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Why are vitamins and minerals so important for your health?

Updated 17 July, 2018

 

From an early age, we're taught that we need plenty of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. For some of us, that's as far as this advice goes. Not any more!

Our nutritionists have outlined the nutrients you need to maintain a healthy body, explained what each one does and shown you how much of each nutrient you need. Click on a nutrient for more information.

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Vitamin A

What does it do?

  • Powerful antioxidant that protects against problems such as cancer and heart disease
  • Improves vision in dim light
  • Keeps skin healthy

How much do you need per day?

Men: 700mcg

Women: 600mcg

Where can you get it?

  • Beef liver
  • Sweet potato, carrots, squash, apricot
  • Kale, spinach, Swiss chard

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Vision problems
  • Bad skin

Vitamin B1 (thiamine)

What does it do?

  • Helps your body use energy from food
  • Maintains a healthy nervous system and creates neurotransmitters that help with thoughts, memories and movement

How much do you need per day?

Men: 1mg

Women: 0.8mg

Where can you get it?

  • Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
  • Pork
  • Trout, salmon
  • Macadamia nuts, pistachio nuts
  • Peas, black beans, edamame

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Poor memory
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Muscle cramps

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

What does it do?

  • Maintains healthy blood cells
  • Boosts energy levels
  • Helps your metabolism
  • Protects skin and eye health

How much do you need per day?

Men: 1.3mg

Women: 1.1mg

Where can you get it?

  • Almonds, sesame seeds
  • Beef, lamb, pork
  • Mackerel, smoked salmon
  • Egg
  • Mushrooms

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Anaemia
  • Tiredness
  • Skin problems
  • Sore throat

Vitamin B3 (niacin)

What does it do?

  • Releases energy from food
  • Healthy skin and nervous system

How much do you need per day?

Men: 16.5mg

Women: 13.2mg

Where can you get it?

  • Chicken, turkey, pork, beef
  • Peanuts, sunflower seeds
  • Tuna, salmon, halibut

What happens if you don't get enough?


Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

What does it do?

  • Making red blood cells
  • Balance of stress hormones

How much do you need per day?

5mg

Where can you get it?

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Mushrooms
  • Trout, wild salmon
  • Pork, chicken
  • Eggs
  • Avocado, sweet potato

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Tiredness
  • Depression
  • Bad mood
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory tract infection

Vitamin B6

What does it do?

  • Making neurotransmitters
  • Manufacture of mood-balancing hormones such as serotonin and norepinephrine

How much do you need per day?

Men: 1.4mg

Women: 1.2mg

Where can you get it?

  • Sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts
  • Tuna, salmon
  • Turkey, pork, beef
  • Prunes, bananas, avocado

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Muscle pains
  • Tiredness
  • Anaemia

Vitamin B7 (biotin)

What does it do?

  • Supports adrenal function
  • Maintains a healthy nervous system
  • Metabolises carbs and fat

How much do you need per day?

Biotin is found naturally in your bowels, so it’s not clear how much extra you need from food.

Where can you get it?

  • Meat, chicken
  • Egg yolks
  • Milk, cheese
  • Soy
  • Wheat, bread
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli, cauliflower

What happens if you don't get enough?


Folic Acid

What does it do?

Helps the body produce and maintain new cells.

How much do you need per day?

200mcg

Where can you get it?

  • Black-eyed peas, lentils, chickpeas
  • Spinach, asparagus, lettuce, broccoli, savoy cabbage
  • Mango, orange

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Yellow skin
  • Pins and needles
  • Blurred vision
  • Mood swings
  • Depression

Vitamin B12

What does it do?

  • Healthy nervous system and blood cells
  • Prevents anaemia

How much do you need per day?

1.5mcg

Where can you get it?

  • Liver, beef
  • Oysters, mussels, oily fish, crab, sardines, trout
  • Swiss cheese
  • Eggs

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Tiredness
  • Heart palpitations

Vitamin C

What does it do?

  • Antioxidant
  • Helps the body form and maintain connective tissue

How much do you need per day?

40mg

Where can you get it?

  • Guava, kiwi, papaya, strawberry, orange, mango, pineapple, lemon
  • Peppers, kale, broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Easy bruising
  • Swollen, bleeding gums
  • Slow wound healing
  • Skin problems
  • Dry, brittle hair
Find out more about Vitamin C
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Vitamin D

What does it do?

Helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in your body, ensuring healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

How much do you need per day?

10mcg

Where can you get it?

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Fortified foods: fruit juice, cereal, milk, yoghurt, tofu

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Feeling run-down
  • Tiredness
  • Back pain
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Hair loss

Vitamin E

What does it do?

It's a powerful antioxidant

How much do you need per day?

Men: 4mg

Women: 3mg

Where can you get it?

  • Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts
  • Spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli
  • Prawns
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Vision problems

Vitamin K

What does it do?

  • Regulates blood clotting, which helps prevent excessive bleeding if you’re injured.
  • Protects against bone conditions such as osteoporosis

How much do you need per day?

1mcg per kilo of body weight

Where can you get it?

  • Kale, spinach, Swiss chard, spring onion, broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, watercress, asparagus, lettuce
  • Sage, basil, thyme, parsley, coriander, chives

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Easy bruising
  • Heavy periods
  • Bleeding
  • Blood in urine

Beta-carotene

What does it do?

