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Vitamin C can be found in oranges

Vitamin C can be found in oranges
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Vitamins and minerals

3-minute read

Vitamins and minerals are essential parts of food. If you eat a variety of foods from the 5 food groups and have a balanced diet, you’ll get all the vitamins and minerals you need. Most people don’t need supplements and also high doses of supplements can cause problems.

The role of vitamins and minerals

The body has thousands of chemical reactions going on in each cell, every second of the day. The cells continually process the proteins, fats and carbohydrates from food.

Vitamins and minerals are essential parts of those chemical reactions. Without them, essential body functions couldn't take place, but you only need very small amounts of them. Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a healthy diet.

Do I need supplements?

It's easy to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a healthy diet. The exceptions are:

  • pregnant women, who should take folic acid and may also be advised by their doctor to take iron and/or vitamin D supplements
  • vegans, who may need a B12 supplement and may also need supplements containing Vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids and iron
  • people with particular medical conditions

Supplements can be dangerous if you take too much of any one. High doses of vitamin C can cause diarrhoea and kidney stones. Too much vitamin A is harmful, especially for pregnant women. You should also be careful with doses of vitamins D and E. Minerals are also harmful in high doses. Most importantly, there is no evidence that supplements of vitamins and minerals make any difference to the health of most people. If you're not sure about whether or not you need supplements, check with your doctor.

Here's a list of all the important vitamins and minerals, why they're important, and what foods you can get them in.

Vitamin Why it's needed Where it's found
Vitamin A
  • eyesight
  • growth
  • immune system and defence against infections.
  • full cream dairy products
  • margarine
  • liver
  • meat
  • orange coloured fruits and vegetables
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • processing carbohydrates to energy
  • healthy working of your heart, digestive system, nervous system
  • control of cholesterol
  • wholemeal bread
  • yeast extract
  • oats
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • fish
  • pork
  • nuts
  • seeds
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • tissue growth and repair including skin and eyes
  • milk and milk products
  • leafy green vegetables
  • meat
  • enriched bread and breakfast cereals
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • processing foods to energy
  • nervous system, digestive system, and skin health
  • poultry
  • meat
  • fish
  • peanuts
  • mushrooms, asparagus, and leafy green vegetables
  • enriched bread and breakfast cereals
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • processing foods to energy
  • a wide variety of foods
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • processing proteins and carbohydrates
  • making red blood cells
  • brain function
  • immune system
  • nerves and muscles
  • meat
  • fish
  • poultry
  • vegetables
  • fruit
Vitamin B12
  • new red blood cells
  • new nerve cells
  • processing fats and carbohydrates
  • meat
  • fish
  • poultry
  • dairy products
  • eggs
Folate (vitamin B9)
  • new red blood cells
  • healthy nervous system
  • nervous system development in pregnancy
  • liver
  • legumes
  • green leafy vegetables
  • oranges
  • bread
  • seeds
  • breakfast cereals
Vitamin C
  • antioxidant
  • metabolise protein
  • boost the immune system
  • help absorb iron
All fruits and vegetables, especially:
  • citrus fruits
  • vegetables in the cabbage family
  • cantaloupe
  • strawberries
  • capsicum
  • tomatoes
  • potatoes
  • paw paw
  • mangoes
  • kiwifruit
Vitamin D
  • needed to metabolise calcium
  • healthy bones and teeth
  • many organs including the intestine, liver, and kidneys
  • Vitamin D forms in the skin when it is exposed to the sun
  • salmon
  • herrings and sardines
  • egg yolks
  • fortified milk and margarine
Vitamin E
  • antioxidant
  • keeps the membranes around cells healthy
  • polyunsaturated oils, such as sunflower oil and
  • safflower oil
  • leafy green vegetables
  • wheat germ
  • wholegrain products
  • liver
  • egg yolks
  • nuts and seeds
Vitamin K
  • blood clotting
  • members of the cabbage family
  • leafy green vegetables
  • milk
Minerals Why it’s needed Where it’s found
Calcium
  • strong bones
  • muscle and nerve function
  • blood clotting
  • milk
  • cheese
  • yoghurt
  • canned sardines
  • salmon
  • Asian green vegetables
  • tofu
Iodine
  • thyroid gland function
  • brain function
  • normal growth
  • seafood
  • bread
  • iodised table salt
Iron
  • red blood cell function
  • helps transport oxygen around the body
  • energy production
  • storing oxygen in the muscles
  • liver
  • meat (especially red meat)
  • chicken
  • salmon
  • tinned tuna
  • baked beans and other legumes (such as lentils)
  • green vegetables
  • tofu
  • eggs
  • fortified breakfast cereals
Zinc
  • wound healing
  • boosts immunity
  • tissue repair
  • oysters
  • seafood
  • meat
  • chicken
  • brown rice
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • fortified breakfast cereals

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2020


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