Essential Nutrients and Where to Find Them


Amino Acids
Fatty Acids

See: Portfolio for the collected and slightly abridged series
Essential Nutrients and Where to Find Them

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Body Composition

The average human body is roughly 60 percent water, 15 percent protein, and 15 percent lipid, with the remaining 10 percent comprised of various trace elements.

body composition


Dietary guidelines first published in 1945 by the National Academy of Sciences recommend a water intake of 2.5 liters per day, but while those figures are roughly estimated and widely disputed, thirst is an irrefutable indicator of personal hydration needs.


Personal dietary needs are more complex, and simple hunger will reveal little about specific nutritional requirements, but a better understanding of how essential nutrients function in the body can provide the backbones of a balanced diet and help to make sense of seemingly arbitrary cravings.


Dietary Minerals

Minerals are chemical elements that come from the earth. Plants absorb essential minerals through their roots, deficiency in the soil will stunt plant growth just like dietary deficiency will damage human health.

They say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but while the hardest mineral known to man does provide some serious bling, it is not an essential component in any vital human function… just don’t tell your girlfriend you heard it from me.

There are roughly 30 minerals known for their use in human biology, of those elements these 11 essential minerals are critical in maintaining bodily functions and must be consumed from dietary sources to maintain efficient nutrient levels.

Dietary minerals work in close association with enzymes across all major systems in the body, for optimal utilization of these nutrients pair protein consumption with foods rich in these essential minerals. See: Proteins for an overview of enzyme functions.


The most abundant mineral in the human body, serving as a component in bone structures. Calcium promotes nerve transmission and hormonal secretion, supports cardiovascular and digestive system functions, and regulates acid/alkaline balance.

  • Kale
  • Sardines
  • Yogurt and milk
  • Watercress
  • Cheese (mozzarella, parmesan, swiss, cheddar)
  • Bok choy
  • Tofu
  • Broccoli
  • Okra
  • Almonds

For optimal absorption, pair Calcium with foods rich in Magnesium and Vitamin D. Magnesium and Vitamin D promote absorption of Calcium in the bloodstream and reduce excretion in urine. If levels of available Calcium in the blood are low, Vitamin D will pull the required nutrients out of bones to compensate. To preserve bone health, increase Calcium intake when consuming Vitamin D in excess.


Serves as an electrolyte to promote chemical and electrical impulses in the body, maintains hydration by balancing with fluid levels. Regulates blood pressure, balances acidity in the blood and protects from kidney damage. Potassium is essential for maintaining cardiovascular and neuro-muscular functions.

  • Beans (white/navy, soy, lima)
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Chard
  • Spinach
  • Apricots
  • Salmon and clams
  • Acorn squash
  • Artichoke

Sodium is required to carry out most potassium-dependent functions, including the regulation of ATP reactions for muscle contraction, but excess sodium will wreck havoc on the cardiovascular system. For optimal utilization of these minerals, increase potassium to sodium ratio and drink plenty of fluids.


Required for production of hemoglobin and myoglobin in red blood cells, used to transport oxygen throughout the bloodstream. Iron supports healthy growth and metabolism, maintains cellular function and hormonal production, and regulates conversion of calories for use as energy.

  • Organ meats, particularly chicken liver
  • Dark chocolate
  • Spirulina
  • Squash and pumpkin seeds
  • Shellfish, salmon and sardines
  • Nuts (pine, cashew, hazelnut, peanut, almond, pistachio)
  • Beef and lamb
  • Beans (white/navy, lentil, kidney, garbanzo, lima, black, pinto)
  • Spinach and chard
  • Quinoa, oats and rice

For optimal absorption, pair with foods rich in Copper, Vitamin C and Vitamin D. Copper promotes absorption of Iron and aids in production of red blood cells. Iron deficiency can lead to the most common form of anemia.


Stored primarily as a component in bone structures. Regulates enzyme functions, required for processing ATP in nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Magnesium is essential in protein synthesis, neuro-muscular function, and blood glucose regulation for energy production.

  • Spinach and chard
  • Seeds (sesame, squash and pumpkin)
  • Mackerel
  • Yogurt
  • Nuts (brazil, almond, cashew, pine)
  • Beans (soy, white/navy, kidney, garbanzo, lentil, pinto)
  • Quinoa and brown rice
  • Avocado and artichoke
  • Figs, prunes, apricots and bananas
  • Dark chocolate

Magnesium promotes production of thyroid hormones, regulating absorption of Calcium in the intestines and excretion in urine. For optimal utilization of these nutrients, pair Magnesium with foods rich in Calcium and Vitamin D.


Co-factor required for enzymes that catalyze oxidation-reduction reactions, protects the nervous system from damage by free-radicals. Minor component required to synthesize the structural protein collagen found in bones and blood vessels. Copper maintains healthy cardiovascular, neurological, immune and skeletal system functions.

  • Oysters, squid, octopus, lobster and crab
  • Raw kale, turnip greens, avocado and asparagus
  • Organ meats, particularly beef liver
  • Mushrooms
  • Seeds (sesame, sunflower, flax, squash and pumpkin)
  • Beans (soy, kidney, white/navy, garbanzo, lentil)
  • Nuts (cashew, hazel, brazil, walnut, pine, pistachio, almond)
  • Prunes, apricots, peaches, raisins and figs
  • Tempeh, soy products and goat cheese
  • Dark chocolate

Copper aids in Iron absorption, working with Iron in production of red blood cells and cellular metabolism of carbohydrates for use as energy. For optimal utilization of these nutrients, pair Copper and Iron consumption.


Promotes production of hormones in the thyroid. Iodine supports energy production, healthy growth and metabolism. Both deficiency and excess consumption of Iodine can lead to hormonal imbalances.

