Can You Get Your Vitamins and Minerals Through Diet Alone?

Harvard Women's Health Watch says it's possible, even on a reduced-calorie eating plan.

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With the jury still out on the benefits of vitamin and mineral supplements—including multivitamins—the mantra you'll most likely hear from doctors and nutritionists is to get your nutrients from food whenever possible. But that's not always easy, especially within a limited calorie budget. Harvard Women's Health Watch consulted two nutrition experts to find out if a supplement-free, nutrient-rich, low-calorie diet is possible to achieve. Their conclusion: yes, with the exception of vitamin D, which is tough to obtain through diet and sun exposure alone (unless you live in the southern latitudes and spend a lot of time outside).

[Read about the evidence for the use of vitamins and supplements.]

Here's what the newsletter says a 1,200-calorie diet that satisfies the nutrient needs for women ages 51 to 70 might look like:

Breakfast: 8 oz. nonfat yogurt, ½ cup sliced papaya, ½ cup sliced kiwi, 1 oz. (14 halves) walnuts, 4 oz. skim milk.

Lunch: 1 small whole-wheat pita, green salad (1 cup dark green lettuce, 1 red or orange pepper, 1 cup grape tomatoes, ½ cup edamame beans, 1 tbsp. unsalted sunflower seeds, salad dressing made with 1 tbsp. olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and pepper).

Dinner: 4 oz. broiled wild salmon with yogurt sauce (1 tbsp. Greek-style nonfat yogurt, 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1 clove chopped garlic), 1 cup steamed baby bok choy, ¼ cup cooked barley, and ¼ cup cooked lentils with spices to taste.

Read the HWHW article for the nutritional breakdown of this menu and for a list of nutrient-dense foods that its experts recommend form the core of your diet. And take a look at these diets that promote health and always have. Plus: here are 7 must-dos before you buy a functional food.