- Vitamins and minerals
- Fat-soluble vitamins
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Staying safe in the sun
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Water-soluble vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
- Vitamin B12
- Folic acid
- Vitamins and Minerals
- What Are Vitamins and Minerals?
- What Do Vitamins and Minerals Do?
- How Do I Get the Vitamins and Minerals I Need?
- Should I Take a Supplement?
- Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults
- How Can I Get the Vitamins and Minerals I Need?
- Measurements for Vitamins and Minerals
- Recommended Sodium Intake for Older Adults
Vitamins and minerals
A healthy balanced diet containing a variety of foods should provide all the vitamins your body needs to work properly.
There are 2 types of vitamins, fat-soluble and water-soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins are mainly found in foods that are high in natural fat — such as dairy, eggs and oily fish.
You don't need to eat these types of food every day to get enough of these vitamins. Every time you eat these foods your body stores them in your liver and body fat for future use.
Fat-soluble vitamins include:
- vitamin A
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
- vitamin K
Vitamin A (also known as retinol) has several important functions, including:
- helping your immune system to fight infections
- helping your vision in dim light
- keeping your skin healthy
Good sources of vitamin A include:
- oily fish
- fortified low-fat spreads
- milk and yoghurt
Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, important for bone, teeth and muscle health.
Vitamin D is made by our skin from sunlight and is also found in small amounts in some foods.
Good sources of vitamin D include:
- oily fish – such as salmon, herring and mackerel
- red meat and offal — such as liver and kidney
- egg yolks
- fortified cereals, soya products and spreads
Since vitamin D is found in only a small number of foods. In Scotland everyone over the age of 5 should consider taking a supplement with vitamin D, especially over the winter. Therefore, everyone aged over one year — including pregnant and breastfeeding women — should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.
Between April and September, the majority of people aged 5 years and above will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight when they are outdoors. They might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.
Some population groups (with very little or no sunshine exposure) will not obtain enough vitamin D from sunlight and are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. This includes:
- people who are seldom outdoors such as frail or housebound individuals and those who are confined indoors e.g. in institutions such as care homes
- people who habitually wear clothes that cover most of their skin while outdoors
- people from minority ethnic groups with dark skin such as those of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin
These people should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms vitamin D throughout the year.
Given the uncertainty of consistent sunshine in Scotland and the risks of exposing infants 0-6 months to the sun, it may be advisable for pregnant and lactating women to take a daily supplement throughout the year.
Staying safe in the sun
In Scotland, 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure is safe for all. After sunscreen is correctly applied, vitamin D synthesis is blocked.
Staying in the sun for prolonged periods without the protection of sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to:
- repair damaged cells and protect them from free-radicals
- keep your skin and eyes healthy
- strengthen your immune system
Good sources of vitamin E include:
- plant-based oils — such as olive and rapeseed
- nuts and seeds
- cereals and cereal products
Vitamin K is important for healthy bones and blood clotting, an essential part of healing.
Good sources of vitamin K include:
- green leafy vegetables – such as broccoli and spinach
- plant-based oils
- nuts and seeds
- dairy products
- soya beans
Un fat-soluble vitamins, you need to consume water-soluble vitamins more often. Your body can't store these for future use and gets rid of any excess when you pass urine.
Water-soluble vitamins include:
- vitamin C
- B vitamins
- folic acid
They're found in:
- fruit and vegetables
- dairy foods
Being water soluble, these vitamins can be lost or destroyed through heating, dissolving or exposure to air. To keep as many of these as possible, choose to steam or grill these foods instead of boiling (unless you're making soups or stews with the liquid).
Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) helps to:
- protect and keep cells healthy
- maintain healthy connective tissue
- heal wounds
Vitamin C is found in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Good sources include:
- citrus fruit — including oranges and grapefruit
- red and green peppers
- strawberries, blueberries and blackberries
- green leafy vegetables — such as broccoli and brussels sprouts
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
Thiamin is also known as vitamin B1. It helps the other B vitamins to break down and release energy from food and keep your nervous system healthy.
Thiamin is found in most types of food. Good sources include:
- meat and fish — such as pork and trout
- vegetables – such as peas, asparagus and squash
- fresh and dried fruit
- wholegrain breads
- some fortified breakfast cereal
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Riboflavin is also known as vitamin B2. It helps to keep your skin, eyes and nervous system healthy and release energy from the food you eat.