  • Sea vegetables
  • Cod, shrimp and tuna
  • Yogurt
  • Raw milk and cheese
  • Potatoes
  • Beans (White/navy and lima)
  • Eggs
  • Turkey
  • Cranberries
  • Strawberries


Co-factor required for enzymes used in thyroid hormone production, metabolism of amino acids and carbohydrates, and bone building. Essential component in synthesis of the structural protein collagen, serves as an antioxidant in skin cells to protect from damage by free-radicals and UV rays. Manganese maintains healthy bone density, neurological functions, and blood sugar levels.

  • Mussels, clams, crayfish, bass, trout, pike and perch
  • Herbs (cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, tumeric, garlic, basil, cumin, oregano, thyme, dill, parsley)
  • Greens (spinach, collards, beet greens, chard, kale, turnip greens, sea vegetables, bok choy, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower)
  • Nuts (hazel, pecan, walnut, macadamia, almond, cashew, pistachio, peanut)
  • Seeds (squash and pumpkin, chia, sesame, flax, sunflower)
  • Fruit (pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, bananas, kiwi)
  • Soy products (tofu, tempeh, soybeans, miso)
  • Beans (lima, lentils, garbanzo, white/navy, kidney, pinto, black, peas, green beans)
  • Grains (teff, oats, rice, quinoa, barley, rye, whole wheat, millet)
  • Black tea


Co-factor for enzymes that detoxify harmful substances, catalyze antioxidant reactions, and aid in connective tissue development, primarily by regulating sulfur balance in the body. Molybdenum maintains brain and nervous system functions, serving as a co-factor for enzymes that regulate the breakdown of adrenaline, noradrenaline, serotonin and melatonin neuro-transmissions.

  • Beans (lentils, peas, lima, kidney, soy, black, pinto, garbanzo)
  • Oats
  • Tomato and cucumber
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Celery
  • Barley
  • Eggs
  • Carrots
  • Bell peppers
  • Peanuts, walnuts, almonds and sesame seeds

Essential for maintaining sulfur balance, for optimal utilization of these nutrients, pair sources sulfur-containing amino acids with foods rich in Molybdenum.


The second most abundant mineral in the human body, serving as a critical component in bone and cell structures, required for synthesis of ATP, DNA and RNA. Regulates acid-base balance, energy processing, metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, and vital cellular functions. Phosphorous is essential in protein synthesis for growth, maintenance, and repair of cell tissues.

  • Seeds (squash and pumpkin, sunflower, chia, sesame, watermelon, flax)
  • Cheese (romano, parmesan, goat, mozzarella, swiss)
  • Salmon, carp, cod, tuna, shrimp and mackerel
  • Scallops, sardines, clams, shrimp, mussels and crab
  • Mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, brussels sprouts, beet greens, chard, bok choy, turnip greens and cauliflower
  • Nuts (brazil, pine, almond, cashew, pistachio)
  • Meats (turkey, chicken, pork, beef, veal)
  • Yogurt and milk
  • Soy products (tofu, tempeh, soybeans, edamame)
  • Beans (lentils, white/navy, garbanzo, pinto, kidney)

For optimal absorption, pair with foods rich in Vitamin D.


Co-factor for enzymes that aid in detoxification and oxidation-reduction.

  • Nuts (brazil, cashew, walnut, macademia)
  • Oysters, scallops, mussels, lobster, clams, squid and shrimp
  • Tuna, shrimp, salmon, cod, rockfish, swordfish, halibut, tilapia, mackerel and sardines
  • Grains (whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, barley, oatmeal)
  • Seeds (sunflower, chia, sesame, flax, squash and pumpkin)
  • Pork, beef, lamb, turkey, chicken and tofu
  • Organ meats, particularly beef liver
  • Eggs
  • Spinach, asparagus, broccoli and chard
  • Mushrooms

Selenium works with Iodine to maintain healthy hormonal production in the thyroid, pair consumption of these nutrients for optimal utilization. Vitamin C and Vitamin E can supplement as antioxidants, but deficiency in all three can leave the body susceptible to damage by oxidation.


Serves as a co-factor for enzymes that support neurological and immune system functions, promote sensory impulses, and maintain healthy skin.

  • Oysters, crab, lobster and shrimp
  • Beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey and tofu
  • Greens (spinach, asparagus, beet greens, broccoli, chard, brussels sprouts, bok choy)
  • Mushrooms
  • Seeds (squash and pumpkin, sesame, watermelon)
  • Dark chocolate
  • Garlic, wheat germ and sea vegetables
  • Beans (garbanzo, kidney, lentils, peas)
  • Nuts (cashew, pine, pecan, almond, hazel, walnut, peanut)

For optimal absorption, pair with foods rich in Vitamin D.


Vitamins are organic chemical compounds that an organism requires to maintain bodily functions but cannot synthesize within the body. These 15 vitamins are noted as essential in human biology and must be consumed from dietary sources.

Vitamin A

Fat soluble, for optimal absorption pair with foods that have a moderate fat content. See: Fatty Acids for a breakdown of healthy fats and where to find them. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness and weakened immune system.

Retinoids, found only in meat and animal product foods, support immune, genetic, and reproductive health.

Foods with highest retinoid vitamin A content
  • Shrimp
  • Eggs
  • Cow’s milk and cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Tuna
  • Cod
  • Scallops

Carotenoids, found in plants, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Carotenoid nutrients Lutein and Zeaxanthin support eye health and ocular function.

Foods with highest Lutein and Zeaxanthin content
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Collards
  • Turnip greens

Under certain conditions, the body can convert alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin, from carotenoid into retinoid form. For essential Vitamin A retinoids in a diet without animal products, beta-carotene provides the most efficient conversion ratio.

Vegetarian foods with highest beta-carotene content
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Greens (spinach, kale, mustard greens, collards, turnip greens, chard, romaine lettuce, bok choy)
  • Winter squash
  • Cantaloupe
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli and asparagus
  • Sea vegetables
  • Herbs (parsley, chili pepper, basil)
  • Tomato

B-Complex Vitamins

Vitamin B1 (thiamin)

Key component in developing and maintaining cellular structures, critical in the metabolization of dietary carbohydrates and fats for use as energy. Vitamin B1 is easily deteriorated in cooking and processing, for optimal absorption consume from raw food sources.

