Your blood just can’t do without its dose of vitamin K. That’s right, this lesser known vitamin helps with blood clotting and prevents excessive bleeding when you are injured or are undergoing surgery, for instance. In addition, the vitamin may also play a role in maintaining good bone health in the elderly.
Vitamin K deficiency is not common in healthy adults because it is widely available in many foods and synthesized in the gut but infants and the elderly are susceptible. Prolonged antibiotic intake or bowel disorders can cause a deficiency. So can cancers, kidney problems and dialysis, and other serious illnesses.1 2
Vitamin K is found in the human diet in chiefly two forms:
- K1 or phylloquinone, which is found in green leafy vegetables, legumes, and plant oils. K1 helps in blood clotting.
- K2, which is made of subtypes known as menaquinones (MKs) ranging from MK-4 to MK-13, found in animal products and fermented food. The body also converts some K1 into K2. K2 is known to improve bone, teeth, and heart health.
Since research into the benefits of K2 is preliminary, not much information is available on the levels of K2 found in the diet. Even the USDA lists only MK-4 among the subtypes of K2. This is why it is generally considered that vitamin K is found mostly in leafy greens. We have included here both plant and animal sources of vitamin K, breaking down the composition into K1 and K2 wherever possible.
- Bruising easily
- Bleeding from the gums or the nose
- Bleeding excessively when you are hurt, been injected, or had surgery done
- Heavier than normal menstrual periods
- Bleeding in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, with blood in your urine or stool
Adequate Intake For Vitamin K Is 120 mcg For Men, 90 mcg For Women
Data on vitamin K recommended daily intake levels is limited, but the Food and Nutrition Board has established the adequate intake (AI) levels for vitamin K. This is another way to gauge how much of the nutrient you need. Adult men need 120 mcg of vitamin K and women need 90 mcg a day, even when they are pregnant or lactating.5 The updated daily value (DV) for vitamin K, set by the United States Food and Drug Administration, is 120 mcg for all adults and 90 mcg for pregnant/lactating women, going up from the 80 mcg for adults prescribed earlier.6 The individual intake levels for K1 and K2 have not been established yet.
Here’s what you need to eat for a daily dose of vitamin K. Note that all plant sources contain only K1. Animal sources and fermented food contain chiefly K2 and a small amount of K1.
1. Natto (Fermented Soy)
100 g of natto contains 998 mcg K (831% DV)
Natto, a Japanese dish made of fermented soybeans, is known to be the best source of vitamin K2, largely the subtype MK-7. Eating a few helpings of natto every week is thought to be the reason Japanese women suffer from fewer fractures and less bone loss than their American counterparts. Regular natto can contain up to 998 mcg per 100 g, which is a whopping 831% of the daily value.7 Most Americans do not consume natto. It is an acquired taste since it has a strong smell and a slimy texture. You may find it in Asian grocery stores or specialty health food stores.
2. Green Leafy Vegetables
Stock up on those leafy greens if you’d like to increase your vitamin K intake. Most of them are rich sources of the vitamin and can be used easily in stir-fries, soups, pasta, salads, and more. Just pick those that have a flavor you enjoy.
The greener the leaf, the greater the vitamin K content; so always choose spinach over iceberg lettuce. And since vitamin K is fat soluble, cook it with a little olive oil or butter for better absorption.
- Half a cup of boiled kale has around 531 mcg of vitamin K (442.5% DV).8
- Half a cup of spinach contains 444.25 mcg of vitamin K (370% DV).9
- Collard greens have 386.25 mcg of the vitamin per half cup (322% DV).10
- You could also give beet greens a go – they contain 348.5 mcg of vitamin K (290.4% DV) per half cup.11
- Swiss chard is another green that you could try. It has 286.4 mcg of the vitamin per half cup (238.7% DV).12
- Turnip greens have 264.65 mcg of vitamin K per half cup (221% DV).13
3. Meat And Eggs
Animal meat, especially organ meat is a good source of K2, chiefly MK-4, but only when the animals are grass fed. In the US, however, poultry are also given a vitamin K supplement (menadione) in the feed, which gives poultry meat a high K2 content.
