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Vitamins and minerals

What are vitamins and minerals?

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients and are also known as micronutrients. They are needed in much smaller amounts in our diet than other nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, and fat


We can’t make vitamins and minerals in our body so we must get them from our diet. There are a couple of exceptions, such as vitamin D, which we can make in our skin when exposed to sunlight.


It is important to remember that supplements should not be used as a substitute for a healthy diet.


Helena Gibson-Moore, Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

How do I get enough vitamins and minerals?

A varied and balanced diet with the right proportions of foods from the main food groups, should provide enough vitamins and minerals (with the exception of vitamin D) to meet the needs of most people.


To achieve a healthy, balanced diet, the government’s Eatwell Guide shows us how much of what we eat should come from each food group.


Find out more by reading our pages on a healthy, balanced diet.

Key facts about vitamins and minerals

  • Vitamins and minerals have a range of functions in the body.
  • If we eat a healthy and balanced diet, we should get all the vitamins and minerals we need, except for vitamin D, where the main source is from sunlight on skin.
  • Supplements are sometimes recommended. For example, all children aged between 6 months and 5 years old should be given a daily supplement containing vitamins A, C and D.
  • Vegetarian and vegan diets can provide most essential nutrients. However, there are some nutrients that may be difficult to get enough of, such as vitamin B12.

What do vitamins and minerals do in the body?

Vitamins and minerals have a variety of functions in our bodies.

Vitamins and their functions

Helps the immune system to function normally, helps with vision, and helps the maintenance of normal skin. Vitamin A

Food sources: Liver, cheese, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables (such as carrot, sweet potato, butternut squash, cantaloupe melon and papaya).

Helps to release energy from food. It also helps our nervous system and heart function normally. Vitamin B1

Food sources: Bread, fortified breakfast cereals, nuts and seeds, meat, beans, and peas.

Helps to release energy from food, reduce tiredness, and helps to maintain normal skin and a normal nervous system. Vitamin B2

Food sources: Milk, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, some oily fish (such as mackerel and sardines), mushrooms and almonds.

Helps to release energy from food, reduce tiredness, and helps to maintain normal skin and a normal nervous system. Vitamin B3

Food sources: Meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, wholegrains (such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta and quinoa), bread and some nuts and seeds (such as peanuts and sesame seeds).

Vitamins and Minerals FAQs

Studies suggest that taking a daily vitamin C supplement doesn't stop you  getting a cold. However, it may reduce the length and severity of cold symptoms.


There is some evidence that zinc supplements can reduce the duration of a cold. But zinc supplements can have side effects such as nausea. More research is needed to find out the dose and formulations of zinc that may have a clinical benefit. 


It is worth remembering that there are several nutrients that support our immune system and so aiming for a healthy, varied diet is the best way to get all the nutrients that we need to support healthy immunity.

There have been no clinical studies to show that vitamin injections or drips, offer any health benefits. Little is known about the appropriate doses, potential toxic effects, and the long-term health outcomes.


Injecting anything into your veins comes with risks. For example, ‘air bubbles’ entering the bloodstream and allergic reactions. These risks are more likely if the person administering the injection is not qualified. Currently, there are no regulatory processes governing those offering vitamin injections.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 prompted an increased public interest in a potential association between low vitamin D status and an increased risk of COVID-19, or worse health outcomes linked to COVID-19 (including increased risk of hospitalisation).


The updated rapid evidence review conducted by NICE found that there was not enough evidence to support taking vitamin D solely to prevent or treat COVID-19.


However, the panel supported existing government advice for everyone to take a vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months to support bone and muscle health.

For more information read our article on COVID-19 and vitamin D supplements.

Last reviewed October 2023. Next review due October 2026.

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Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any individualised advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.