Vitamins and Minerals Guide

Vitamins and Minerals Guide

Vitamins and Minerals

Function in Your Body & Food Sources

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly.

Most people should be able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

If you choose to take vitamin and mineral supplements, be aware that taking too much or taking them for too long can cause harmful effects.

The pages in this section contain all the advice and information that adults need about the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that are essential for health, including:

  • what they do
  • how much you need
  • what happens if you have too much
  • safety advice about supplements

What are vitamins?

There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are found mainly in fatty foods such as animal fats including butter and lard, vegetable oils, dairy foods, liver and oily fish.

While your body needs these vitamins every day to work properly, you do not need to eat foods containing them every day.

This is because, if your body does not need these vitamins immediately, it stores them in your liver and fatty tissues for future use. These stores can build up so they are there when you need them. However, if you have much more than you need, fat-soluble vitamins can be harmful.

Fat-soluble vitamins are:

Water-soluble vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body, so you need to have them more frequently.

If you have more than you need, your body gets rid of the extra vitamins when you urinate. Because the body does not store water-soluble vitamins, these vitamins are generally not harmful.

Water-soluble vitamins are found in fruit, vegetables and grains. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they can be destroyed by heat or by being exposed to the air. They can also be lost in water used for cooking.

This means that by cooking foods, especially boiling them, we lose many of these vitamins. The best way to keep as much of the water-soluble vitamins as possible is to steam or grill these foods, rather than boil them.

Water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C, the B vitamins and folic acid.

What are minerals?

Minerals are necessary for three main reasons:

  • building strong bones and teeth
  • controlling body fluids inside and outside cells
  • turning the food you eat into energy

You need minerals in the form they are found in food.

Minerals are found in varying amounts in foods such as meat, cereals including cereal products such as bread, fish, milk and dairy foods, vegetables, fruit (especially dried fruit) and nuts.

Essential minerals include calcium and iron.

What are trace elements?

Trace elements are also essential nutrients that your body needs to work properly, but in much smaller amounts than vitamins and minerals.

Trace elements are found in small amounts in a variety of foods such as meat, fish, cereals, milk and dairy foods, vegetables and nuts.

Examples of trace elements are fluoride and iodine.

Vitamins and minerals do different things to keep your body healthy and there is no one food that contains all of them. You need to make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet with a good mix of foods to ensure that you’re getting everything you need.

This table has information about many of the vitamins that you need to include in your diet; their function in your body, and what foods you can find them in.

Function in Your Body & Food Sources

Vitamin A

Function in your body:

Help you to see in dim light

Keep your skin and hair healthy

Strengthen your immune system

Food Sources:

Oily Fish (such as Mackerel)

Liver

Carrots

Fortified margarine

Cheese

Dark Green Leafy Vegetables (such as spinach)

Vitamin D

Function in Your Body:

Grow and keep bones and teeth healthy

Help your body to absorb calcium

Food Sources:

Oily fish

Eggs

Fortified Margarine

Vitamin E

Function in Your Body:

Protect your body from damage caused by free radicals (these are produced by your body’s normal chemical reactions and are thought to damage body cells, which may lead to the development of diseases such as cancer)

Food Sources:

Vegetable Oils

Eggs

Wholegrain Foods

Green Vegetables

Nuts

Vitamin K

Function in Your Body:

Blood clotting

Build strong bones

Food Sources:

Dark green leafy vegetables

Meat (particularly liver)

Potatoes

Cereals

Vitamin B1 (thiamin)

Break down and release energy from food

Maintain muscle tissue

Keep your nerves working properly

Food Sources:

Bread

Potatoes

Milk

Meat

Wholegrain and fortified breakfast cereals

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Maintain good vision

Build tissue

Break down and release energy from food

Produce steroids and red blood cells

Help your body to absorb folic acid

Food Sources:

Milk

Meat (particularly liver)

Eggs

Vitamin B3 (niacin)

Break down and release energy from food

Food Sources:

Meat

Flour

Eggs

Milk

Fortified breakfast cereals

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

Keep your nerves working properly

Break down and release energy from food

Food Sources:

Meat

Potatoes

Tomatoes

Broccoli

Cereals and grains

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Break down and release protein from food

Produce haemoglobin

Food Sources:

Chicken

Fish

Eggs

Brown rice

Oats

Grains

Some types of nut

Vitamin B12

Produce red blood cells

Keep your nervous system healthy

Process folic acid

Food Sources:

Meat

Liver

Milk

Fish

Eggs

Folic acid (folate)

Produce red blood cells

Keep your nervous system healthy

Food Sources:

Green leafy vegetables

Some types of fruits

Biotin

Break down and release energy from food

Food Sources:

Liver

Kidneys

Wholegrain foods

Nuts

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

Help your body to absorb iron

Keep cells and tissues healthy

Food Sources:

Fresh fruit (particularly citrus fruits)

Sweet potatoes

Green vegetables

Sodium chloride (salt)

Regulate fluids

Digest food

Processed foods

Food Sources:

Table salt

Potassium

Regulate your body fluids

Food Sources:

Potatoes

Vegetables

Green vegetables

Chicken

Dairy products

Bananas

Calcium

Build strong bones and teeth

Keep your muscles and nerves functioning

Blood clotting

Food Sources:

Milk

Cheese

Fortified bread and flour

Green leafy vegetables

Nuts

Magnesium

Break down and release energy from food

Activate enzymes in your body – enzymes help complex reactions to occur

Control the amount of calcium in your blood and bones

Food Sources:

Green leafy vegetables

Nuts

Dairy products

Iron

Produce red blood cells

Food Sources:

Red meat

Liver

Wholegrain flour

Green leafy vegetables

Zinc

Produce new cells and enzymes

Repair tissue

Break down and release energy from food

Food Sources:

Meat (particularly liver)

Seafood (particularly oysters)

Milk

Bread

Cereals

Copper

Produce red blood cells

Keep nerves and the immune system healthy

Nuts

Shellfish

Offal

Manganese

Make and activate enzymes

Food Sources:

Bread

Wheatgerm

Nuts

Avocados

Peas

Tea

Molybdenum

Help enzymes function

Vegetables

Nuts

Cereals

Selenium

Help enzymes function

Protect cells from damage

Food Sources:

Brazil nuts

Seeds

Fish

Eggs

Chromium

Enhance the action of insulin (insulin helps cells to absorb glucose, where it’s converted to energy)

Food Sources:

Wholegrain foods

Lentils

Spices

Iodine

Produce thyroid hormone

Food Sources:

Oily fish

Seaweed

Phosphorus

Build bones

Break down and release energy from food

Food Sources:

Dairy products

Eggs

Meat

Fish

Soya beans

Soya products

Lentils