A 100 g serving of:
- Goose liver pate has 369 mcg K2 and 11 mcg K1 = 380 mcg K (316% DV)14
- Beef liver has 106 mcg K2 and 2 mcg K1 = 108 mcg K (90% DV)15
- Egg yolk has 64 mcg K2 and 7 mcg K1 = 71 mcg K (59% DV)16
- Chicken leg and thigh has 60 mcg K2, which amounts to 50% DV17
- Chicken kidney has 50 mcg K2, which is equal to 41.6% DV18
Cook the chicken with a some green veggies and a healthy fat like olive oil to increase your K2 absorption. Treat yourself to some ethically produced foie gras. You may also braise or pan-fry the liver and kidney. Just make sure you do not eat organ meats too frequently since they are a rich source of vitamin A which can be toxic when had in excess.
4. Cruciferous Vegetables
- Half a cup of broccoli: 110 mcg of vitamin K (91.7% DV)
- Half a cup of Brussels sprouts: 109.4 mcg (91.2% DV)
- Half a cup of cooked cabbage: 81.5 mcg (67.9% DV)
Another group of vegetables that have a good amount of vitamin K is cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Half a cup of cooked Brussels sprouts has 109.2% mcg (91.2% DV), half a cup of broccoli has 110 mcg (91.7% DV), and half a cup of cooked cabbage contains 81.5 mcg (67.9% DV).19 20 21
Saute them lightly in a pan, roast them in the oven, or even chargrill some broccoli or Brussels sprouts – they might be quite the revelation! Sprinkle roasted garlic or bacon bits for added flavor. These vegetables also feature heavily in many light and flavorsome Asian inspired stir-fry recipes so give those a go too! Or make them a staple of a healthy Buddha bowl. Whatever you try, you’ll find these veggies can be quite addictive once you get a hang of the flavors.
Half a cup of chopped scallions: 103.5 mcg of vitamin K (86.3% DV)
Half a cup of chopped scallions contains 103.5 mcg of vitamin K (86.3% DV) and can brighten up a plate instantly.22 Scatter them over a protein meal, toss them through an Asian stir-fry, or add them to a steaming hot bowl of Vietnamese style pho or any clear broth or noodle soup. Or celebrate them in a recipe like bacon-wrapped scallions that use the entire scallion, from green tip to white bulb. Char them off and enjoy as a side to a steak or chicken meal, drizzling some miso sauce for an interesting twist.
Half a cup of prunes: 103.5 mcg of vitamin K (86.3% DV)
Whether you like your prunes plain or as a cooking ingredient, the vitamin K they contain will stand you in good stead. Half a cup of prunes has 103.5 mcg of vitamin K or 86.3% DV.23 Make a batch of banana prune muffins, serve them with braised pork in a delicious meaty sweet sauce, top your porridge with them, or end your meal with a comforting chocolate and prune steamed pudding.
7. Grass-Fed Dairy Products
Dairy products like whole milk, butter, and cheese contain K2 too, largely the long-chain subtypes like MK-7 onward, in addition to small amounts of K1. The amount of the vitamin in each of these foods depends on whether the cattle was fed on grass or grains. The amount of K2 in cheeses also depends on the bacterial culture used and the production method.24
A 100 g serving of:
- Hard cheeses like Gouda contains 77 mcg of K2 and 10 mcg K1 = 87 mcg K (72.5% DV)25
- Jarlsberg cheese (semi-soft) has 73 mcg of K2 and 6 mcg K1 = 79 mcg K (65.8%)26
- Blue cheeses contains up to 72 mcg K2 and no detectable K1 = 72 mcg K (60% DV)27
- Soft cheeses like brie contain 57.3 mcg K2 and 3 mcg K1 = 60.3 mcg K (50.2% DV)28
- Butter contains 15 mcg K2 and 15 mcg K1 = 30 mcg K (25% Dv)29
Half a cup of asparagus: 45.5 mcg (37.9% DV)
Asparagus packs in 45.5 mcg of vitamin K per half cup of cooked chopped vegetable. That’s about 30.4 mcg for every 4 spears you eat. Which means this delicious side to a meal can get you 37.9% DV or 25.3% DV depending on how much you eat.30 Choose to make it the mainstay of your meals and you’ll be getting even more vitamin K. Lightly pan fry them or blanch them and drizzle with a lemony buttered sauce, roast them and grate over some cheese, or add them to a pasta with some seafood. Roast them, saute them, or just lightly steam them – whatever you do, they’re bound to turn out delicious!