  • Asparagus
  • Seeds (sunflower, flax, sesame)
  • Greens (brussels sprouts, beet greens, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, bok choy, sea vegetables)
  • Beans and legumes (peas, navy/white, black, lentils, pinto, lima, kidney, peanuts, green beans)
  • Eggplant, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower
  • Barley, oats and sweet potatoes
  • Tofu and tuna
  • Onions, carrots, bell peppers, garlic, parsley and cumin
  • Tomato and cucumber
  • Pineapple, orange, cantaloupe, watermelon and grapefruit
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Involved in energy and Iron metabolism, required to recycle the antioxidant amino acid glutathione. An abundance of vitamin B2 will produce a yellow coloration in urine, excess nutrients in excretion can indicate over-consumption or inefficient absorption.

  • Greens (spinach, beet greens, sea vegetables, collards, chard, bok choy, turnip greens, kale, mustard greens, brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce)
  • Mushrooms
  • Asparagus, broccoli, green beans, bell pepper and peas
  • Eggs, milk and yogurt
  • Soybeans, tempeh and miso
  • Almonds
  • Turkey, sardines and tuna
  • Sweet potatoes, carrots and celery
  • Cauliflower, winter and summer squash
  • Grapes
Vitamin B3 (niacin)

A powerful antioxidant, essential in metabolism of dietary proteins, fats and carbohydrates for use as energy. Niacin stores energy as starch in muscles and liver, regulates blood sugar, and lowers cholesterol.

  • Tuna, salmon, sardines, shrimp and cod
  • Chicken, turkey, pork, liver, lamb and beef
  • Mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes and bell peppers
  • Peanuts
  • Rice and barley
  • Sweet potatoes, potatoes and carrots
  • Seeds (sunflower, chia, sesame, squash)
  • Peas, corn, avocado, squash, broccoli, green beans, eggplant and cauliflower
  • Cantaloupe
  • Greens (collards, brussels sprouts, spinach, bok choy, beet greens, kale, chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, cabbage, sea vegetables)
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

Critical in hormonal production, immune system function, and metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates for use as energy.

  • Mushrooms
  • Cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus
  • Sweet Potatoes and potatoes
  • Greens (beet greens, turnip greens, collards, brussels sprouts, chard, spinach, cabbage, mustard greens, sea vegetables, lettuce, bok choy)
  • Bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, avocado, tomatoes and squash
  • Lentils, peas, rye, wheat, corn, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds
  • Meat (liver, chicken, turkey, pork, beef)
  • Yogurt, cheese, milk and eggs
  • Salmon, trout, shrimp and cod
  • Fruit (papaya, raspberries, grapefruit, pineapple, watermelon, oranges, cranberries, figs)
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Required for production of hemoglobin in red blood cells, detoxification of blood in liver and kidneys, and synthesis of neurotransmitters GABA, dopamine and serotonin. Vitamin B6 has anti-inflammatory properties and supports metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and amino acids.

  • Tuna, beef, turkey, chicken, salmon, pork, shrimp and cod
  • Greens (spinach, cabbage, bok choy, turnip greens, brussels sprouts, collards, beet greens, kale, chard, mustard greens, leeks, lettuce, sea vegetables)
  • Bell peppers and garlic
  • Sweet potatoes and potatoes
  • Banana, pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries, watermelon and dried fruits
  • Cauliflower, winter squash, broccoli and summer squash
  • Carrots, asparagus, tomato and avocado
  • Sunflower seeds, pistachios, sesame seeds, hazelnuts, walnuts, flaxseeds, peanuts, macademias and cashews
  • Pinto beans, lentils, peas, lima beans and green beans
  • Onions, mushrooms, corn, beets, eggplant and celery
Vitamin B7 (biotin)

Essential in production and utilization of the hormone insulin for blood sugar regulation, and metabolism of fats for building, repairing and maintaining healthy skin tissues.

  • Tomato
  • Almonds
  • Eggs
  • Onions, carrots and sweet potatoes
  • Lettuce, chard and cauliflower
  • Sunflower seeds, peanuts, walnuts, oats, barley and yeast
  • Organ meats, salmon, sardines, pork, tuna, turkey and beef
  • Yogurt, milk and dairy products
  • Bananas, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon and grapefruit
  • Cucumber, avocado, mushrooms, peas and lentils
Vitamin B9 (folate)

Regulates blood levels of homocysteine and nitric oxide for cardiovascular health, monitors fetal development of neural pathways, and supports production of neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, GABA and glutamic acid. Vitamin B9 works with Iron and Copper minerals, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12 to regulate red blood cell production.

  • Lentils
  • Asparagus, broccoli, beets and cauliflower
  • Greens (spinach, turnip greens, lettuce, bok choy, parsley, brussels sprouts, cabbage, leeks, collards, beet greens, kale, chard, basil, mustard greens)
  • Beans (mung, pinto, garbanzo, lima, back, white/navy, kidney, peas, green)
  • Tropical fruit (mango, pomegranate, papaya, oranges, cantaloupe, pineapple, raspberries, guava, kiwi, lemon, lime, banana)
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery, squash, tomatoes and avocado
  • Peanuts, sunflower seeds, quinoa and wheat
  • Squash, mushrooms and eggplant
  • Onions and carrots
Vitamin B10 (PABA)

Para amino benzoic acid, regulates digestion and maintains healthy skin. Vitamin B10 aids in protein metabolism and promotes growth of beneficial microorganisms in gastrointestinal tracts. PABA, commonly used in sunscreens, corrects effects of inflammation and aging in skin tissues and protects skin from damage by free radicals in UV rays and air pollutants.

