Vitamins and minerals are essential to help us stay healthy. But can we get all we need from our food?

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Iron

What it does

Makes red blood cells (haemoglobin), which ferry oxygen around your body and give you energy.

Do I need it?

‘One in four UK women has low iron stores,’ says nutritionist Fiona Hunter. Symptoms include lethargy, breathlessness and pale skin. It’s important to be tested for anaemia by your GP, who can look for any underlying medical reasons, assess your lifestyle and prescribe iron tablets.

Food sources of iron

Meat, dark green leafy veg, pulses. “To boost iron absorption through your food, eat your leafy greens with vitamin C-rich foods,” says Fiona.

Vitamin A

What it does

Boosts immunity, helps you see in dim light, and keeps your skin and nose lining healthy.

Do I need it?

Most people get enough from their diet but some don’t, warns Fiona. ‘The National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that 8% of women (11% of men) aged 19-64 had low intakes.’ Your body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, and that’s found in green, yellow and red leafy veg (spinach, sweet potatoes). But too much vitamin A can be harmful. There are high levels in liver so don’t eat that more than once a week. Talk to your doctor before taking a supplement.

Food sources of Vitamin A

Offal, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, oily fish.

Vitamin C

What it does

Helps wounds heal and is essential for maintaining healthy cells, blood vessels, cartilage, bones and skin.

Do I need it?

You should be able to get all you need from your diet as long as you’re getting your five-a-day, as vitamin C is found in a wide variety of fruit and veg. ‘This powerful antioxidant helps to neutralise free radicals, which can accelerate skin ageing,’ says Fiona. ‘Studies show that taking vitamin C combined with zinc when you have a cold can help curtail it.’

Food sources

Oranges, red and green peppers, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, potatoes.

Vitamin D

What it does

Helps build strong teeth, bones and muscles, and healthy immune and nervous systems.

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Do I need it?

Possibly, during winter or if you don’t get outside enough. The main way our bodies produce it is through sunlight on unprotected skin, and UK sun isn’t strong enough from September to March. The Department of Health recommends you consider a daily 10-microgram supplement, particularly if you’re in a care home, don’t go outdoors much, or cover up when you do.

Food sources of Vitamin D

Oily fish, egg yolk, red meat, and fortified spreads and cereals.

Vitamin B12

What it does

Makes red blood cells, keeps your nervous system healthy, and helps your body release energy from the food you eat.

Do I need it?

Perhaps if you’re vegan or vegetarian, as meat, fish and dairy are chief sources. It’s absorbed at the end of your small intestine, helped by intrinsic factor, a chemical secreted by the stomach, which can be affected by stomach surgery or gastritis. ‘Without B12 we’ll eventually develop pernicious anaemia (PA),’ says Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones. ‘One in 10,000 of us has PA, and more than one in 20 after the age of 65.’ A blood test can confirm a deficiency. Symptoms include pale skin and nails, a sore red tongue, tiredness and dizziness.

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Food sources

Meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs.

Iodine

What it does

Essential for thyroid hormones, which are involved in many body processes such as metabolism.

Do I need it?

Most people get enough in their diets, although you need to be careful if you don’t eat fish or dairy foods. Iodine can be found in plants such as cereals and grains, but the level varies depending on the amount of iodine in the ground in which they’re grown.

Food sources

Fish, shellfish, milk.

Omega-3

What it does

Keeps your heart and brain healthy.

Do I need it?

If you are eating oily fish every week as recommended then you should be getting enough, but most of us don’t. A massive 60% of the UK population hasn’t eaten oily fish in the last week, according to recent research from supplements company Efamol. A quarter of those surveyed said they hadn’t eaten it in the last six months and a fifth never have it.

Food sources

Oily fish contains the most, although nuts and seeds contain some too.

Zinc

What it does

Helps with wound healing, making new cells and enzymes, and processing food.

Do I need it?

Most of us get enough from our diets if they’re well balanced and healthy. But studies suggest a supplement can reduce the severity and length of a cold – perhaps by up to a third – if taken within
24 hours of its onset.

Food sources

Meat, shellfish, dairy foods, bread.

Advice given here is for general information only. Seek help from your GP if you have a medical problem.