Most people know that vitamins and minerals
play an essential role in good health and that it’s important to try and get
these nutrients through our diet.
At any one time, there are many things
happening within the body to keep us alive and functioning: we’re creating
cells and tissues, converting food into energy, our muscles are contracting,
our blood is pumping and our brain is constantly interacting with the organs in
Here are a few of the essential vitamins and
minerals that our bodies need to fulfil all these functions and more:
Vitamin A assists with many important
functions of the body. It helps with our vision, particularly in dim light,
helps to keep our skin healthy, and plays an important role in immune health,
helping us to fight off disease and infection.
To get plenty of vitamin A in your diet, be
sure to eat cheese, eggs, oily fish and milk/dairy products. Your body can also
convert a nutrient called beta-carotene to vitamin A. This is found in many
yellow and red fruits and vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes,
capsicum, mango, papaya, and apricots, as well as leafy greens.
There are a number of vitamins that fall under
this category, including thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin
(vitamin B3), as well as pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, biotin, folate and folic
acid, and vitamin B12. Each of these nutrients have different functions and
benefits within our body. They can affect our energy levels, brain health,
insulin sensitivity, heart health including blood pressure and many more. Folic
acid is a particularly common supplement for pregnant women as it supports the
development of a healthy baby.
Because there are so many vitamins in this
category, they can be sourced from a wide range of foods. There are lots of
animal sources that are rich in B vitamins, including eggs, chicken, beef,
pork, and fish. They are also found in peas, fresh and dried fruit, wholegrain
bread and cereals, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas
and other green leafy vegetables. Vegemite is also another excellent source of
B vitamins - so don’t be afraid to spread some on your toast or sandwiches!
Vitamin C is often the first supplement that
people reach for when they come down with a cold - and for good reason. This
vitamin is especially important for a healthy immune system. While it might not
be able to cure a cold, it has been shown to shorten the length of a cold when
taken as a preventative measure or at the first sign of symptoms.
You can find vitamin C in oranges, capsicums,
strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and potatoes.
We tend to get most of our vitamins and
nutrients from the food that we eat, however we actually get the majority of
our vitamin D through sunlight. This is why it’s a common supplement for people
who live in latitudes with particularly long or dark winters. Vitamin D is an
essential vitamin that helps with everything from our immune system to brain
health, as well as sexual health, cardiovascular health and healthy bones and
In addition to spending some time in the sun,
you can get vitamin D from oily fish, eggs, red meat and D-fortified products
like cows milk, soy milk and breakfast cereals.
This vitamin is an antioxidant and is also
anti-inflammatory. It supports a healthy immune system and healthy skin, and
can also assist with bone health for older people.
Foods that are rich in vitamin E include nuts
and seeds, wheatgerm, vegetable oils, and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin K is another vitamin that can help
with bone health, but it is also well known for assisting with heart health.
Not only does it play a role in blood clotting (helping to heal injuries), but
Vitamin K has also been associated with reducing the calcification and
stiffening of the arteries, in turn helping to reduce the risk of heart
Interestingly, Vitamin K isn’t found in large
amounts in the foods included in a western diet. Nato, a Japanese food that’s
made from fermented soybeans is particularly high in Vitamin K, but it’s not
something that many Australians tend to eat. While it can be found in other
foods, including dark green vegetables, it’s difficult to eat enough to reach
optimum levels of Vitamin K, which is why it’s commonly taken as a supplement.
A steady vitamin K intake is important for
patients on a blood thinning medication called warfarin.
Calcium is well known for helping to build
strong bones and teeth, but it also has other roles within the body. For
example, calcium can help regulate muscle contractions, including your heart
beat, as well as helping the blood to clot. Because calcium helps to build and
maintain healthy bones, eating enough calcium can help to prevent conditions
Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt
are rich in calcium. It’s also found in green leafy vegetables, tofu, nuts,
bread, and fish that has bones (like sardines).
Magnesium is an electrolyte which helps with
the health of the heart and brain, as well as muscle and nerve function. It can
also assist with muscle relaxation and even sleep, which is why you’ll often
find magnesium added to topical creams or soaks that aim to soothe sore
muscles. Magnesium is lost through sweat, so people who are extremely active
may wish to take care in ensuring they’re getting enough magnesium in their
People with coeliac disease or those that
choose to follow a gluten-free diet may consider supplementing magnesium, as
grains are a rich source of this essential mineral. Magnesium is also found in
green leafy vegetables, brown rice, bread, meat, fish, nuts and some dairy
Zinc plays a role in immune health, as well as
maintaining healthy brain function. Some studies have indicated a connection
between a zinc deficiency and conditions like depression and anxiety, and zinc
has also been shown to have a positive effect when taken alongside
antidepressants. Zinc can also help with hormonal health, particularly the production
of testosterone in both men and women. It can also help keep the skin healthy,
particularly in relation to skin conditions like acne.
You can find zinc in shellfish like oysters,
some dairy products, meat, bread, and some cereal products.
The best way to meet the recommended amount of
vitamins and minerals is to eat a diverse diet that’s rich in whole foods. If
you’re not sure or you suspect you might have a deficiency, speak to your GP or
the friendly pharmacist at your local Capital Chemist.