  • Organ meats
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Grains, bran and wheat germ
  • Potatoes
  • Eggs, yogurt and dairy products
  • Mushrooms
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Molasses
Vitamin B11 (salacyclic acid)

Essential in DNA and RNA synthesis, cell division, tissue growth and repair, reproductive function, fetal nervous system development and immune system functions. Vitamin B11 works with B9 and B12 in regulating methylation of homocysteine. Salacyclic acid can be synthesized in the body from the amino acid phenylalanine.

  • Spinach, kale, collards, lettuce and cabbage
  • Olives, mushrooms, tomato and bell pepper
  • Guava, cantaloupe, blackberries, blueberries, apricots, dates and raisins
  • Almond, peanut, macadamia, pine nut, pistachio, coconut and brazil nut
  • Avocado, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin and asparagus
  • Oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, kiwi, plum and watermelon
  • Pecans, sesame seeds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and cashews
  • Sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, peas, green beans, celery and lentils
  • Lemon, mango, passion fruit, banana and pear
  • Cumin, curry, dill, oregano, paprika, rosemary, thyme, tumeric, mustard, fennel, vinegar, soy, saffron, garlic, parsley and chives
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)

Provides a range of cardiovascular and neurological benefits, works with vitamins B9 and B6 to regulate DNA production, supports activity of bone-forming cells and regulates TNF activity in bone breakdown. Vitamin B12 works with B9 and B11 as a required component for production of hemoglobin in red blood cells, and in regulating blood levels of homocysteine by aiding conversion to amino acid methionine. Cobalamin promotes neurological function with oxygen-based energy production and methyl metabolism for neurotransmitter production.

  • Mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, herring and trout
  • Clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, crab, shrimp and lobster
  • Liver
  • Lamb and beef
  • Tempeh, miso and fermented soy products
  • Yogurt and milk
  • Eggs
  • Turkey and chicken
  • Cheese
  • Mushrooms

Essential building block in cell membranes and crucial component in the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. If vitamin B9 levels are insufficient for methylation, choline can work with B6 and B12 as a substitute.

  • Shrimp, scallops, tuna, cod and salmon
  • Eggs
  • Chicken, turkey and beef
  • Collards, brussels sprouts, chard, spinach and cabbage
  • Broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus
  • Peas and green Beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Summer squash
  • Miso
  • Tomato

Vitamin C

Commonly associated with citrus fruits, Vitamin C refers to the nutrient ascorbic acid, which acts as an antioxidant to prevent damage from free radicals in the eyes, bloodstream, and genetic material. Ascorbic acid is a necessary component for production of the structural protein collagen and certain neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, a crucial hormone for maintaining mental health. Vitamin C deficiency leads to a condition known as Scurvy, characterized by lethargy, loss of teeth, brittle bones, skin sensitivity and difficulty healing wounds.

  • Papaya, guava and mango
  • Bell peppers (yellow, orange, red, green)
  • Broccoli, brussels sprouts, green cauliflower, cauliflower and cabbage
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple, pummelo, orange, kiwi and grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Greens (kale, cabbage, bok choy, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, collards, chard, spinach)
  • Raspberries, lemon, lime, blackberries and blueberries
  • Tomato
  • Herbs (parsley, fennel, thyme, garlic, basil, dill, cilantro

Vitamin D

Regulates blood sugar and promotes skeletal, exocrine and immune system health. Vitamin D deficiency increases risk of respiratory infection and diabetes, and can lead to a condition known as Rickets (in adolescents) or Osteromalacia (in adults), characterized by bone weakness and skeletal deformity. Certain forms of Vitamin D can be absorbed in the skin from sunlight, but dietary supplementation is necessary to utilize its full range of circulatory and immune system benefits.

Foods Naturally Rich in Vitamin D
  • Trout, salmon and swordfish
  • Portabello and shiitake mushrooms (exposed to sunlight)
  • Sardines (bone-in)
  • Swordfish, mackerel and halibut
  • Tuna and tilapia
  • Fish roe or caviar
  • Organ meats, particularly beef liver
  • Tofu
  • Ham
  • Eggs
Foods Fortified with Vitamin D
  • Cod liver oil
  • Cow’s milk, buttermilk, butter, cheese and yogurt
  • Dairy alternatives
  • Cereals
  • Orange juice

Vitamin D is fat soluble, for optimal absorption choose food sources with a moderate fat content, or pair with foods rich in healthy fats. Commonly known to build strong bones, what Vitamin D giveth, Vitamin D may taketh away to compensate for insufficient Calcium levels in the blood. To preserve bone health, pair Vitamin D with foods rich in Calcium. Dairy products, naturally rich in Calcium, are often fortified with Vitamin D.

Vitamin E

Fat soluble, and a strong antioxidant, Vitamin E protects the fats lining cell membranes from damage by free radicals. Vitamin E deficiency can impair its ability to protect cholesterol from oxidation, causing it to accumulate and harden in the arteries, leading to a condition known as Atherosclerosis.

  • Sunflower Seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts
  • Avocado
  • Greens (spinach, chard, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, kale, collards)
  • Asparagus and broccoli
  • Chili peppers and bell peppers
  • Trout, swordfish, shrimp, oyster, crayfish and salmon
  • Olives, olive oil, wheat germ and canola Oil
  • Sweet potatoes and butternut squah
  • Cranberries, raspberries and kiwi
  • Tomatoes, carrots, green beans and leeks

Dietary Fiber

Dietary fibers are indigestible components in plant-based foods, commonly referred to as roughage. These carbohydrates, which maintain structure and shape in plants, can not be broken down by human digestion. Fiber regulates appetite by adding bulk to food without increasing caloric intake or contributing to glucose levels.