9. Soybeans And Edamame
- Half a cup of soybeans: 43 mcg (35.8% DV)
- Half a cup of edamame: 21 mcg (17.5% DV)
Soybeans both mature and green as edamame are a rich source of vitamin K. While the matured seeds can be roasted off with spices to give you 43 mcg per half cup serving (35.8 % DV), edamame has 21 mcg per half cup (17.5% DV) of prepared beans.31 They’re both equally delicious. You could also add them to a one-pot meal with rice, meat, and veggies, or whip up delicious stews and casseroles with them.
Half a cup of celery stalks: 28.35 mcg of vitamin K (23.6% DV)
Half a cup of celery stalks chopped up have 28.35 mcg of vitamin K (23.6% DV).32 Celery can do more than anoint your Bloody Mary cocktail! Make a Thai-style celery salad peppered with crunchy peanuts or indulge in a creamy celery soup to whet your appetite. Celery also sits well alongside seafood like salmon, with a lightly grilled or poached chicken main, or on toast with nut butters.
11. Carrot Juice
Three-quarter cup of carrot juice: 28 mcg (23.3% DV)
If you find eating vegetables tedious, how about drinking up your vitamin K in a refreshing juice? This may be a form that’s more palatable than most if you don’t care for vegetables or raw food! A 3/4 cup serving has 28 mcg of vitamin K, which amounts to 23.3% DV.33 Drink it plain or blend it with fresh oranges or apples if you like your juices sweet.
12. Canned Pumpkin
Half a cup of canned pumpkin: 20 mcg (16.7% DV)
Fancy some pumpkin pie after your main meal? Can’t pass up on a bowl of warming pumpkin soup? You’re in luck because this golden yellow vegetable is another good source of vitamin K. The canned version has more of the vitamin, so this is one time you may want to choose the convenience of the can over the fresh form. There is 20 mcg of vitamin K per half cup of pumpkin – that’s 16.7% DV.34 Fresh boiled pumpkin has just around 1 mcg of the vitamin per half cup of mashed vegetable.35
13. Pomegranate Juice
Three-quarter cup of pomegranate juice: 19 mcg (15.8% DV)
Another juice you could turn to for your vitamin K intake is pomegranate juice. It has 19 mcg (15.8% DV) per three-quarter cup serving.36 Add it into a glaze for meats and poultry, stir it into exotic middle eastern dips like Muhammara to sweeten gently, or just pour yourself a tall glass of the ruby red liquid and enjoy!
Half a cup of blueberries: 14 mcg (11.7% DV)
Blueberries may not have as much vitamin K as vegetables like spinach or even dried plums or prunes but they do contain a good 14 mcg or 11.7% DV per half cup.37 They’re so easy to use too! Just sprinkle them over your muesli or porridge or toss them into a simple cake or cookies to make them so much more delicious. You could even whip up a range of lovely fresh desserts like cheesecake, pancakes, or homemade jams and jellies with the berries.
- Fresh parsley, ¼ cup: 246 mcg of vitamin K (205% DV)
- Dried basil, 1 tbsp: 36 mcg of vitamin K (30% DV)
- Fresh basil, ¼ cup: 24.9 mcg of vitamin K (20.7% DV)
- Fresh coriander, ¼ cup: 12.4 mcg of vitamin K (10.3% DV)
In addition to green leafy vegetables, there’s another kind of green that can add to your vitamin K intake – herbs. If you enjoy the verdant green that parsley brings to the dish, tuck in! There’s 246 mcg of vitamin K (a whopping 205% DV) in every quarter cup.38 For a herby flavor, use as a cooking ingredient, in a green salsa or sauce, or as a garnish. A quarter cup of cilantro/coriander leaves has 12.4 mcg (10.3% DV) of the vitamin.39
If you cook Italian food a lot or enjoy the scent of basil in your food, basil can be a wonderful way to up your vitamin K intake. Dried basil has 36 mcg of vitamin K (10% DV) in a tablespoon.40 Swap those for fresh basil leaves and you’ll get around 24.9 mcg of vitamin K (20.7% DV) for every quarter cup you add to your meal.41 Other herbs like sage, thyme, marjoram, and oregano are good choices too.
