Vitamins & minerals

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our body needs to work properly.

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

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

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

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.

In this section

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is also known as retinol. Good sources of vitamin A include cheese eggs oily fish (such as mackerel) milk fortified margarine and yoghurt.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 also known as pyridoxine, is found in a wide variety of foods.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found in virtually all meat products and certain algae such as seaweed. Good sources include meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs, yeast extract, and some fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also know as ascorbic acid, is found in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Good sources include peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, oranges and kiwi fruit.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is found in a small number of foods. Good food sources are oily fish and eggs. Other food sources include fortified foods such as margarine, breakfast cereals and powdered milk.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is found in a wide variety of foods. The richest sources are plant oils such as soya, corn and olive oil. Other good sources include nuts and seeds, and wheatgerm (found in cereals and cereal products).

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, and in vegetable oils and cereals. Small amounts can also be found in meat (such as pork), and dairy foods (such as cheese).


Beta-carotene is what gives yellow and orange fruit and vegetables their colour. The main food sources of beta-carotene are yellow and green (leafy) vegetables such as spinach, carrots and red peppers, and yellow fruit such as mango, melon and apricots.


Biotin is found in many foods. Good sources include meat such as kidney, eggs and some fruit and vegetables, especially dried mixed fruit.


Boron is a trace element found widely in the environment. It's found in the oceans, rocks, soils and plants. Food sources of boron include green vegetables, fruit and nuts.


Good sources of the mineral calcium include milk, cheese and other dairy foods, green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach), soya beans, tofu, soya drinks with added calcium, nuts, bread and anything made with fortified flour, and fish where you eat the bones, such as sardines and pilchards.


Chromium is a trace element found widely in the environment. It's found in the air, water and soil, and in plants and animals.


Cobalt is a trace element found widely in the environment. Good food sources of cobalt include fish, nuts, green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli and spinach), and cereals (such as oats).


Copper is a trace element. Good sources include nuts, shellfish and offal.


Fluoride is a trace element found widely in the environment. It's in all animals and plants and in water. Very small amounts are also in the air we breathe.

Folic acid

Folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, is one of the B-group of vitamins. Folate is found in small amounts in many foods. Good sources include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas and brown rice.


Germanium is a trace element found in a wide range of foods including beans, tomato juice, oysters, tuna and garlic.


Iodine is a trace element found in seawater, rocks and in some types of soil. Good food sources include sea fish and shellfish.


Iron is an essential mineral. Good sources of iron include liver, meat, beans, nuts, dried fruit (such as dried apricots), whole grains (such as brown rice), fortified breakfast cereals, soybean flour and most dark green leafy vegetables (such as watercress and curly kale).


Magnesium is a mineral found in a wide variety of foods. The richest sources are green leafy vegetables (such as spinach) and nuts. Good sources include bread, fish, meat and dairy foods.


Manganese is a trace element found in a variety of foods. These include bread, nuts, cereals and green vegetables (such as peas and runner beans). It's also found in tea, which is probably the biggest source of manganese for many people.


Molybdenum is a trace element found in a wide variety of foods. Foods that grow above ground - such as peas, leafy vegetables (including broccoli and spinach) and cauliflower - tend to be higher in molybdenum than meat and foods that grow below the ground, such as potatoes.


Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. Good sources of niacin include beef, pork, chicken, wheat flour, maize flour, eggs and milk.


Nickel is a trace element found widely in the environment. Good food sources include lentils, oats, and nuts.

Pantothenic acid

Pantothenic acid is found in virtually all meat and vegetable foods. Good sources include chicken, beef, potatoes, porridge, tomatoes, kidney, eggs, broccoli and whole grains such as brown rice and wholemeal bread.


Phosphorus is a mineral found in red meat, dairy foods, fish, poultry, bread, rice and oats.


Potassium is a mineral found in most types of food. Good sources of potassium include fruit (such as bananas), vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, milk, fish, shellfish, beef, chicken, turkey and bread.


Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, is found in small amounts in many foods. Good sources include milk, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, rice and mushrooms.


Selenium is a trace element found widely in the environment. Good food sources include brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.


Silicon is a mineral found at high levels in grains such as oats, barley and rice. It's also found in fruit and vegetables.

Sodium chloride

Sodium chloride is commonly known as salt. Salt is found naturally at low levels in all foods, but high levels are added to many processed foods such as ready meals, meat products such as bacon, some breakfast cereals, cheese, some tinned vegetables, some bread and savoury snacks.


Sulphur is a mineral found naturally in many different forms in all foods. It's also used in the form of sulphates and sulphites as food additives in some processed foods.


Thiamin, also known as vitamin B1, is found in most types of food. Good sources include pork, vegetables, milk, cheese, peas, fresh and dried fruit, eggs, wholegrain breads and some fortified breakfast cereals.


Tin is a trace element found in fresh and tinned foods. The amount found in fresh food depends on how much tin there is in the soil where the food is grown.


Vanadium is a trace element found in a wide variety of foods including seafood, meat, dairy foods, cooking oils, fresh fruit and vegetables.


Zinc is a trace element found widely in the environment. Good food sources of zinc include meat, shellfish, milk and dairy foods such as cheese, bread, and cereal products such as wheatgerm.

More on this topic

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​Eatwell Guide Booklet

Test cache The Eatwell Guide shows the proportions in which different types of foods are needed to have a well-balanced and healthy diet.

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