Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly.
Most people should be able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you choose to take vitamin and mineral supplements, be aware that taking too much or taking them for too long can cause harmful effects.
The pages in this section contain all the advice and information that adults need about the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that are essential for health, including:
- what they do
- how much you need
- what happens if you have too much
- safety advice about supplements
What are vitamins?
There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins are found mainly in fatty foods such as animal fats including butter and lard, vegetable oils, dairy foods, liver and oily fish.
While your body needs these vitamins every day to work properly, you do not need to eat foods containing them every day.
This is because, if your body does not need these vitamins immediately, it stores them in your liver and fatty tissues for future use. These stores can build up so they are there when you need them. However, if you have much more than you need, fat-soluble vitamins can be harmful.
Fat-soluble vitamins are:
Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body, so you need to have them more frequently.
If you have more than you need, your body gets rid of the extra vitamins when you urinate. Because the body does not store water-soluble vitamins, these vitamins are generally not harmful.
Water-soluble vitamins are found in fruit, vegetables and grains. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they can be destroyed by heat or by being exposed to the air. They can also be lost in water used for cooking.
This means that by cooking foods, especially boiling them, we lose many of these vitamins. The best way to keep as much of the water-soluble vitamins as possible is to steam or grill these foods, rather than boil them.
What are minerals?
Minerals are necessary for three main reasons:
- building strong bones and teeth
- controlling body fluids inside and outside cells
- turning the food you eat into energy
You need minerals in the form they are found in food.
Minerals are found in varying amounts in foods such as meat, cereals including cereal products such as bread, fish, milk and dairy foods, vegetables, fruit (especially dried fruit) and nuts.
What are trace elements?
Trace elements are also essential nutrients that your body needs to work properly, but in much smaller amounts than vitamins and minerals.
Trace elements are found in small amounts in a variety of foods such as meat, fish, cereals, milk and dairy foods, vegetables and nuts.