Rounding off this list is a sprinkling of spices that can contribute to your vitamin K intake. Even though you may not have large amounts of them, the use of these spices in small quantities over the course of the day can add up.
- A tablespoon of ground cloves has 9.2 mcg of vitamin K (7.7% DV)42
- Curry powder contains 6.3 mcg of vitamin K (5.3% DV) in every tablespoon.43
- A tablespoon of paprika gives you 5.5 mcg of the clotting vitamin, amounting to 4.6% DV.44
- Cayenne pepper has 4.3 mcg (3.6% DV) in a spoonful.45
As you can see, vitamin K doesn’t have to be that elusive. From large servings of green leafy vegetables in salads or soups or as sides to a tiny sprinkling of spices and herbs to round off a recipe, there are plenty of delicious ways to add vitamin K to your diet. So, tuck in and enjoy your new improved vitamin K rich diet with these ideas!
|↑1, ↑3||Vitamin K. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑2, ↑4||Vitamin K Deficiency. American Association for Clinical Chemistry.|
|↑5, ↑33, ↑36, ↑37||Vitamin K. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑6||Labeling Daily Values. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7, ↑24||L. Booth, Sarah. “Vitamin K: food composition and dietary intakes.” Food & nutrition research 56, no. 1 (2012): 5505.|
|↑8||Kale, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑9||Spinach, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑10||Collards, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑11||Beet greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑12||Chard, swiss, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑13||Turnip greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑14, ↑25, ↑28, ↑29||Schurgers, Leon J., and Cees Vermeer. “Determination of phylloquinone and menaquinones in food.” Pathophysiology of Haemostasis and Thrombosis 30, no. 6 (2000): 298-307.|
|↑15, ↑18||Hirauchi, Kazumasa, Toshiyuki Sakano, Shigeru Notsumoto, Atsushi Morimoto, Kyoko Fujimoto, Sachiko Masuda, and Yukiko Suzuki. “Measurement of K vitamins in animal tissues by high-performance liquid chromatography with fluorimetric detection.” Journal of Chromatography B: Biomedical Sciences and Applications 497 (1989): 131-137.|
|↑16||Kamao, Maya, Yoshitomo Suhara, Naoko Tsugawa, Masako Uwano, Noriko Yamaguchi, Kazuhiro Uenishi, Hiromi Ishida, Satoshi Sasaki, and Toshio Okano. “Vitamin K content of foods and dietary vitamin K intake in Japanese young women.” Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology 53, no. 6 (2007): 464-470.|
|↑17||Koivu-Tikkanen, Terhi J., Velimatti Ollilainen, and Vieno I. Piironen. “Determination of phylloquinone and menaquinones in animal products with fluorescence detection after postcolumn reduction with metallic zinc.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 48, no. 12 (2000): 6325-6331.|
|↑19||Brussels sprouts, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑20, ↑31||Vitamin K. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑21||Cabbage, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑22||Onions, spring or scallions (includes tops and bulb), raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑23||Plums, dried (prunes), uncooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑26||Hojo, K., R. Watanabe, T. Mori, and N. Taketomo. “Quantitative measurement of tetrahydromenaquinone-9 in cheese fermented by propionibacteria.” Journal of dairy science 90, no. 9 (2007): 4078-4083.|
|↑27||Manoury, E., K. Jourdon, P. Boyaval, and P. Fourcassie. “Quantitative measurement of vitamin K2 (menaquinones) in various fermented dairy products using a reliable high-performance liquid chromatography method.” Journal of dairy science 96, no. 3 (2013): 1335-1346.|
|↑30||Asparagus, cooked, boiled, drained. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑32||Celery, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑34||Vitamin K.Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑35||Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, with salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑38||Parsley, fresh. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑39||Coriander (cilantro) leaves, raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑40||Spices, basil, dried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑41||Basil, fresh. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑42||Spices, cloves, ground. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑43||Spices, curry powder. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑44||Spices, paprika. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑45||Spices, pepper, red or cayenne. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|