, tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, watermelon, watermelon juice, tomatoes, guava, papaya, papaya juice, rose hips, grapefruit (pink or red), orange tomato, yellow tomato, grapefruit juice (pink or red), chili with beans, tabbouleh salad, guacamole, spirulina, guava paste, sweet red peppers, roselle.
Retinol Animal source (preformed) vitamin A. Liver (beef, walrus, moose, lamb, veal, sea lion, ringed seal, duck, caribou, goose, turkey, whale, goat, pork), chicken giblets, cod liver oil, turkey giblets, liverwurst, braunschweiger, liver sausage, lingcod liver, salmon liver, eel, tuna, clam juice, clams, blackfish, whitefish liver, beef kidneys, bluefin tuna, cow's milk (with added Vitamin A; fat free, skim or low fat would be more nutrient-dense for vitamins, minerals and protein, although full fat, raw, non-homogenized, non-pasteurized milks, cheeses and yogurts are considered healthier foods by some sources; they may not have added vitamin A though, and therefore may not be top vitamin A sources per calorie -- often containing about 60% less vitamin A if none is added); soy, rice, almond, cashew, coconut, and oat milks (unsweetened, commonly have added vitamin A); bearded seal, sea lion, polar bear, devilfish, scrapple (pork).
Retinol Activity Equivalents   Liver (beef, lamb, veal, duck, goose, turkey, pork, chicken, cod liver oil), turkey giblets, red leaf lettuce, hot red chili peppers, carrots, mustard spinach, romaine, liverwurst, green leaf lettuce, chicken giblets, carrot juice, mustard greens, carrot-spinach-parsley juice, pumpkin, spinach, dandelion greens, carrot-celery juice, carrot-beet juice, turnip greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, dock, Chinese cabbage, mixed greens, Swiss chard, collards, grape leaves, cilantro, watercress, beet greens, butternut squash, lambs quarters, liverwurst, Boston/Bibb/Butterhead lettuce, chicory greens, red peppers, parsley, nori, basil, chives, garden cress, sweet potato, acerola.
*Vitamin C  

Camu camu, acerola juice, acerola, yellow bell pepper, red bell pepper, sweet red peppers, green hot chili peppers, sweet green peppers, mustard spinach, vine spinach (basella), red hot chili peppers, balsam pear (bitter gourd) pods, tomato juice, jalapenos, guava, green bell peppers, butterbur, peaches, watercress, drumstick bods, black currant juice, parsley, pimento, Chinese cabbage, broccoli (flower clusters, leaves and stalks), Hungarian peppers, parsley, cloudberry, kale, banana peppers, balsam pear (bitter gourd) leafy tips, water convolvulus, black currants, broccoflower, cauliflower, lemon peel, sesbania flower, drumstick pods, rose hips, mustard greens, kiwi, roseroot greens, stonecrop leaves, butterbur, kohlrabi, fireweed leaves, dock, taro, garden cress, V8, cabbage, chives, coconut water (with added Vitamin C), radishes (white icicle), cilantro, dill, Brussels sprouts, amaranth leaves, chives, kimchi, turnip greens, pumpkin flowers, lambsquarters, strawberries, lemon, sesbania flower, lemon juice, borage, zucchini, sourdock, pummelo, thyme, willow leaves, broccoli raab, taro leaves, gooseberries.


