Your guide to vitamins and minerals

We take a look at some essential vitamins and minerals and examine their importance to our health

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our bodies need in order to work optimally. Although we should be able to get all the nutrients we need from our diets, it can often be beneficial to consider extra supplementation. Here we take a look at some essential vitamins and minerals, how they are used by the body and which foods they can be found in.

Vitamin A
“Vitamin A is probably most well known for its role in healthy eye function,” says Kim Pearson, a nutritionist with OMNIYA (www.omniya.co.uk). “It’s needed to help vision in dim light and is important for healthy immune system function. Vitamin A is essential for healthy turnover of skin cells, ensuring a fresh, radiant complexion. Eggs, liver and oily fish are good sources of vitamin A, but beta carotene also contributes towards vitamin A intake. Beta carotene can be found in yellow, orange and red vegetables and fruits such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, mango, papaya and apricots. According to the National Institute for Health, the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for vitamin A is 900mcg to maintain health in most individuals.”

Vitamin B
“The B vitamins are essential for a strong nervous system and they also assist with energy production,” says nutritionist Rick Hay, founder of Go Figa! (www.gofiga.co.uk). “Since they help with nervous system function they can also help to promote regular sleep patterns if you are feeling lethargic or stressed. Vitamin B is often recommended to reduce PMS symptoms. Good sources of these vitamins can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds, lentils, pulses and dark, leafy greens. The recommended daily dose is 100mg per day.”

Vitamin C
“Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin which is unable to be synthesised in the body by humans so is therefore an essential dietary requirement,” explains nutritionist Brianna O Malley (www.facebook.com/wealthinhealthnutrition). “The Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNIs) for both men and women are about 40g per day. Vitamin C can be found in foods such as red peppers, oranges, grapefruit and kiwi fruit. It can be added to foods such as cereals and can be taken in a supplement form. Vitamin C has wonderful antioxidant properties and is known for its preventative benefits against many health conditions. Vitamin C has been shown to have some excellent benefits in terms of supporting the immune system. There is also evidence to suggest that it delays the onset of some cancers through the oxidation of free radicals and is also known to improve the absorption of non-heme (plant-based) iron in the body.”

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because it is produced in the skin in response to sunlight. Vitamin D has several important functions, including regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorous. “Vitamin D also helps to support the immune system and has a role to play in helping to keep the nervous system strong,” says Rick Hay. “It also can assist with bone and dental health. Good sources are fish, eggs, fortified cereals and of course sunshine. The recommended daily dose is 500iu.”

Vitamin E
“Vitamin E is an important antioxidant nutrient,” explains Kim Pearson. “Antioxidants help prevent damage to the body’s cells from free radicals – unstable molecules generated naturally within the body as a by-product of energy metabolism. Free radicals are also generated in greater quantities when exposed to pollution, smoking, certain drugs and pesticides to name a few. Antioxidants like vitamin E stabilise the unstable free radical, preventing it from continuing its damage, which is believed to contribute significantly to the ageing process and onset of certain diseases. Good sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach and watercress. According to the National Institute for Health the RDA for vitamin E is 15mg or 22.4iu to maintain health in most individuals.”

Vitamin K
“This is an essential vitamin which is best known for its role in helping the blood to clot,” says plant-based nutritionist Carol West (www.obsidianwellness.com). “But it is also linked to better bone health and the prevention of heart disease. It’s stored in the body’s fat cells and the liver. Vitamin K is an easy vitamin to supplement as so many ‘regular’ foods contain it, such as: strawberries, spinach, tomato, asparagus, kale, peas, lettuce, broccoli, onion, carrot, bell peppers, avocado and even oats. Our daily requirement of vitamin K for an adult over the age of 19 years is 90mcg a day. A nice big salad will get you somewhere near to your recommended intake. The main thing to remember is that you are not looking to have exactly 90 mcg every day, you are looking to keep topping it up as the body stores what it needs.”

Magnesium
“Magnesium is referred to as the ‘spark of life’ because it is important for so many processes and influences so many aspects of health,” explains Aimee Benbow, Technical Manager at Viridian Nutrition (www.viridian-nutrition.com). “Magnesium is a co-factor in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body and is therefore vital for a number of cellular and protein synthesis. It is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts seed and grains. Deficiency has been associated with a number of diseases including migraine headaches, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue. In the UK, the average daily magnesium intake for men and women is estimated to be 308mg and 229mg respectively. Therefore the majority of the population in the UK are not meeting the current RDA of 375 mg. Magnesium supplementation has shown to improve energy levels, stress, cardiovascular health and mood.”

Calcium
“Calcium is an extremely important mineral in the body,” explains Brianna O Malley. “It plays a vital role in muscle functioning, nerve transmission and is known to have some protective effects against cancer of the colon and rectum. Saying this, it is probably more commonly known for its benefits associated with keeping our bones and teeth strong and healthy. Getting calcium into our diet can come in many different forms. It is present in higher quantities in dairy products and lesser quantities in foods such as salmon and kale. It is also available in a supplement form and can be added to some juice drinks like orange juice fortified with calcium. The Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNIs) for calcium is about 700 mg per day for both men and women. This equates to around two to three portions of calcium-rich food a day, for example milk, yogurt, soya, tofu, sardines and green, leafy veg. It’s important to remember that between full-fat, low-fat and skimmed milk there are no significant differences in the amount of calcium.”

Zinc
“Zinc is a metal, but it’s also a nutrient that the body needs,” explains Carol West. “It is contained in the cells of our body, and it helps the immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses. It helps the body to make proteins, DNA and other genetic material in cells. It’s an important nutrient but not one that many of us think about. Here is a list of easily available foods that you can eat to boost your zinc intake: banana, pear, lettuce, walnuts, pineapple, grapes, apricot, butterbeans, courgette, avocado, orange, lentils, spinach, oats, tofu, quinoa, pecans, cashews, broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower and many more. 15mg is the recommended dose of zinc that we should be getting per day. A large bowl of porridge oats contains 6mg of zinc, so by adding some nuts and fruit on top you can give your body the zinc boost it needs each day.”

Iron
“Iron is suprisingly the most common deficiency worldwide,” says Aimee Benbow. “It is naturally found in food sources such as red meat and in plant sources such as spinach, lentils, beans, nuts and dried fruit. The following groups of people are most at risk of iron deficiency: vegetarians and vegans, women during pregnancy, menstruating women, children experiencing sudden growth spurts and people with high levels of physical activity. Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, tiredness, heart palpitations, pale complexion and shortness of breath. Iron supplements have been shown to correct deficiency in cases where diet is not providing sufficient levels and can help improve energy levels and cognitive health.” The Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) for iron for adults aged 19 to 50 is 8.7mg per day for men and 14.8 mg per day for women. For adults aged 51 and over the NRVs are 8.7mg per day for both men and women.”

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