Clinical health information Your guide to key vitamins and minerals July 26 2019
Judith Ngai Judith Ngai Health writer

Vitamins and minerals play an important part in your overall health – do you know the benefits of the different types in your diet?

Your body needs a number of vitamins and minerals to stay well. 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 what benefits do each of these nutrients have for your body, and where can you find them in food? The following table provides a helpful overview.

 

Vitamin or mineral

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. Sunlight on your skin is the main source. Also in small amounts in oily fish, eggs, milk, fortified breakfast cereals, and fortified margarine. 
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 (e.g. a popular dark, thick spread), 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 so your blood can transport and deliver oxygen to the cells of your body. Chicken, fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt, oats, grains, some nuts. 
Vitamin B12 Needed to produce red blood cells, maintain the nervous system and process folic acid. Meat, liver, milk, fish, 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 for healthy blood. Maintains gums, teeth, bones and collagen. Helps with wound healing and resisting infection. Fresh fruit (especially citrus fruits), sweet potatoes, green vegetables. 
Sodium   Helps regulate body fluids and digest food. But too much salt can raise your blood pressure and cause kidney problems in the long run. As well as table salt (sodium chloride), sodium is found naturally in some fresh foods and is often 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, 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, cereals.
Copper Helps make red blood cells and maintain nerve function. Important for healthy bones and skin. Nuts, shellfish, offal, whole grains, legumes, vegetables, cocoa.
Manganese  Needed to activate enzymes. Important for bones, cartilage and brain function. Nuts, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, tea. 
Molybdenum  Needed for enzyme function. Vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, cereals.
Selenium Needed for enzyme function. An antioxidant which may help protect cells from damage. Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, fish, barley, wholemeal bread. 
Chromium  Enhances the action of insulin to help keep your blood glucose levels in an ideal range. 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, lentils. 

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Judith Ngai Judith Ngai Health writer Judith is a pharmacist and health content specialist.