Good sources of riboflavin include:
- fortified breakfast cereals
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. It helps to release energy from the foods you eat and keep your skin and nervous system healthy.
There are 2 forms of niacin – nicotinic acid and nicotinamide – both of which are found in food.
Good sources of niacin include:
- wheat flour
Pantothenic acid helps to release energy from the food we eat. It's found naturally in most meats, vegetables and wholegrains, including:
- chicken and beef
- tomatoes and broccoli
- wholegrains – such as brown rice and wholemeal bread
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Pyridoxine is also known as vitamin B6. It helps the body to:
- use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates in food
- form the substance that carries oxygen around the body (haemoglobin) in your blood
Good sources of vitamin B6 include:
- lean meat — such as chicken or turkey
- whole cereals – such as oatmeal, brown rice and wholegrain bread
- soya beans
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Biotin is also known as vitamin B7 and is only needed in small amounts. It helps your body process (metabolise) fat.
As the bacteria in your bowel make biotin, you may not need any additional biotin from your diet. However, it's still important to eat a healthy and varied diet.
Vitamin B12 helps your body:
- make red blood cells and keep the nervous system healthy
- release energy from the food we eat
- process folic acid
Good sources include:
- fish — such as salmon and cod
- dairy foods
- some fortified breakfast cereals
Vitamin B12 is not found naturally in plants and grains. If you're vegan, you should consider taking a B vitamin supplement to reduce the risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia.
Folic acid (also known as folate) works with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells.
It can also help to reduce the risk of central nervous system defects — such as spina bifida — in unborn babies.
Good sources of folic acid include:
- brussels sprouts
- fortified breakfast cereals
If you don't have enough folic acid in your diet you're at risk of developing folate deficiency anaemia.
More about folic acid before and during pregnancy
Vitamins and Minerals
You know vitamins and minerals are good for you. But what does your body really need? And is it possible to get too much of a good thing?
What Are Vitamins and Minerals?
Your body needs vitamins and minerals to work properly. You get them from the foods you eat every day.
Vitamins fall into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble (pronounced: SAHL-yuh-bul):
- The fat-soluble vitamins — A, D, E, and K — dissolve in fat and are stored in your body.
- The water-soluble vitamins — C and the B-complex vitamins (such as vitamins B6, B12, niacin, riboflavin, and folate) — dissolve in water. Your body can't store these vitamins. Any B or C vitamins that your body doesn't use travels through the bloodstream and is lost (mostly when you pee). So you need a fresh supply of these vitamins every day.
Vitamins are organic substances, which means they’re made by plants or animals. Minerals are inorganic elements that come from soil and water, and are absorbed by plants or eaten by animals.
Your body needs larger amounts of some minerals, such as calcium, to grow and stay healthy.
Other minerals chromium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc are called trace minerals because you need only very small amounts of them.
What Do Vitamins and Minerals Do?
Vitamins and minerals boost the immune system, support normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs.
For example, you've probably heard that carrots are good for your eyes.
It's true! Carrots are full of substances called carotenoids (pronounced: kuh-RAH-teh-noydz) that your body converts into vitamin A, which helps prevent eye problems.
Vitamin K helps blood to clot, so cuts and scrapes stop bleeding quickly. You'll find vitamin K in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and soybeans. And to have strong bones, you need to eat foods such as milk, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables, which are rich in the mineral calcium.
How Do I Get the Vitamins and Minerals I Need?
Eating well now is especially important because the body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow and stay healthy.
Eating a mix of foods is the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals you need each day. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and poultry are the best choices for getting the nutrients your body needs.
When deciding what to eat, check food labels and pick items that are high in vitamins and minerals. For example, when choosing drinks, you'll find that a glass of milk is a good source of vitamin D, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. A glass of soda, on the other hand, doesn't have any vitamins or minerals.
You can also satisfy your taste buds without sacrificing nutrition while dining out: vegetable pizzas or fajitas, sandwiches with lean cuts of meat, fresh salads, and baked potatoes are just a few delicious, nutritious choices.
If you're a vegetarian, you'll need to plan carefully for a diet that includes the vitamins and minerals you need. The best sources for the minerals zinc and iron are meats, fish, and poultry. But you can get these from dried beans, seeds, nuts, and leafy green vegetables kale.
