Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our body needs to work properly. Most of us get all the vitamins and minerals we need by eating a healthy balanced diet.
Sometimes people need to supplement their diet with added vitamins and minerals. For example, women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should take folic acid. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may also want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
Pregnant women, women with a child under 12 months and children aged from 6 months to 4 years who are receiving Healthy Start vouchers are entitled to free Healthy Start Vitamins.
If you would like to find out more talk to your GP or other health professional.
Vitamins are divided into two groups: fat-soluble and water-soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins are found in animal products and foods that contain fat, like milk, butter, vegetable oils, eggs, liver and oily fish.
We don’t need to eat food containing fat-soluble vitamins every day because our body can store them. It can also be harmful to have a lot more of these types of vitamins than we need.
Water-soluble vitamins come from food like fruit, vegetables, milk, dairy and grains. They can be destroyed by heat or exposure to air. They can also get lost in water when cooking, especially when boiling food. Steaming or grilling, as well as using cooking water to add flavour to soups and stews are good ways to preserve water-soluble vitamins.
Water-soluble vitamins aren’t stored in the body so we need to eat them often. If we take in more than we need then we get rid of any extra through our urine.
Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B vitamins:
- thiamin (vitamin B1)
- riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- niacin (vitamin B3)
- vitamin B6
- folic acid (vitamin B9)
- vitamin B12.
We need minerals to help us do three main things:
- build strong teeth and bones.
- control body fluids inside and outside cells.
- turn the food we eat into energy. Minerals are found in foods like cereals, bread, meat, fish, milk, dairy, nuts, fruit (especially dried fruit) and vegetables.
We need more of some minerals than others. For example, we need more calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride than we do iron, zinc, iodine, selenium and copper.
Folic acid (also known as folate) is one of the B vitamins. Foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas and brown rice, fortified breakfast cereals, some bread and fruit like oranges and bananas are all good sources of folic acid.
Adults need 0.2mg (200 micrograms) a day of folic acid a day. It’s a water-soluble vitamin so you need to include it in your diet often and most of us can get enough folic acid by eating a healthy balanced diet.
Folic acid is very important for women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant because it reduces the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida in unborn babies. Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should take a daily 0.4mg (400 micrograms) supplement from the time they stop using contraception until the 12th week of pregnancy.
If you have had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, or have epilepsy or diabetes a higher dose of folic acid is recommended – speak to your GP or midwife.
It’s important not to take too much folic acid. Doses higher than 1mg (1000 micrograms) can mask the symptoms of B12 deficiency which may eventually lead to nervous system damage.