Insoluble fibers regulate digestion and alleviate constipation by clearing passage through digestive tracts. Soluble fibers support cardiovascular health by promoting cholesterol metabolism and regulating blood sugar balance. Fermentable fibers pass through the stomach and small intestine unscathed by digestive fluids and enzymes, to promote growth of healthy bacteria in the large intestine where they are metabolized into fatty acids.

Optimal Food Sources for Fiber
  • Beans and legumes (white/navy, peas, lentils, pinto, black, lima, kidney)
  • Raspberries and blackberries
  • Greens (collards, turnip greens, beet greens, spinach, brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard, okra, mustard greens, kale, lettuce, bok choy)
  • Soy products (tempeh, miso, soybeans)
  • Grains (wheat, bran, barley, flaxseed, chia seed, rye, quinoa, buckwheat, oats)
  • Herbs (cinnamon, fennel, chili pepper, black pepper, clove, parsley, tumeric, oregano, thyme)
  • Squash (acorn, butternut, winter, pumpkin, summer, eggplant)
  • Artichoke, broccoli, asparagus, celery, carrot, cauliflower, tomato, avocado and mushrooms
  • Cranberries, orange, strawberries, kiwi, blueberries, pineapple and grapefruit
  • Pear, papaya, coconut, apple, banana, cantaloupe, plum and apricot

Fatty Acids

In body composition, the average human is equal parts proteins and lipids. Fats, if you excuse my language, are the most common type of lipid. Fatty acids are built from chains of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. These fatty acids bond to the molecule glycerol to form fats and oils. The body metabolizes sugars for use as energy, but excess sugars will be stored as fat. Breaking down the molecular bonds in fat releases significantly more energy than simple glucose metabolism. This potential for generating energy makes fats an essential nutrient in the human body, while their potential for generating discomfort in body image makes them one of the world’s most despised substances.

Modern dietary guidelines focus primarily on fat-restricted diets for weight management, but healthy fats are as essential in human nutrition as proteins, and fat deficiency can have catastrophic effects on vital body functions. Vitamins A, D and E are fat soluble, the body requires the presence of fats to transport and absorb these nutrients. Body fats protect vital organs from damage and provide insulation in cell membranes. The human brain is roughly 60 percent fat, and the protective lining in neural pathways is roughly 70 percent fat, with the majority of those fats belonging to the omega-3 category these nutrients are particularly essential for maintaining neurological and mental health functions.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Polyunsaturated fats that regulate brain and cardiovascular functions. The simplest omega-3 is ALA, found primarily in plant-based foods, which can be stored for energy or converted into unsaturated fats DHA and EPA for active use in bodily functions. DHA is vital in developing and regulating brain functions, it serves as a structural component in skin and eyes, improves ocular function in infants, and promotes mental health functions in developing brains. EPA builds signaling molecules that reduce inflammation. ALA to DHA or EPA conversion requires sufficient levels of B-complex Vitamins and the minerals Calcium, Copper, Magnesium, Iron and Zinc. DHA and EPA, among other omega-3 fatty acids, can be found in high concentrations in fish, oils, nuts and seeds.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Polyunsaturated fats that regulate metabolism, maintain reproductive function, and stimulate bone, skin and hair growth.

Omega-9 Fatty Acids

Can be synthesized in the body when sufficient levels of both omega-3 and omega-6 are available. Omega-9 fatty acids regulate neurological and immune functions, and promote cardiovascular health by balancing cholesterol levels.


Healthy fats are an essential nutrient, but saturated fats and trans-unsaturated fats should typically be avoided. As a general rule, fats should be obtained primarily from natural unprocessed sources. Fats from processed foods have been stabilized to preserve freshness, but this process also prevents digestion and utilization of the nutrient components.

Optimal Food Sources for Omega Fatty Acids

  • Nuts and Seeds (flax, chia, hemp, walnut, pistachio, macadamia)
  • Fish (roe, shellfish, tuna, sardines, salmon, shrimp, cod)
  • Greens (brussels sprouts, collards, spinach, kale, lettuce, turnip greens, bok choy, leeks, watercress)
  • Cauliflower and broccoli
  • Soybeans, tofu and miso
  • Squash (winter, summer, butternut)
  • Raspberries and strawberries
  • Beans and legumes (black lentil, white/navy, kidney, pinto)
  • Tropical fruit (coconut, papaya, mango, kiwi, cantaloupe, honeydew)
  • Herbs (mint, thyme, basil, terragon, marjoram, oregano, saffron)
Healthy Oils
  • Fish
  • Flaxseed
  • Avocado
  • Olive
  • Coconut
Fats and Oils to avoid
  • Oils (safflower, grape seed, sunflower, corn)
  • Margarine
  • Shortening
  • Mayonnaise and other dressings
  • Processed snacks and fast food




The phrase “you are what you eat” coined by nutritionist Victor Lindlahr in the 1920s has etymological roots dating as early as the 1800s in French and German sources. This idiom has endured through the 1960s hippie movement and into modern catch-phrasing, serving as an accurate illustration of the effects of dietary nutrition on our bodies. When we digest food, we absorb essential nutrients to supplement elements that our bodies cannot synthesize efficient levels of.

In the case of dietary proteins, this phrase can be taken literally, but preferably not in the way Hannibal Lector interpreted it. Proteins are the building blocks of every cell in every structure of the human body, serving as critical components in all vital bodily functions.

All proteins are coded by a unique chain of amino acids. With 21 different amino acids appearing in human genetics, and some proteins boasting a peptide chain sequence over 20 thousand amino acids long… the protein possibilities are incalculable. Different types of proteins serve different purposes in the body, consuming protein in excess may still result in deficiency of particular amino acids. To ensure optimal intake of these nutrients, protein should be consumed from a variety of natural sources.

See: Amino Acids for a breakdown of these specific protein components and where to find them.

Structural Proteins

Fibrous proteins that act as the building blocks of the body.

  • Collagen– in muscles, cartilage, skin, tendons and bones.
  • Keratin– in skin, hair, teeth and nails.
  • Elasticin-– in blood vessels, tendons and ligaments.