Vitamin B12 is important for making red blood cells and keeping nerves working well. It is found only in animal products. If you don't eat meat, you can get vitamin B12 from eggs, milk and other dairy foods, and fortified breakfast cereals. Vegans (vegetarians who eat no animal products at all, including dairy products) may need to take vitamin B12 supplements.
Should I Take a Supplement?
Lots of people wonder if they should take vitamin or mineral supplements. If your diet includes a wide variety of foods — including whole-grain products, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, nuts, seeds, eggs, and meats — you probably get the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
There are many supplements on the market, and of course their makers want you to buy them. Beware of unproven claims about the benefits of taking more than recommended amounts of any vitamin or mineral. Healthy teens usually don't need supplements if they eat a well-rounded diet.
Check with your doctor before taking vitamin or mineral supplements. Just because something is good for you doesn’t mean that more is better. Some vitamins and minerals can cause health problems if you get too much of them.
Talk to your doctor or a dietitian if you're skipping meals, dieting, are a picky eater, or have any concerns about your diet. They can answer your questions and help you create a healthy eating plan that includes the nutrients your body needs.
Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults
Vitamins and minerals are two of the main types of nutrients that your body needs to survive and stay healthy.
Find information on some of the essential vitamins recommended for older adults and how to get the recommended amount within your diet.
Vitamins help your body grow and work the way it should.
There are 13 essential vitamins — vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate).
Vitamins have different jobs to help keep the body working properly. Some vitamins help you resist infections and keep your nerves healthy, while others may help your body get energy from food or help your blood clot properly. By following the Dietary Guidelines, you will get enough of most of these vitamins from food.
vitamins, minerals also help your body function. Minerals are elements that our bodies need to function that can be found on the earth and in foods.
Some minerals, iodine and fluoride, are only needed in very small quantities. Others, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, are needed in larger amounts.
As with vitamins, if you eat a varied diet, you will probably get enough of most minerals.
How Can I Get the Vitamins and Minerals I Need?
It is usually better to get the nutrients you need from food, rather than a pill. That’s because nutrient-dense foods contain other things that are good for you, fiber.
Most older people can get all the nutrients they need from foods. But if you aren’t sure, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian to find out if you are missing any important vitamins or minerals. He or she may recommend a vitamin or dietary supplement.
If you do need to supplement your diet, look for a supplement that contains the vitamin or mineral you need without a lot of other unnecessary ingredients. Read the label to make sure the dose is not too large.
Avoid supplements with mega-doses. Too much of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful, and you might be paying for supplements you don’t need. Your doctor or pharmacist can recommend brands that fit your needs.
Different foods in each food group have different nutrients. Picking an assortment within every food group throughout the week will help you get many nutrients. For example, choose seafood instead of meat twice a week. The variety of foods will make your meals more interesting, too.
Measurements for Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are measured in a variety of ways. The most common are:
- mg – milligram (a milligram is one thousandth of a gram)
- mcg – microgram (a microgram is one millionth of a gram. 1,000 micrograms is equal to one milligram)
- IU – international unit (the conversion of milligrams and micrograms into IU depends on the type of vitamin or drug)
Recommended Sodium Intake for Older Adults
Sodium is another important mineral. In most Americans’ diets, sodium primarily comes from salt (sodium chloride). Whenever you add salt to your food, you're adding sodium.
But the Dietary Guidelines shows that most of the sodium we eat doesn’t come from our saltshakers — it’s added to many foods during processing or preparation.
We all need some sodium, but too much over time can lead to high blood pressure, which can raise your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
How much sodium is okay? People 51 and older should reduce their sodium intake to 2,300 mg each day. That is about one teaspoon of salt and includes sodium added during manufacturing or cooking as well as at the table when eating.
If you have high blood pressure or prehypertension, limiting sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, about 2/3 teaspoon of salt, may be helpful. Preparing your own meals at home without using a lot of processed foods or salt will allow you to control how much sodium you get.
Try using less salt when cooking, and don’t add salt before you take the first bite. If you make this change slowly, you will get used to the difference in taste. Also look for grocery products marked “low sodium,” “unsalted,” “no salt added,” “sodium free,” or “salt free.
” Also check the Nutrition Facts Label to see how much sodium is in a serving.
Eating more fresh vegetables and fruit also helps — they are naturally low in sodium and provide more potassium. Get your sauce and dressing on the side and use only as much as you need for taste.
This content is provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure it is accurate and up to date.
Content reviewed: January 01, 2021