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Getting your essential vitamins and nutrients through diet

02 Dec 2022

We all need a steady supply of vitamins and minerals for the optimum function of both our bodies and minds. There are several vitamins and minerals which are classed as ‘essential’, which means that our bodies don’t make them, and we must get them from the foods we eat. According to the NHS, most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, and consume too much fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables or fibre. 1

Don’t worry, you can easily meet the body’s nutritional needs through diet as long as you have the right information.

Firstly, it’s a good idea to get to know the nutrient density of foods, so you can make good choices. For a food to be classed as ‘nutrient-dense’, it should have a high nutritional content relative to its calorific content. Broccoli, for example, contains vitamin C, folate, vitamins A and K, calcium, fibre, beta-carotene and other antioxidants 2 at only 34 calories per 100g. Other highly nutrient-dense foods include kale, cabbage, peppers, garlic and berries.

What vital nutrients do I need?

It’s a good idea to base your meals around a starchy food such as wholegrain pasta, include some beans, pulses or eggs for protein as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables with every meal. 3 Here are some of the main vitamins and minerals you need to include in your diet each day to stay healthy, most of which can be found in fruits and vegetables:

Vitamin A is vital for the immune system, skin and eyes. The recommended daily intake of vitamin A is 0.7mg a day for men and 0.6mg a day for women. 4 Find it in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables such as mango and peppers.

B vitamins are a group of vitamins that help convert our food into fuel and offer a range of benefits for the nervous system and cell function. 5

  • Thiamin, or vitamin B1 helps break down energy from food, and is found in peas, eggs and wholegrain bread. Men need 1mg per day, and women require 0.8mg per day.

  • Riboflavin, or vitamin B12 supports the skin, eyes and nervous system and is found in rice, eggs and fortified cereals. Men need 1.3mg per day and women need 1.1mg per day.

  • Niacin, or vitamin B3 also helps energy conversion and supports the skin. Wheat flour and eggs are good sources, and men need 16.5mg per day, whilst women need 13.2mg per day.

  • Vitamin B6 helps your blood carry oxygen around the body. Many different foods are rich in this vitamin, including most vegetables and wholegrain products. Men should get 1.4mg per day, and women 1.2mg.

  • Vitamin B12 helps you make blood cells and release energy from your food. Good sources include eggs and cheese, and men and women both need 1.5mg per day.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant which helps protect your cells. Find it in broccoli, strawberries and oranges. 40mg per day is the recommended daily amount. 6

Vitamin D is needed to regulate other minerals, such as calcium, in the body. It’s found in eggs and fortified foods, but it’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement as dietary sources are rare. Government guidelines recommend 10mg daily unless you spend a lot of time in the sun. 7

Vitamin E helps support your immune system and skin. Good sources include nuts, seeds and olive oil and men need 4mg per day, women 3mg per day. 8

Vitamin K helps your blood clot and can be found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach. To work out your recommended daily amount, you need approximately 1mcg a day of vitamin K for each kilogram of your body weight. 9

Calcium helps build bones and teeth, as well as helping your muscles contract. Calcium sources include broccoli and cabbage. All adults need 700mg of calcium per day. 10

Iron helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around your body. Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale are good sources of iron. Men and women over 50 need 8.7mg per day, women under 50 need 14.8mg per day. 11

Handpicked content: What counts as a portion of fruit & veg?

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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