Storage Proteins

Store mineral ions and amino acids for use in essential body functions. High concentrations found in gluten, seeds and legumes.


Stores Iron and protects from adverse effects. Iron is a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells, and in cytochromes responsible for cell metabolism.


Found in mammalian milk, stores Calcium, Phosphorous, carbohydrates and amino acids for embryonic development.


Found in eggs, stores amino acids for embryonic development. When metal ions reach toxic levels in the blood, ovalbumin can prevent absorption in the GI tract.


Produced in endocrine glands and transmitted through the bloodstream, humans secrete and circulate about 50 major hormones that act as chemical messengers between cells.

For a comprehensive breakdown of hormones in the human body, see: Hormone Table by Professor John W. Kimball, Harvard PhD.


Produced in the pancreas, regulates blood sugar and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Inefficient production or utilization of insulin can lead to various forms of diabetes.


Derived from the amino acid tyrosine, precursor of epinephrine / adrenaline. Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain, and acts as a local chemical messenger in digestive, circulatory and immune systems.

Norepinephrine / Noradrenaline

Primarily functions as a neurotransmitter, produced continuously in brain-stem nuclei that respond to stress and panic. Small amounts of noradrenaline are also produced as a hormone derived from dopamine in adrenal glands associated with the kidneys. Increased noradrenaline activity acts on alpha receptors to constrict blood vessels, restrict passage in urinary and GI tracts, enlarge pupils, and excite hair follicles. Alpha receptors are located primarily in smooth vascular muscles where sensitivity to noradrenaline promotes insulin production in the pancreas, increases conversion of blood glucose into energy, and increases blood pressure.

Epinephrine / Adrenaline

Produced in the adrenal medulla as a hormone derived from noradrenaline, production only occurs under stress. Similar to noradrenaline, increased production of adrenaline acts on alpha receptors to promote insulin production, increase conversion of blood glucose into energy, and increase blood pressure. Adrenaline also acts on beta receptors to promote glucose production in the pancreas, increase hormonal production in the pituitary gland, and increase breakdown of fats. Adrenaline is commonly administered in cases of severe allergic reaction to prevent anaphylactic shock.


Produced in the pineal gland, regulates sleep and circadian rhythm.


Derived from the amino acid tryptophan, produced primarily in the GI tract to facilitate intestinal movements. Serotonin also acts as a neurotransmitter to regulate sleep, appetite, mood and cognitive functions. Ascorbic acid is a required component in serotonin, to promote production of this hormone pair proteins with foods rich in Vitamin C.

Estrogens and Androgens

Produced in the ovaries or testes, regulate reproductive functions.


Serve as catalysts for chemical reactions that speed up metabolic processes in all systems of the body. Essential minerals are required as co-factors in order for many of these reactions to occur. Coenzymes are a co-factors that separate from the protein component of the enzyme to serve as catalysts and transfer components between enzymes. Vitamins are often required in the formation of coenzymes.

Digestive Enzymes

Essential in metabolic processes, humans rely primarily on four categories of digestive enzymes to break down food into functional components and excrete waste:


Enzymes that convert complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. Salivary amylase, activated by chewing, converts complex carbohydrate starches to the disaccharide sugar maltose. Pancreatic amylase, secreted into the small intestine, continues the digestion of carbohydrates into the simple sugar glucose.


Enzymes that convert proteins into amino acids. Pepsin, a proteolytic enzyme produced in the stomach, breaks proteins down to short-chain poly-peptides when activated by glutamic acid in the stomach. Trypsin, released from the pancreas into the small intestine, completes protein digestion by breaking proteins and poly-peptides down further to amino acid components.


Enzymes that convert dietary fats into glycerol and fatty acids. Gastric lipase, produced in small amounts in the stomach, aids in digestion of fats from butter. Pancreatic lipase, secreted into the small intestine, completes digestion of dietary fats by converting to fatty acids and glycerol.


Enzymes that convert nucleic acids into sugars, bases and phosphates. Produced in the pancreas, nucleases break DNA and RNA down into nucleotides for further digestion in the small intestine.

Other Digestive Enzyme Functions
  • Maltase and Sucrase— produced in the small intestine, break down specific sugars into glucose.
  • Lactase— produced in the small intestine, breaks down the specific milk sugar lactose into glucose and galactose.
  • Renin— produced in the stomach, breaks down milk proteins by converting to peptides, to be fully digested by pepsin.
  • Gelatinase— produced in the stomach, breaks down gelatin and collagen, to be fully digested by pepsin and trypsin.

Defensive Proteins


Proteins produced in white blood cells, carry out core functions of the immune system.

Transport Proteins

Carry ions, molecules and macro-molecules across cell membranes for essential functions.


Facilitate selective diffusion across cell membranes in passive transport from areas of high-concentration to areas of low-concentration.


Bind with specific ions and molecules to facilitate active transport across the cell membrane from areas of high-concentration to areas of low-concentration.


Catalyze breakdown of ATP, releasing energy to facilitate active transport across cell membranes from areas of low-concentration to areas of high-concentration.


Receive and respond to chemical signals for regulation of substances entering and leaving cells, activation of enzymes, and stimulation of glands.

  • Transmembrane– ion channel-linked (ionotropic) receptors, G protein-linked (metabotropic) hormone receptors, and enzyme-linked hormone receptors.
  • Intracellular– found inside the cell, include cytoplasmic receptors and nuclear receptors.

Genetically designated molecules that bind to specific receptors are known as ligands.

Acetylcholine Receptors

Acetylcholine Receptors (AChRs) receive the ligand Acetylcholine (ACh) to stimulate skeletal muscle contractions. ACh was the first known neurotransmitter, confirmed by Nobel Prize winner Otto Leowi. Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) facilitates the breakdown of ACh to terminate transmissions. In the nervous system ACh regulates muscle contractions, sensory perceptions, REM sleep, attention, memory, motivation, arousal and reward. Choline, a B-complex vitamin, is an essential component in ACh.

