Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K—we’ve all heard of them, but what foods are the best sources of these essential compounds? Here is a simple guide on the key nutrients our bodies need, where to get them, how much of them we need, how to make sure we get enough and the risks of taking too much.
What does it do? Also known as retinol, this key nutrient aids the body’s natural defence against illness and infection, helps vision in dim light and keeps the lining on certain parts of the body—like the nose—healthy.
Where can I find it? Cheese, oily fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt and liver.
How much do I need? Men aged between 19-64 need 0.7 milligrams a day, women of the same age group need 0.6 milligrams a day.
What if I take too much? Some research suggests that having more than 1.5 milligrams of vitamin A over a long period of time may make your bones weaker and more prone to fractures.
What does it do? There are many types of B vitamins—thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine and folic acid—and they all have different roles in our bodies from keeping the nervous system healthy to breaking down and releasing energy from food.
Where can I find it? Eat peas and fresh fruit for thiamin, milk and eggs for riboflavin, meat and fish for niacin, pork and poultry for pyridoxine and broccoli and spinach for folic acid.
How much do I need? Per day, men aged 19-65 will need one milligram of thiamin, 1.3 milligrams of riboflavin, 16.5 milligrams of niacin, 1.4 milligrams of pyridoxine and 200 milligrams of folic acid. On the other hand, women of the same age group will need 0.8 milligrams of thiamin, 1.1 milligrams of riboflavin, 13.2 milligrams of niacin, 1.2 milligrams of pyridoxine and 200 milligrams of folic acid.
What if I take too much? Taking more than the recommended amount by the NHS can cause symptoms such as loss of feeling in the arms and legs, and skin flushes.
What does it do? Vitamin C helps keep cells healthy, aids the wound healing process and maintains skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage in top shape.
Where can I find it? Oranges, orange juice, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and potatoes.
How much do I need? Adults aged between 19 and 64 years need 40 milligrams of vitamin C a day.
What if I take too much? Taking large amounts can cause stomach pain, diarrhoea and flatulence. Lack of vitamin C can lead to scurvy.
What does it do? This key vitamin helps regulate the amount of phosphate and calcium in the body.
Where can I find it? Most people should get all the vitamin D they need from sunlight, but it can also be found in foods such as oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods.
How much do I need? Babies up to the age of one year need 8.5-10 micrograms of vitamin D a day. Children from the age of one year and adults need 10 micrograms a day.
What if I take too much? Taking too much vitamin D can cause calcium to build up, weakening bones and damaging the heart and kidneys.
What does it do? Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth, regulates muscle contractions and makes sure blood clots normally.
Where can I find it? Milk, cheese, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, soya beans and nuts.
How much do I need? Adults need 700 milligrams of calcium a day.
What if I take too much? Taking higher doses than recommended can lead to diarrhoea and stomach pain.
What does it do? Iron is important in making red blood cells.
Where can I find it? Good sources of iron include meat, beans, nuts, dried fruits and wholegrains.
How much do I need? Men aged 19-64 and women aged 50-64 need 8.7 milligrams a day while women aged 19-50 need 14.8 milligrams a day.
What if I take too much? Side effects include constipation, vomiting and stomach pain.
Getting Help From a Bottle
It’s no secret that the best way to ensure our bodies get the right minerals and nutrients is by eating a varied diet—however, in some cases, supplements can safely plug the gaps in our nutrition.
Vitamin D: During the winter, it’s vital that we get vitamin D from our diet, as the sun isn’t strong enough for the body to make the vitamin—however, it can sometimes be difficult to get enough from our diet alone. According to NHS Choices, everyone—including pregnant and breastfeeding women—should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement containing 10 micrograms of the vitamin during the autumn and winter. You can find these in pharmacies and most supermarkets.
Iron: Women who lose a lot of blood during their monthly period are at higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia and may need to take iron supplements. Speak to your doctor before deciding to take any supplement.
Omega-3: The health benefits of eating fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel are well known. However, due to contaminants, purity, availability and price, getting enough omega-3 through diet alone can sometimes be hard. Fish oil in supplement form, on the other hand, provides these essential nutrients in a pure and concentrated way.
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