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Vitamins and Minerals: A Guide to Essential Nutrients in a Healthy, Balanced Diet 

The concept of a healthy, balanced diet isn’t merely about calorie intake; it’s about providing our bodies with the essential nutrients they require to function properly. Among these nutrients are a collection of vitamins and minerals, also called “micronutrients” as we need them in much smaller amounts than “macronutrients”, such as carbohydrate, protein and fat.  

Vitamins and minerals are deemed essential nutrients as our bodies cannot produce them in sufficient quantities, therefore, we must get them from the food we eat. The exception to this is vitamin D, which we will discuss further below. 

An array of vitamins and minerals can be found in fresh, wholefoods such as fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish, which are normally unprocessed or minimally processed. Each vitamin and mineral plays an important role in supporting our health and well-being, so let’s explore them in greater detail. 

Fresh Oranges


Vitamins are organic substances (made by plants or animals) and can be classified as water-soluble or fat-soluble. Water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C are not stored in the body (they are lost through bodily fluids and during cooking), therefore, we need them every day. However, fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D E and K can be stored in the liver and fat tissues, meaning we don’t need them as regularly. 

Vitamin A: This fat-soluble vitamin has several important functions, such as helping the immune system function normally, maintaining normal skin and mucous membranes (for example, the lining of your nose) and helping with vision, especially in dim lighting. Foods that are a source of vitamin A encompass a spectrum of colourful options, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and kale. Liver is also a rich source. As excess vitamin A is stored in the body, eating liver more than once a week and/or taking a supplement that is high in vitamin A could mean you are getting too much. It should also be noted that too much vitamin A during pregnancy can harm the baby. Please refer to the NHS website or speak to a healthcare professional for further information.  

There are lots of different B vitamins, all of which are water-soluble. Let’s look at vitamins B1, B3, B9 and B12. 

Vitamin B1: Thiamin, or vitamin B1, helps our body release energy from the food we eat, as well as helping to keep our nervous system healthy. Food sources of vitamin B1 include peas, some fresh fruits such as oranges, and liver. 

Vitamin B3: Niacin, or vitamin B3, also helps release energy from food, as well as helping to maintain normal skin and a healthy nervous system. Meat, poultry and fish are good sources of vitamin B3, including fresh tuna, sardines, chicken and turkey breast. 

Vitamin B9: Folate, folic acid (the manmade version) or vitamin B9, helps with healthy red blood cell formation, reducing tiredness and supporting normal immune function. This essential nutrient also plays an important role in the development of the nervous system in unborn babies. Folate is found in a variety of foods, including leafy greens (spinach, kale, cabbage etc.), kidney beans, brussels sprouts, asparagus, liver and kidney. 

Vitamin B12: This vitamin is indispensable for various physiological processes, including healthy red blood cell formation, normal psychological function and it contributes to the reduction of tiredness. Vitamin B12 primarily occurs in animal-derived foods like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Please note if you are vegan, you may not be getting enough vitamin B12. 

Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, stands out for its antioxidant properties, which help protect our cells from free radicals (molecules that are capable of causing damage). Vitamin C also helps form collagen, which is important for normal bones, teeth and skin. Furthermore, vitamin C increases the absorption of iron. A diverse array of foods serve as great sources of vitamin C, including citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, Swiss chard and broccoli. 

Vitamin D: Often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” this fat-soluble vitamin is unique as it can be synthesised in our skin upon exposure to sunlight. It plays a pivotal role in keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy by helping to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. It also contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals and fat spreads are all dietary sources. Most people get the vitamin D they need from sunlight on their skin, however, in the UK it is advised to take a daily vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter. Those at high risk of vitamin D deficiency should take a daily supplement all year round. Please refer to the NHS website for more information. 

Vitamin E: Another potent antioxidant, vitamin E contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress, which is a type of damage. Moreover, this fat-soluble vitamin supports the normal function of the immune system. Nuts, seeds, plant oils (including olive and rapeseed), avocados and leafy greens such as kale are replete with vitamin E. 

Vitamin K: This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for normal blood clotting and may contribute to bone structure. Leafy green vegetables, including spinach and broccoli stand as prominent sources of this vital nutrient. 


Minerals are inorganic chemical elements that come from rocks, the soil or water. They are absorbed into plants as they grow, or end up in animals when they eat the plants. Try to include each type in your diet regularly. Minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium are needed in larger quantities. Conversely, iodine, iron and zinc are needed in trace quantities. Let’s talk about some of the main minerals that feature in a healthy, balanced diet. 

Calcium: Plays a pivotal role in building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Calcium also contributes to normal nerve and muscle function, as well as blood clotting. A diverse array of sources, including dairy products, calcium-fortified dairy-alternatives and some leafy greens such as spinach and kale, furnish the body with this essential mineral. 

Potassium: This mineral helps regulate the water content in our bodies and maintain normal blood pressure, as well as contributing to the normal functioning of the nervous system and muscles.  Potassium can be found in various fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas and avocados. 

Magnesium: This mineral is involved in a huge number of bodily functions, from helping our bodies to release energy from food, to maintaining normal bones and muscle function. An assortment of foods including nuts, seeds, whole grain breakfast cereals and breads and some leafy greens such as Swiss chard are sources of magnesium. 

Iron: This mineral is essential for the normal formation of red blood cells, which transport oxygen around the body. Iron also contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, as well as the normal function of the immune system. There are two types of dietary iron; haem iron (comes from meat such as beef and seafood such as oysters and mussels) and non-haem iron (comes from plant sources such as edamame beans, lentils and nuts). Pairing sources of non-haem iron with foods containing animal protein or vitamin C can make it easier for your body to absorb the iron. It is also worth noting that food and drinks containing tannins including coffee, black and herbal teas can reduce iron absorption, therefore, you might want to avoid having these with your meals. 

Zinc: Zinc is involved in a huge number of bodily functions including contributing to healthy hair, skin and nails, as well as normal fertility and reproduction. Zinc-rich foods include meat, poultry, some shellfish (such as oysters, mussels and crab), nuts and seeds. 

Iodine: this mineral is essential for normal thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones, which help keep our cells healthy and regulate metabolic rate. Sources of iodine include fish such as cod and halibut, dairy products and eggs.  

In conclusion, cultivating a well-balanced diet containing nutrient-dense foods is paramount for ensuring the adequate intake of vitamins and minerals that are essential for health. By incorporating a diverse array of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats into your dishes, you can help provide your diners with the nourishment they require to thrive. 

Nutrients Chart

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