About vitamins and minerals

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.

Types of vitamins

There are two types of vitamins - fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are found mainly in fatty foods such as:

  • animal fats, including butter and lard
  • vegetable oils
  • dairy foods
  • liver
  • 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

Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body, so you need to have them more often.

If you have more than you need, your body gets rid of the extra vitamins when you urinate. Because they are not stored in the body, these vitamins are generally not harmful.

Water-soluble vitamins are found in fruit, vegetables and grains. They can also be lost in water used for cooking.

This means that by cooking foods, especially boiling them, you 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.

Water-soluble vitamins 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 foods such as:

  • meat
  • cereals including cereal products such as bread
  • fish
  • milk and dairy foods
  • vegetables, fruit (especially dried fruit)
  • nuts

Essential minerals include calcium and iron.

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.

Examples of trace elements are fluoride and iodine.

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