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Vitamins and minerals explained

31-minute read

What are vitamins and minerals?

Vitamins and minerals are needed to make your body work properly. Vitamins come from plants and animals, while minerals originally come from the earth.

Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from the 5 food groups in a balanced diet. However, some groups in the community are more at risk of developing deficiencies.

Vitamins are found in:

  • fresh foods
  • frozen foods
  • canned foods

An example is Vitamin C. It is found in many fruits. Some vitamins can be lost by cooking in water. Fresh fruit and uncooked vegetables are good sources of vitamins.

Minerals can be found in food and in water. An example of a mineral is calcium. It is found in milk, fish and some plant foods like green vegetables and sesame seeds.

Why do I need vitamins and minerals?

Your body makes energy from the food you eat. Vitamins and minerals are needed to help you use the energy that comes from the food you eat. Vitamins and minerals are also needed for strong bones and to help your body fight infections.

You only need very small amounts of vitamins and minerals in your diet. Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a healthy diet.

Extra vitamins and minerals are sometimes called ‘supplements’. Taking too many supplements can cause health problems.

Do I need to take vitamin supplements?

Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from eating a healthy balanced diet. You might need extra vitamins and minerals if you:

  • are pregnant
  • are vegan
  • have certain medical conditions

If you are pregnant, you should take folic acid. Your doctor may also tell you to take extra iron or vitamin D.

Vegans may need a vitamin B12 supplement. You may also need extra Vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and iron.

There is no evidence that vitamin and mineral supplements make any difference to the health of most people.

Supplements can be dangerous if you take too much of any one type. High amounts of vitamin C can cause diarrhoea and kidney stones. Too much vitamin A is harmful for pregnant people. You should also be careful not to take too much vitamin D or E.

Minerals are also harmful in high doses.

You should talk to your doctor or a dietitian if you think you need supplements.

Where are vitamins and minerals found?

Here's a list of important vitamins and minerals. The list tells you why they are important, and what foods you can find them in.

Vitamin Why it's needed Where it's found
Vitamin A
  • eyesight
  • growth
  • your body’s fight against infections.
  • full cream dairy products
  • margarine
  • liver
  • meat
  • orange-coloured fruits and vegetables
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • changing carbohydrates into 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)
  • body growth and repair including skin and eyes
  • milk and milk products
  • leafy green vegetables
  • meat
  • enriched bread and breakfast cereals
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • changing foods into 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)
  • changing foods into energy
  • many food types
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • getting energy from 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
  • getting energy from fats and carbohydrates
  • meat
  • fish
  • poultry
  • dairy products
  • eggs
Folate (vitamin B9)
  • new red blood cells
  • healthy nervous system
  • the baby’s nervous system in pregnancy
  • liver
  • legumes
  • green leafy vegetables
  • oranges
  • bread
  • seeds
  • breakfast cereals
Vitamin C
  • antioxidant
  • get energy from 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 use calcium
  • healthy bones and teeth
  • many organs including the gut, 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
  • strong bones
  • muscle and nerve function
  • blood clotting
  • milk
  • cheese
  • yoghurt
  • canned sardines
  • salmon
  • Asian green vegetables
  • tofu
  • thyroid gland function
  • brain function
  • normal growth
  • seafood
  • bread
  • iodised table salt
  • red blood cell function
  • helps move oxygen around the body
  • make energy
  • 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
  • wound healing
  • boosts immunity
  • tissue repair
  • oysters
  • seafood
  • meat
  • chicken
  • brown rice
  • nuts
  • legumes (such as lentils)
  • fortified breakfast cereals

Resources and Support

If you want to know more about vitamins and minerals, talk to your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak to, 24 hours, 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: September 2022

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