Most people are accustomed to getting in their daily dose of vitamin C to keep their immune system in tip top shape and soaking up some sun (with SPF, of course) to get mood-boosting vitamin D. But once you get down the vitamin alphabet to K…well, its benefits are a bit less headline grabbing than its vitamin counterparts.
Despite the PR problem, vitamin K is crucial for good health. “It aids with calcium absorption which is necessary for building strong bones and maintaining bone density,” says celebrity nutritionist and Well+Good Council member Kimberly Snyder, CN. Vitamin K is also essential for creating blood clots, she says, which prevents excessive bleeding from cuts, wounds, and other injuries.
“Vitamin K also inhibits calcium from depositing in the arteries, known as vascular calcification, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” says nutritionist Stephanie Paver, MS, RD.
There are two forms of vitamin K: K1 and K2. “Vitamin K1 is concentrated in green-colored vegetables,” Paver says. “Vitamin K2 is formed by bacteria in the human intestine and is also found in fermented foods.”
“The National Institutes of Health recommends that women consume at least 90 mcg [micrograms] of vitamin K per day and that men consume 120 mcg,” Snyder says. If you eat a healthy diet comprised of lots of fruits and veggies, chances are you’re already hitting that daily recommendation. For example, one cup of raw spinach (145 mcg) or one cup of chopped raw broccoli (93 mcg) a day provides more than enough of the recommended intake. However, Paver points out that your body doesn’t store vitamin K, so you need to get your greens in daily.
Because vitamin K is relatively easy to get, deficiencies in adults are rare (phew!). However, there are some groups of people that have a higher chance of being deficient. Newborn babies, for example, have intestines which are not fully developed and therefore cannot make their own vitamin K. “This is the reason that babies get vitamin K injections immediately after birth,” Paver says. Folks who have difficulty absorbing fat are also more likely to be vitamin K deficient since vitamin K is fat- soluble. “Conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, bile insufficiency, liver disease, and chronic pancreatitis pose a risk,” Paver says.
Meet your daily intake in a pinch with these 8 foods high in vitamin K:
Vitamin K: 68 mcg per cup (chopped)
Although cabbage isn’t among the most sought-after leafy greens (we’re looking at you, kale), it does pack a nutritional punch. “This cruciferous veggie has unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce high cortisol levels in the body,” Snyder says. Throw it into a stir fry or use it as a topping for taco Tuesday and you’re good.
Not sure WTF to do with cabbage? Try making sauerkraut:
Vitamin K: 56 mcg per cup serving
Despite it making your pee smell, asparagus is a tasty spring vegetable to add to lots of dishes. “It contains a prebiotic called fructooligosaccharide which acts as ‘food’ for select types of health-promoting bacteria in the colon,” Paver says. “Having the right types of bacteria promote intestinal bacterial synthesis of vitamin K2.” Translation: Not only does it contain vitamin K, it promotes natural production of it, too.
Vitamin K: 62 mcg per tablespoon
Yet more proof that parsley deserves to be more than just a garnish. “The antioxidants found in parsley squash free radicals that create damage to our cells—keeping our skin glowing and young,” Snyder says. “Parsley is also a blood purifier and aids in cleansing the liver of toxins.” Parsley tea, anyone?
4. Swiss chard
Vitamin K: 300 mcg per cup (raw)
“Swiss chard is an excellent source of potassium and magnesium, two minerals that are required to regulate blood pressure,” Paver says. The veggie also helps with digestion and regulating blood sugar levels thanks to its fiber content. Use it to make tacos, salads, hummus wraps, sushi rolls, or pesto pasta.
Vitamin K: 93 mcg per cup, chopped (raw)
As if you needed any more reasons to indulge in a Trader Joe’s broccoli pizza crust, broccoli is packed with vitamin K. Seriously, like we said before, just one cup of the little green trees provides around twice the recommended daily dose. The trendy veggie, Snyder says, also supports the body’s detoxification process and lowers the risk of chronic inflammation.
6. Brussels sprouts
Vitamin K: 156 mcg per cup
Incorporating just one cup of this cruciferous superstar into a meal is about twice as much as the recommended daily dose, Snyder says. She adds that Brussel sprouts are also a great source of plant protein and rich in fiber which helps keep you full and regular. Turn them into a crowd-pleasing appetizer by roasting them and topping them with shiitake bacon and maple dijon.
Vitamin K: 82 mcg per cup (raw)
Whether you have a kale flatbread pizza or a kale bean soup, just a generous cup of the leafy green basically hits your daily goal. “Dark leafy greens are packed with so many important nutrients that benefit bone, skin, and eye health,” Snyder says.
Vitamin K: 145 mcg per cup (raw)
Spinach is another food rich in vitamin K, along with many other essential nutrients like iron, folate, and beta-carotene. Non-heme iron and folate are great for fertility support, Paver says, while beta-carotene supports the immune system and protects DNA from free radical damage. Basically, spinach does your body good and so do these gluten-free spinach muffins.
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