It's turned into Vitamin A by the body

How much do you need per day?

You need 6mg of beta carotene to make 1mg of Vitamin A.

Where can you get it?

See Vitamin A

What happens if you don't get enough?

See Vitamin A


Calcium

What does it do?

  • Maintains strong bones and teeth
  • Helps with blood clotting
  • Helps muscles contract

How much do you need per day?

700mg

Where can you get it?

  • Cheese, milk, yoghurt
  • Kale, pak choi, okra, broccoli
  • Almonds

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Memory loss
  • Muscle spasms and cramps
  • Pins and needles
  • Depression
  • Brittle nails
  • Increased risk of broken bones

Cobalt

What does it do?

  • Alongside B12, cobalt stimulates the production of enzymes and hormones.
  • Helps produce haemoglobin for red blood cells, that carry oxygen around the body.

How much do you need per day?

1.5mcg

Where can you get it?

  • Lamb, beef
  • Chickpeas
  • Cocoa powder

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Anaemia
  • Tiredness
  • Weak arms and legs
  • Pins and needles
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Headache

Copper

What does it do?

  • Helps make red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body
  • Keeps your immune system healthy
  • Antioxidant

How much do you need per day?

1.2mg

Where can you get it?

  • Oysters, squid, lobster
  • Sesame seeds, cashew nuts
  • Kale, mushrooms, dried apricots, chickpeas
  • Miso

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Fatigue
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Pale skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Anaemia
  • Brittle bones
  • Nausea
Find out more about Copper
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Iodine

What does it do?

Makes thyroid hormones to regulate your metabolism.

How much do you need per day?

140mcg

Where can you get it?

  • Seafood
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Beans
  • Turnips
  • Garlic, onion

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Tiredness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor memory
  • Unexplained weight gain

Iron

What does it do?

Part of haemoglobin, needed to carry oxygen around your body.

How much do you need per day?

Men: 8.7mg

Women (19-50): 14.8mg

Women (50+): 8.7mg

Where can you get it?

  • Dark chocolate
  • Shellfish
  • Beef
  • Dried apricots
  • Soybeans, lentils, kidney beans
  • Spinach, Swiss chard

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Anaemia
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Dizzy spells
  • Cold hands and feet
Find out more about Iron
Click to find out more.

Magnesium

What does it do?

Regulates muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

How much do you need per day?

Men: 300mg

Women: 270mg

Where can you get it?

  • Pumpkin seeds, almonds
  • Dark chocolate
  • Spinach, Swiss chard, kale
  • Lima beans
  • Quinoa, brown rice

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Asthma
  • Heart palpitations
  • Osteoporosis

Manganese

What does it do?

  • Helps formation of connective tissue and bones
  • Fat and carbohydrate metabolism
  • Calcium absorption
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Brain and nerve function

How much do you need per day?

Men: 2.2mg

Women: 1.7mg

Where can you get it?

  • Mussels
  • Hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
  • Tofu
  • Butter beans
  • Wholewheat bread, brown rice

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Osteoporosis
  • Anaemia
  • Tiredness
  • Weak immune system
  • Nausea
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Change in digestion and/or appetite

Molybdenum

What does it do?

Catalyst for enzymes that break down amino acids.

How much do you need per day?

45mcg

Where can you get it?

  • Beef
  • Almonds, sunflower seeds
  • Lentils
  • Dried apricots
  • Dark chocolate
  • Broccoli, asparagus

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Headaches
  • Night blindness
  • Heart palpitations 

Phosphorus

What does it do?

Works with calcium to build strong bones and teeth.

How much do you need per day?

550mg

Where can you get it?

  • Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts
  • Scallops, salmon, cod, prawns
  • Pork, beef
  • Tofu

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Bone pain
  • Stiff joints
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Stunted growth in children

Potassium

What does it do?

  • An electrolyte that helps conduct electricity in the body
  • Crucial to heart function
  • Regulates muscle contractions
  • Helps digestive process

How much do you need per day?

3,500mg

Where can you get it?

  • Dried apricots, raisins, bananas
  • Salmon
  • Baked beans, lentils, kidney beans
  • Avocado
  • Sweet potato
  • Spinach

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Pins and needles
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Heart palpitations
Find out more about Potassium
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Selenium

What does it do?

  • Important for reproduction
  • Regulates thyroid function
  • An antioxidant

How much do you need per day?

Men: 0.07mg

Women: 0.06mg

Where can you get it?

  • Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds
  • Oysters, tuna, mussels
  • Pork, beef, turkey
  • Wholewheat bread

What happens if you don't get enough?

Underactive thyroid


Zinc

What does it do?

  • Helps the immune system
  • Makes proteins
  • Helps wounds heal
  • Improves sense of taste and smell

How much do you need per day?

Men: 9.5mg

Women: 7mg

Where can you get it?

  • Oysters
  • Beef, pork
  • Pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts
  • Baked beans, chickpeas
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach

What happens if you don't get enough?

  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Poor vision, smell or taste
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
Find out more about Zinc
Click to find out more.

Topics: Diet & Nutrition