Over 6,000 types identified, some of the best known including quercetin, kaempferol, catechins and anthocyanidins. Health benefits: support Vitamin C's transport and functions; antioxidant; anti-inflammatory; cardiovascular system health; nervous system support; detoxification support; promote healthy cells; play a wide variety of different roles and functions in health promotion.1 - Flavonols (which include quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and isorhamnetin): onions, apples, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, almonds, turnip greens, sweet potatoes
- Flavan-3-ols (which include catechins, epicatechins, gallocatechins, and theaflavins): apples, bananas, blueberries, peaches, pears, strawberries
- Flavones (which include apigenin and luteolin): parsley, bell peppers, celery, apples, oranges, watermelon, chili peppers, cantaloupe, lettuce
- Flavonones (which include hesperetin, naringenin, and eriodictyol): oranges, grapefruit, lemons, tomatoes
- Anthocyanidins(which include cyanidin, delphinidin, malvidin, pelargonidin, peonidin, and petunidin): blueberries, bananas, strawberries, cherries, pears, cabbage, cranberries, plums, raspberries, garbanzo beans.1
Quercetin   Listed by mg./100 gm. (not by calorie; top sources first; raw, unless otherwise noted): capers, capers (canned), lovage leaves, elderberry juice concentrate, dock leaves, radish leaves, chokeberry juice concentrate, dill, cilantro, hot wax yellow peppers, fennel leaves, elderberries, red onions, ancho peppers, corn poppy leaves, okra, buckwheat, onions, cowberries (black-eyed peas), bee polin, sweet potato leaves, cocoa powder (unsweetened), onions (boiled), scallions, bog whortleberries, cranberry juice, seranno peppers, cranberries, sweet onions, hot green chili peppers, peas, spring onions, plums, Greek beans, asparagus, lingonberries, red leaf lettuce, tarragon, chokeberries, kale, asparagus (cooked, 39% less than raw), watercress, rowanberries (frozen), oregano (fresh), black crrants, white sweet onion, jalapeno, blueberries, cilantro, spinach, chives, kale, apple (red delicious, with skin), pears, kale (canned, 37% less than raw), romaine lettuce, tomato puree (canned), spinach, watercress, blueberries (frozen), red grapes, celery, broccoli, cherries (sweet, canned), bilberries, yellow snap beans, cherries (tart), tea (decaf brewed), cherry tomatoes, green tea (decaf brewed), breen beans,, buckwheat flour (whole groat), green tea, apricots, black grapes, iceberg lettuce, lemons, black tea, apple sauce (unsweetened), looseleaf lettuce, white currants, apple raw (without skin), green beans (canned), tomato juice (canned), cherries, plums, butterhead lettuce, queen anne's lace leaves, broccoli )cooked), lingonberrry juice, red curants, marinara sauce.1 Additional sources: pomegranite, gingko biloba.
*Vitamin D    
*Vitamin E    
*Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)   Yeast extract spread, torula yeast, tomato, baking yeast, coffee, sprouted kidney beans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas) leaves.
*Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)    
*Vitamin B3 (Niacin)    
*Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)    
*Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)    
*Vitamin B12    
*Biotin   Tomatoes, peanuts, carrots, romaine lettuce, almonds, eggs, onions, cucumber, cauliflower, oats, sweet potatoes.
*Choline   Eggs, cauliflower, Swiss chard, asparagus, broccoli, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, shrimp, bok choy, crimini mushrooms, scallops, cod, spinach, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, tuna, turkey, chicken.
Calcium   Bok choy, turnip greens, spinach, tofu, collard greens, mustard greens, cinnamon, parsley, Swiss chard, kale, celery, sardines, cow's milk, cheese, sesame seeds, fennel, cabbage.
Chromium   Broccoli, romaine lettuce, black pepper, green beans, tomatoes, barley, oats,
Copper   Crimini mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, turnip greens, beet greens, Swiss chard, asparagus, spinach, sesame seeds, kale, mustard greens, summer squash, cashews, sunflower seeds, tempeh, tofu, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, olives, lentils, garbanzo beans.
Other Nutrients    
*Omega-3 Fatty Acids    
*Omega-3 Fatty Acids    
  1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/Dietary_Reference_Intakes.aspx
  2. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=59
  3. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=106
  4. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=119
  5. http://www.nutrientsreview.com/glossary/essential-nutrients
  6. http://www.whfoods.com/nutrientstoc.php
  7. http://orthomolecular.org/nutrients/micronutrients.shtml
  8. http://orthomolecular.org/nutrients/vitamins.shtml
  9. https://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(15)01743-8/pdf