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Vital vitamins and magic minerals - where to find them

Publish date: 09/01/2014

 Large Carrots

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients your body needs in small amounts to work properly.

Most people should get all the nutrients they need by eating a varied and balanced diet, but for certain conditions and life stages you may need more of a particular nutrient.

If you are unsure what foods to choose when shopping, here you’ll find a comprehensive list of the best food sources to choose from and we reveal the ones you’re most likely to be short of.

Vital vitamins

Vitamin A

What for?
Healthy skin, hair, eyes, digestion and immunity. Beta-carotene (the form in fruit and veg), may protect against cancer and heart disease.
Who’s going short?
One in eight teens and one in ten men.
Clues to look out for Dry skin, hair, eyes and brittle nails, night blindness, lower resistance to infection.
Good sources: Meat, liver, dark green leafy veg and orange and yellow fruit and veg.
One large carrot = your daily allowance of beta-carotene

B Vitamins

What for?
To make energy from food.
Folic acid/folate (vitamin B9) helps make red blood cells and prevents birth defects. B12 (cobalamin) is needed for a healthy nervous system and to manufacture red blood cells.

Who’s going short?
A fifth of teenage girls and one in eight women (vitamin B2, riboflavin), over-65s (folate and B12).
Clues to look out for Fatigue, digestive problems, cracks and sores in the corners of the mouth (B2). Tiredness and lethargy (folate and B12).
Good sources: Bread, fish, chicken, meat, eggs and dairy plus some nice leafy greens.
A 200ml glass of milk a day boosts B2 to the recommended level

Vitamin C

What for?
Healthy cells and connective tissue. Helps healing and aids iron absorption. As a powerful antioxidant, it also helps protect against cancer and heart disease.

Who’s going short?
Pregnant or breastfeeding women, smokers, people recovering from surgery or bad burns.
Clues to look out for Tiredness, inflamed gums, joint pain, poor wound healing and corkscrew hairs.
Good sources: Citrus, strawberries, broccoli, blackcurrants, peppers and potatoes.
‘5 strawberries = a day’s supply of vitamin C’

Vitamin D

What for?
May lower risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, diseases in which body turns against itself and nervous system problems. Along with calcium, it’s essential for healthy teeth and bones.

Who’s going short?
Half of us (16 per cent are severely deficient come spring). Toddlers, pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with dark skin and older people are most at risk.
Clues to look out for Weak bones (rickets in children), bone pain and muscle weakness (adults).
Good sources: Salmon, sardines, eggs, fortified cereals, spreads and sun-dried shiitake mushrooms. Most vitamin D comes from the action of sun on skin.
2 portions of oily fish + a daily 15 minutes’ sun on bare skin = your week’s needs of vitamin D

Vitamin E

What for?
A healthy immune system, to help protect cells against free radical damage and maintain cell structure.

Who’s going short?
People with Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and certain rare genetic diseases.
Clues to look out for Loss of feeling in the arms and legs, muscle weakness, vision problems, poor immunity.
Good sources: Soya, corn and olive oil, seeds, cereals, margarine, leafy greens.

Magic minerals

Calcium

What for?
Strong bones and teeth, strong heartbeat, healthy muscles, normal blood clotting.

Who’s going short?
Six per cent of teenage boys, 12 per cent of teenage girls, four per cent of men and eight per cent of women, especially vegans.
Clues to look out for A long-term shortage can lead to osteoporosis, high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.
Good sources: Milk, yoghurt, canned sardines, leafy green veg, almonds and tahini.
200ml semi-skimmed milk + 1 pot of low-fat fruit yogurt + a small chunk of low-fat Cheddar = a day’s worth of calcium

Iodine

What for?
A healthy thyroid, brain and skin, a developing unborn baby’s brain.

Who’s going short?
Half of women of child bearing age.
Clues to look out for Swollen thyroid (in neck), dry skin, hair loss and many other symptoms.
Good sources: Non-organic milk, fish and seafood, meat, vegetables and iodised salt.
2 boiled eggs + a small low-fat natural yoghurt = your day’s supply of iodine

Iron

What for?
Healthy red blood cells, a healthy immune system, energy, helping your body process drugs and foreign substances.

Who’s going short?
More than one in five women and two in five teenage girls.
Clues to look out for Fatigue, irritability and poor concentration.
Good sources: Liver, red meat, beans, nuts, dried apricots and dark green leafy veg.
2 scrambled eggs + a slice of wholemeal toast + a slice of liver = your day’s supply of iron

Magnesium

What for?
To turn food into energy, for bone health, for healthy muscles (including the heart), nerves and immune system.

Who’s going short?
Two in five teenage girls and just under one in ten women.
Clues to look out for Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue (mild), weakness, numbness, tingling, muscle contractions, cramps and abnormal heart rhythms (more severe deficiency).
Good sources: Brown rice, wholemeal bread, fish and seafood, nuts, seeds and green leafy veg.
6 prawns + half a pack spinach + 300g brown rice + 1 tbsp sesame seeds = your day’s supply of magnesium

Potassium

What for?
To help nerves and muscles communicate, move nutrients into and waste products out of cells, to maintain body’s water balance and help keep blood pressure steady.

Who’s going short?
Women and teenage girls and over-65s.
Clues to look out for Muscle weakness or stiffness, spasms, cramps, palpitations.
Good sources: Spinach, spring greens, grapes, blackberries, root veg and bananas.
One jacket potato + a portion of baked cod + two grilled tomatoes = your day’s supply of potassium

Selenium

What for?
A healthy immune system, normal thyroid function, healthy reproduction, and as a key antioxidant to prevent free radical damage to cells and tissues.

Who’s going short?
One in three teenagers, one in five adults (under 65) and one in five aged 65+. The
British diet only provides around half the selenium we need.
Clues to look out for Male infertility; severe deficiency can lead to an enlarged heart.
Good sources: Nuts, especially Brazils, cereals and fish.
One jacket potato + a slice of tuna = your day’s supply of selenium

Zinc

What for?
Wound healing, growth, fertility, to help make new cells and enzymes, process carbohydrates, fat and protein in food and for the proper functioning of over 2,500 proteins.

Who’s going short?

People who eat a poor diet or are ill and don’t absorb nutrients well.
Clues to look out for Slow healing, tiredness, tendency to infections.
Good sources: Milk, cheese, wholemeal bread, lamb, beef, scallops, and prawns.
Beef stew + slice of wholemeal bread = your day’s supply of zinc.

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