Muscarinic Acetylcholine Receptors (mAChRs) are metabotropic and can be excited by muscarine, found in the amanita-muscaria mushroom.

Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors (nAChRs) are ionotropic receptors that can be excited by nicotine, found in tobacco. When activated, these ligand-gated ion channels are permeable to the mineral ions Sodium, Potassium and Calcium. Stimulation of nAChRs in the adrenal medulla by ACh ligands triggers secretion of the hormones noradrenaline and adrenaline. The neuro-muscular autoimmune condition known as Myasthenia Gravis is characterized by degradation of nAChRs by autoantibodies (IgG1 or IgG3).

Contractile Proteins

Motor proteins regulate muscle, cardiac, and cellular movements.


Found in cell cytoskeletons, responsible for intracellular motor functions like cell division.


Motor protein that catalyzes breakdown of ATP to generate movement, works with actin to facilitate muscle contractions.

Optimal Food Sources

  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Halibut
  • Octopus
  • Cod
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Sardines
  • Shellfish
  • Tilapia
  • Alligator
  • Ostrich
  • Wild Boar
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Pheasant
  • Venison
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
Animal Products
  • Eggs
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Parmesan
  • Romano
  • Mozzarella
  • Goat Cheese
  • Swiss
  • Cheddar
  • Milk
  • Soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • White/Navy Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Black Beans
  • Lima Beans
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Green Beans.
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Artichoke
  • Collards
  • Beet Greens
  • Chard
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cauliflower
  • Soybean Sprouts
  • Lentil Sprouts
  • Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Green Gram / Mung
  • Bengal Gram Sprouts
  • Broccoli Sprouts
  • Radish Sprouts
  • Clover Sprouts
Nuts and Seeds
  • Squash Seeds
  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Hemp
  • Chia Seeds
  • Cashews
  • Walnuts
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Mushrooms
  • Potatoes
  • Spirulina
  • Sea Vegetables
  • Grape Leaves
  • Garlic
  • Wasabi Root

Amino Acids

Proteins are responsible for most bodily structures and functions. Amino acids are responsible for constructing and regulating proteins. Every protein in the human body is encoded by 21 core amino acids, but nine of those nutrients can never be synthesized in the body, and six more can only be synthesized under certain conditions. To maintain vital bodily functions, these essential nutrients must be consumed from dietary sources. See: Proteins for an overview of complete proteins and where to find them.


Can never be synthesized in the human body, must be consumed from dietary sources.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Promote protein synthesis for muscle growth, encourage retention and reuse of amino acids in muscle cells, and reduce protein breakdown in muscle loss and fatigue. Vitamin B7 is required to assist break down and absorption, inefficient biotin levels when metabolizing branched-chain amino acids can lead to a condition known as Maple Syrup Urine Disease.


Most effective in promoting protein synthesis for muscle growth and repair. Leucine stimulates production of insulin in the pancreas and promotes muscle cell absorption of blood glucose without use of insulin but inhibits insulin-stimulated absorption. May lower levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for leucine– avocado, sea vegetables, pumpkin, rice, watercress, turnip greens, soy, peas, beans, figs, raisins, dates, apples, blueberries, bananas, olives, nuts and seeds.

Less effective in encouraging protein synthesis for muscle building, but more effective in reducing blood sugar for use as energy during exercise. Isoleucine has no effect on insulin or glucose production, but it increases absorption of glucose into muscle cells without insulin resistance, and significantly increases energy output during exercise.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for isoleucine– grains, legumes, leafy greens, berries, nuts and seeds.

Least effective in muscle building and most resistant to insulin-stimulated blood sugar regulation. Valine aids in removal of excess nitrogen from the liver and transport as needed, reducing and possibly reversing the effects of liver and gallbladder disease. Valine deficiency has been indicated in degenerative neurological conditions characterized by damage to the fatty myelin layer that insulates nerve cells.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for valine– beans, legumes, soy, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, peanuts, avocado, apples, berries, oranges, figs, apricots, grains, nuts and seeds.
Optimal food sources for branched-chain amino acids
  • Fish– two 4 ounce servings will meet daily requirements
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Sea vegetables

Sulfur Containing Amino Acids

Aid in the detoxification of potentially harmful substances in the body.


Crucial component in methylation, converts toxins into water-soluble substances to prepare for excretion. Arsenic, mercury, lead, and aromatic hydrocarbons, among other potentially toxic substances, require methylation as part of detoxification.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for methionine– oats, rice, beans, soy, legumes, sea vegetables, onions, chocolate, dried fruits, nuts and seeds.

Can be synthesized from serine if sufficient methionine levels are present. Cysteine works with dispensable amino acids glycine and glutamic acid to form glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, and binding molecule required to enable detoxification of certain toxins including pesticides and methyl bromides.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for cysteine– soy, oats, bell peppers, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds.
Optimal food sources for sulfur containing amino acids
  • Fish– one 4 ounce serving will meet daily requirements
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and Seeds

Aromatic Amino Acids

Absorb ultraviolet rays to release energy or emit light. Tryptophan has the strongest fluorescent properties followed by tyrosine and phenylalanine. Herbicides and antibiotics inhibit synthesis of aromatic amino acids, rendering them toxic to plants and micro-organisms that rely on this process to sustain vital functions. Humans and other animals are built to function without the necessary components to synthesize aromatic amino acids, but exposure to herbicides and antibiotics can still inhibit utilization of these essential nutrients and may have negative impact in other systems of the body. When consumed by humans, aromatic amino acids work with B-complex Vitamins to regulate hormone production and mental health.


