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Vitamins and minerals

Your body needs a number of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. These nutrients provide a base so that many of the essential chemical reactions in your body like cell growth and repair, metabolism and even muscle function can occur.

But how do these nutrients work in the body and where can you find them in food? The following table will help make it clear.

Vitamins and minerals Function Food sources
Vitamin A
(retinol and beta-carotene)
Needed to maintain vision in dim light. Important for healthy skin and mucous membranes. Helps prevent infection. Cod liver oil, liver, carrots, fortified margarine, cheese, nuts, wholemeal bread, dark green leafy vegetables
Vitamin D
(cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol)
Needed for strong bones and teeth, healing wounds and resisting infection. Helps the body absorb calcium. Oily fish, eggs, milk, fortified breakfast cereals and fortified margarine – but sunlight is the main source
Vitamin E Helps protect cell membranes from oxygen damage Vegetable oils, wheatgerm, eggs, whole grains, green vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds
Vitamin K Needed for blood clotting. Dark green leafy vegetables, liver, eggs, cheese, wholemeal flour, wholemeal bread
Vitamin B1
(thiamin)
Needed to release energy from food and for a healthy heart and digestive system. Yeast extract (Vegemite or Marmite), wheatgerm, nuts, rolled oats, lean pork, fish, wholemeal bread, fortified breakfast cereals
Vitamin B2
(riboflavin)
Needed for healthy skin, good vision and releasing energy from food. Milk, cheese, meat (particularly liver), oily fish, eggs
Vitamin B3
(niacin)
Needed to release energy from food and to metabolise carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Meat, flour, eggs, milk and fortified breakfast cereals
Vitamin B5
(pantothenic acid)
Needed to metabolise carbohydrates, protein and fat. Meat, chicken, salmon, milk, yoghurt, mushrooms, sweet potato, broccoli, grains
Vitamin B9
(folic acid or folate)
Needed for protein metabolism and helps the body make haemoglobin. Chicken, fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt, oats, grains and some nuts
Vitamin B12 Needed to produce red blood cells, maintain the nervous system and process folic acid. Meat, liver, milk, fish and eggs
Biotin Needed to make fatty acids in the body and to help the body metabolise food. Liver, salmon, soy beans, eggs, yoghurt, rolled oats, nuts, mushrooms, wholemeal bread
Vitamin C
(ascorbic acid)
Helps the body absorb iron. Maintains gums, teeth, bones and collagen. Helps with wound healing and resisting infection. Fresh fruit (especially citrus fruits), sweet potatoes and green vegetables
Sodium chloride
(salt)
Helps regulate body fluids and digest food, but too much salt can raise your blood pressure As well as table salt, sodium chloride is found naturally in some fresh foods and is added to processed foods.
Potassium Helps regulate body fluids and lowers blood pressure. Potatoes, vegetables, greens, chicken, eggs, legumes, dairy products, bananas
Calcium Needed for healthy bones, teeth, blood clotting and for muscle and nerve function. Dairy products, canned salmon and sardines (including edible bones) whole grains, tofu, fortified soy drinks, broccoli, almonds, dried figs
Magnesium Needed to activate enzymes and helps control muscle contractions. Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), nuts and dairy products
Iron Helps make red blood cells. Red meats, liver, wholegrain bread, fortified breakfast cereal, legumes, nuts, wholemeal pasta, pumpkin seeds
Zinc Needed for wound healing, growth and reproduction. Meat, liver, seafood (especially oysters), milk, bread and cereals
Copper Helps make red blood cells and maintain nerve function. Important for healthy bones and skin. Nuts, shellfish, offal, whole grains, legumes, vegetables and cocoa
Manganese Needed to activate enzymes. Important for bones, cartilage and brain function. Nuts, wholegrain, vegetables, fruit and tea
Molybdenum Needed for enzyme function. Vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts and cereals
Selenium Needed for enzyme function. Is an antioxidant, which protects cells from oxygen damage Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, fish, barley, wholemeal bread
Chromium Enhances the action of insulin. Egg yolk, fish, shellfish, beef, wholemeal bread, whole grains, potatoes
Iodine Helps make thyroid hormones. Oily fish, seaweed, bread made with iodised salt
Phosphorus Needed to produce energy from food and important for bones and teeth. Dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, soya beans, soya products and lentils

For more information

Dietitians Association of Australia http://www.daa.asn.au

Sources

Harvard School of Public Health. Vitamins: the Bottom Line. [online] Boston, MA: The President and Fellows of Harvard College. c2010 [accessed 13 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vitamins/index.html

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Disclaimer
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2010