The word “superfoods” had its wave of popularity a few years ago. As is often the case in food trends, this word first became popular in the United States and then migrated to Western Europe, from there it travelled to South and North Europe and finally reached Eastern Europe. In different contexts “superfoods” meant something else but it basically referred to foods that were for some reason (not always specified) healthier than average. Examples of the most promoted superfoods include goji berries, acai berries, matcha powder, hemp seeds, cacao nibs and powders made from exotic plants like moringa, baobab, spirulina, etc.
As my approach to diet is very rational, and my belief in scientific research is very strong, I never buy empty claims but look at the facts. So, for me the true superfoods are those that contain one or more micronutrients (examples of micronutrients are vitamins and minerals) in quantities that make a significant difference to your diet. And that would be at least 100 % of recommended dietary allowance (RDA) per portion. Thus, these superfoods, even if consumed sparingly, could deliver true health benefits.
I’ve spent quite some time on research, and I am proud to offer you at least one superfood for every micronutrient that we are supposed to consume daily as a part of healthy diet. For my research I’ve used the most reliable sources, namely Food Data Central of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Dutch analogue https://www.voedingswaardetabel.nl/
In this article I’ve limited myself to vitamins only. In the following articles I will provide the superfoods regarding minerals and fatty acids. Basically, this article is a list of the best vegan sources of vitamins.
Fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E & K
The cheapest and most widely available source of vitamin A is carrots. In the Netherlands the RDA for vitamin A for an adult person is 800 mcg/day. 100 g of carrots contain 1500 mcg vitamin A, so twice as much as we need per day. I chose to use an indication per 100 g in this particular case, because the weight of individual carrots varies greatly.
Another great source of vitamin A is sweet potatoes. One medium sweet potato (120 grams) contains approximately 850 mcg of vitamin A, so slightly more than the RDA. By the way, sweet potato is a major component of the traditional diet of Okinawa centenarians.
There are no plant-based sources of vitamin D. However, your body can synthesize it if exposed to the sun. If you follow a strict vegan diet, you should supplement this vitamin in dark seasons (late autumn, winter and early spring.)
There is no recommended daily allowance for vitamin E (in the Netherlands). The adequate intake is considered to be in the range of 11-13 mg per day.
Vitamin E comes in different forms and is converted for convenience in alpha-tocopherol equivalents (αTE). 1 αTE corresponds to 1 milligram of alpha-tocopherol or 2.5 mg beta-tocopherol or 10 mg gamma-tocopherol or 100 mg delta-tocopherol (these are the forms of vitamin E).
On the labels of vitamin preparations, the content of vitamin E is sometimes indicated in international units (IU). 1 IU equals 0.67 mg of alpha-tocopherol.
One tablespoon of wheat germ oil (15 ml) contains 18 mg of vitamin E. Wheat germ oil is truly the best source of this vitamin.
The recommended amount for vitamin K for adults over the age of 18 is 70 micrograms per day.
100 g spinach provide 480 mcg vitamin K (wow!).
Only 10 grams of parsley (10 sprigs) contain 165 mcg of vitamin K, so more than double the RDA.
Broccoli is also an excellent source of this vitamin. It provides 102 mcg of vitamin K per 100 g.
Kale is also a great source of vitamin K. 100 g of kale provide 80 mcg of this vitamin.
Water-soluble vitamins: vitamin C and B-vitamins
Unfortunately, there are no plant-based foods which provide at least 100% of the recommended dietary allowance per portion of B-vitamins.
Nutritional yeast is a good source of B-vitamins. However, the exact vitamin content of nutritional yeast varies greatly per brand.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is approximately 1 mg per day for the adult population.
Lentils are a good source of vitamin B1, they provide up to 1 mg of thiamine per 100 grams (but yeah, 100 g of lentils is quite a lot to eat in one go).
50 g sunflower seeds provide 0.9 mg of B1 vitamin.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
The recommended daily intake of vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is approximately 1.6 mg per day for the adult population.
There are no excellent natural plant-based sources of this vitamin. On average, mushrooms provide about 0.5 mg riboflavin per 100 g (approximately 1/3 of RDA).
One cup of soy milk (250 ml) also provides 0.5 mg of this vitamin.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
The adequate intake of niacin is about 15 mg/day.
As is the case with vitamin B2, there are no excellent natural plant-based sources of niacin. On average, mushrooms provide 4.5 mg per 100 g (slightly less than 1/3 of RDA). Two tablespoons of peanut butter (32 g) also provide the same amount of niacin, 4.5 mg.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
The adequate intake of vitamin B5 is about 5 mg/day.
Pretty much all food categories contain vitamin B5 in small quantities. Combined from all food sources, most people get enough of this vitamin. Deficiency cases are very rare.
The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin B6 is 1.8 mg/day.
I devoted a separate article to vitamin B6. The best plant-based sources of this vitamin are:
- Chickpeas (dried): 0.5 mg of B6 vitamin per 100 g.
- Lentils (dried): 0.5 mg of B6 vitamin per 100 g.
- Sunflower seeds: 0.5 mg of B6 vitamin per 50 g.
- Avocado: 0.4 mg of vitamin B6 per 100 g (1/2 avocado).
- Banana: 0.4 mg of vitamin B6 per 100 g (1 medium banana).
Vitamin B8 (biotin)
Biotin is widespread in foods. Therefore, deficiencies rarely occur.
The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin B11 (a.k.a vitamin B9, a.k.a folate, a.k.a. folic acid) is up to 400 mcg/day.
- 100 g (dried) adzuki and mung beans provide 625 mcg folate.
- 100 g (dried) chickpeas provide 557 mcg of this vitamin.
- 100 g (dried) lentils provide 479 mcg folate.
There are no plant-based sources of vitamin B12. Read more about vitamin B12 in vegan diets in this article. If you follow a strict vegan diet, you should supplement this vitamin.
The RDA of vitamin C for adults is 75-100 mg.
Contrary to popular belief, oranges are not the best source of vitamin C. There are plenty greater sources. One of them is black currants. 100 g of these berries provide 150 mg of vitamin C or 200 % RDA.
Bell-peppers contain approximately as much vitamin C as black currants: 150 mg per 100 g.
Broccoli provides 115 mg vitamin C per 100 g.
Brussels sprouts provide 85 mg vitamin C per 100 g.
100 g kiwi provide 75 mg of vitamin C.
100 g guava provides 230 mg vitamin C (well, you can’t get fresh guava in the Netherlands, unfortunately).
Citrus fruit provide on average 50 mg of vitamin C per 100 g.
I’ve provided you with the best vegan sources of vitamins. Hope you’ve found this information useful. Let me know via DM in Instagram if I missed any important foods.