Used in synthesis of Vitamin B3 (niacin), can be converted into the hormones serotonin and melatonin by certain cells in the nervous system. Turkey meat has high levels of tryptophan, when consumed in excess this can cause drowsiness, but the real culprits behind the Thanksgiving nap are serotonin and melatonin.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for tryptophan– quinoa, soy, nuts, seeds, oats, sea vegetables, squash, roots, mushrooms, asparagus, leafy greens, avocado, peppers, figs, apples, oranges, bananas, beans and legumes.

Regulates central nervous system functions and aids in production of the hormones melatonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline. Phenylalanine can cross the blood-brain barrier, making it particularly effective in regulation of pain, appetite, mood and concentration.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for phenylalanine– soy, sea vegetables, pumpkin, avocado, beans, legumes, rice, quinoa, dried fruits, leafy greens, berries, olives, nuts and seeds.

Regulates pain sensitivity, metabolism, mood and stress response mechanisms. Tyrosine is required to metabolize phenylalanine, which is required to produce tyrosine. Both tyrosine and phenyalanine are required to synthesize the hormones dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for tyrosine– soy, nuts, seeds, grains, beans and legumes.

Essential in tissue growth and repair, production of red and white blood cells, and detoxification of toxic metals. Histidine works with Vitamins B3 and B6 to produce histamine, which aids in digestion, triggers immune response to allergens, and stimulates sexual arousal. Deficiency can contribute to Rheumatoid Arthritis and deafness due to nerve damage.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for histidine– cantaloupe, sea vegetables, potatoes, cauliflower, corn, soy, nuts, seeds, grains, beans and legumes.
Optimal food sources for aromatic amino acids
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Tofu
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and Seeds

One 4 ounce serving of beans, tofu, fish or chicken will exceed daily nutrient requirements for tryptophan.

Other Essential Amino Acids

Aid in production of antibodies to maintain essential immune system functions, protect from tissue damage and promote wound healing .


Aids in production of antibodies, promotes collagen and protein synthesis, blocks absorption of argenine in herpes virus replication. Lysine is required in the formation of chromatin used to regulate genetic processes in cell nuclei.

  • Optimal herbivorous food source for lysine– soy, beans, legumes, watercress, parsley, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Aids in production of antibodies, digestion of fats, bone building and wound healing. Threonine is required in the formation of mucins used to protect intestinal linings, and for production of glycine and serine used in formation of muscle proteins collagen and elastin.

  • Optimal herbivorous food sources for threonine– soy, watercress, spirulina, pumpkin, leafy greens,avocados, dried fruit, grains, bean, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Optimal food sources for other essential amino acids
  • Legumes
  • Tofu
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Fish and Chicken– one 4 ounce serving will exceed daily requirements for lysine

Conditionally Essential

Can only be synthesized in the human body under certain conditions, dietary supplementation generally required to maintain vital bodily functions.


Can be synthesized from disposable nutrient glutamic acid via proline and glutamine, but the process releases a lot of energy in the form of ATP that can be preserved by increasing dietary intake. Preterm and newborn babies cannot synthesize arginine internally, rendering it an essential nutrient in these stages of development, but a disposable amino acid for adults. Arginine stimulates the thymus gland, increasing production of t-cells in the immune system. In the liver, arginine is required for production of urea, allowing the body to excrete toxic ammonia through urination. Found in high concentrations in the skin, arginine helps process creatine to build and repair muscle tissue, and nitrogen for use in muscle metabolism. Nitric oxide, responsible for relaxing blood vessel contractions, requires arginine as a precursor. Arginine promotes production of insulin hormones in the pancreas, vasopressin hormones in the pituitary glands, and growth hormones in developing humans. Arginine deficiency is indicated in delayed sexual maturity and male sterility.

  • Optimal food sources for arginine– spirulina, coconut, dairy, soy, chocolate, meat, nuts, seeds, grains, wheat germ, gelatin, beans and legumes.

The most abundant amino acid in blood and muscle tissues. Glutamine promotes cell division serving as a crucial component in development of the immune system and synthesis of DNA and RNA. Glutamine can pass through the blood-brain barrier to regulate central nervous system functions. Inside the brain, glutamine can be converted into disposable amino acids GABA and glutamic acid. If glucose supply is insufficient, glutamine can be metabolized as an alternative energy source for the nervous system. In the liver, excess nitrogen bonds with glutamic acid to form glutamine instead of ammonia toxins. Glutamine protects the liver from drug and alcohol poisoning, and transports excess nitrogen throughout the body as needed. By replenishing nitrogen and glycogen supplies in muscle tissues, glutamine prevents muscle degradation after strenuous activity.

  • Optimal food sources for glutamine– beef, chicken, fish, dairy, eggs, beans, beets, carrots, parsley, wheat, papaya, celery and raw leafy greens. Glutamine is easily deteriorated by cooking.

Can be synthesized from disposable nutrient glutamic acid. Proline works with lysine to form collagen, essential in building and repairing skin, cartilage, muscle and connective tissues. If blood glucose levels are insufficient to sustain prolonged activity, the body will burn muscle mass for energy. To prevent muscle loss, increase dietary proline intake if highly active or recovering from traumatic tissue damage.

  • Optimal food sources for proline– meat, dairy, eggs, fish, soy, brewer’s yeast, cabbage, spinach, watercress, asparagus, avocado, cucumber, sea vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, grains, beans and legumes.

Can be synthesized from serine under certain conditions in the body. Glycine aids in protein synthesis for muscle growth, conversion of glucose into energy, construction of DNA and RNA, and maintenance of nervous and digestive systems. Found in skin, muscle and connective tissue, glycine is a major component in the structural protein collagen. Glycine prevents muscle loss by promoting creatine production, regulates blood sugar by promoting absorption of glucose into muscle tissue, protects from free radical damage via antioxidant properties, acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, and synthesizes gastric bile acids for use in digestion.

  • Optimal food sources for glycine– fish, beans, dairy, meat, soy, spinach, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin, cucumber, kiwi and banana.