Vitamins and minerals - Others 

  • Overview

Other vitamins and minerals 

As well as vitamins and more common minerals – such as calcium, iodine and iron – a healthy diet includes many other substances.

This section has information about:

Beta-carotene

Beta-carotene gives yellow and orange fruit and vegetables their colour. It is turned into vitamin A in the body, so it can perform the same functions in the body as vitamin A.

Good sources of beta-carotene

The main food sources of beta-carotene are:

  • yellow and green (leafy) vegetables, such as spinach, carrots and red peppers
  • yellow fruit such as mango, melon and apricots

How much beta-carotene do I need?

You should be able to get the amount of beta-carotene you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much beta-carotene?

Beta-carotene supplements have been found to increase the risk of lung cancer developing in smokers and in people who have been heavily exposed to asbestos at work.

It is possible that taking large amounts of beta-carotene supplements could also increase the risk of cancer in other people.

Some research suggests that having large amounts of vitamin A over a long time may affect people's bones and make them more likely to fracture when they are older. However, beta-carotene does not have this effect. This is because the body's conversion of beta-carotene into vitamin A is not very efficient, so it is unlikely to result in high levels of vitamin A in the body.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get the amount of beta-carotene you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you decide to take beta-carotene supplements, it is important not to take too much because this could be harmful.

Do not take more than 7mg of beta-carotene supplements a day, unless advised to by a doctor.

People who smoke or who have been exposed to asbestos are advised not to take any beta-carotene supplements.

There is no evidence that the beta-carotene we get from food is harmful.

Boron

Boron is a trace element, which means the body only needs very small amounts of it. Boron is thought to help the body make use of glucose, fats, oestrogen and other minerals, such as calcium, copper and magnesium, in the food we eat.

Good sources of boron

Boron is found widely in the environment, in the oceans, rocks, soils and plants. Food sources of boron include:

  • green vegetables
  • fruit
  • nuts

How much boron do I need?

You should be able to get all the boron you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much boron?

Taking high doses of boron supplements for long periods may reduce fertility in men.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the boron you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take supplements containing boron, do not take too much as this could be harmful.

Taking 6mg or less of boron supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.

Chromium

Chromium is a trace element that is thought to influence how the hormone insulin behaves in the body. This means that chromium may affect the amount of energy we get from food.

Good sources of chromium

Chromium is found widely in the environment, in air, water and soil, and in plants and animals.

Good food sources of chromium include:

  • meat
  • wholegrains, such as wholemeal bread and whole oats
  • lentils
  • broccoli
  • potatoes
  • spices

How much chromium do I need?

Adults need at least 0.025mg of chromium a day.

You should be able to get all the chromium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

What happens if I take too much chromium?

There is not enough evidence to know what the effects might be of taking high doses of chromium each day.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the chromium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

If you take chromium supplements, do not take too much because this might be harmful.

Having 10mg or less a day of chromium from food and supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Cobalt

Cobalt is a trace element that forms part of the structure of vitamin B12, one of the B vitamins.

Good sources of cobalt

Cobalt is found widely in the environment. Good food sources of cobalt include:

  • fish
  • nuts
  • green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach
  • cereals, such as oats

How much cobalt do I need?

You should be able to get all the cobalt you need from your daily diet.

Cobalt is a major part of the structure of vitamin B12. Therefore, if you get enough vitamin B12, you will also get enough cobalt.

Adults need approximately 0.0015mg vitamin B12 a day.

What happens if I take too much cobalt?

Having high amounts of cobalt for long periods of time could affect the heart and might decrease fertility in men.

What does the Department of Health advise?

Having too much cobalt could be harmful. However, cobalt is currently not used in supplements in the UK and the amount we get from food is not harmful.

Having 1.4mg or less a day of cobalt supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Copper

Copper is a trace element that has several important functions. For example, it:

  • helps produce red and white blood cells and triggers the release of iron to form haemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen around the body
  • is thought to be important for infant growth, brain development, the immune system and strong bones

Good sources of copper

Good sources of copper include:

  • nuts
  • shellfish
  • offal

How much copper do I need?

Adults need 1.2mg of copper a day.

You should be able to get all the copper you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much copper?

Taking high doses of copper could cause:

  • stomach pain
  • sickness
  • diarrhoea 
  • damage to liver and kidneys if taken for a long time

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the copper you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take copper supplements, do not take too much because this could be harmful.

Having 1mg or less a day of copper supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that:

  • helps turn the food we eat into energy
  • helps make sure the parathyroid glands, which produce hormones important for bone health, work normally

Good sources of magnesium

Magnesium is found in a wide variety of foods, such as:

  • green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
  • nuts
  • brown rice
  • bread (especially wholegrain)
  • fish
  • meat
  • dairy foods

How much magnesium do I need?

The amount of magnesium you need is:

  • 300mg a day for men
  • 270mg a day for women

You should be able to get all the magnesium you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much magnesium?

Taking high doses of magnesium (more than 400mg) for a short time can cause diarrhoea.

There is not enough evidence to say what the effects might be of taking high doses of magnesium for a long time.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the magnesium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take magnesium supplements, do not take too much because this could be harmful.

Having 400mg or less a day of magnesium from supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Manganese

Manganese is a trace element that helps make and activate some of the enzymes in the body.

Good sources of manganese

Manganese is found in:

  • tea, which is probably the biggest source of manganese for many people
  • bread
  • nuts
  • cereals
  • green vegetables, such as peas and runner beans

How much manganese do I need?

You should be able to get all the manganese you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much manganese?

Taking high doses of manganese for long periods of time might cause muscle pain, nerve damage and neurological symptoms, such as fatigue and depression.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the manganese you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take manganese supplements, do not take too much as this could be harmful.

For most people, taking 4mg or less of manganese supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.

For older people, taking 0.5mg or less of manganese supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm. This is a lower amount because older people may be more sensitive to manganese.

Molybdenum

Molybdenum is a trace element that helps make and activate some of the enzymes involved in repairing and making genetic material.

Good sources of molybdenum

Molybdenum is found in a wide variety of foods. Foods that grow above ground tend to be higher in molybdenum than foods that grow below the ground, such as potatoes.

Good sources of molybdenum include:

  • nuts
  • tinned vegetables
  • cereals, such as oats
  • peas
  • leafy vegetables, including broccoli and spinach
  • cauliflower

How much molybdenum do I need?

You should be able to get all the molybdenum you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much molybdenum?

There is some evidence that taking molybdenum supplements might cause joint pain.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the molybdenum you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. The molybdenum we get from food is not likely to be harmful.

Nickel

Nickel is a trace element that:

  • influences the amount of iron our bodies absorb from foods
  • may be important in helping make red blood cells

Good sources of nickel

Nickel is found widely in the environment. Good food sources include:

  • lentils
  • oats
  • nuts

How much do I need?

You should be able to get all the nickel you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much nickel?

Up to 10% of people in the UK may have an allergy to nickel that causes a skin rash.

This is usually caused by jewellery or coins that contain nickel, but nickel in food or supplements can also cause a rash if you have this allergy.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the nickel you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

If you are allergic to nickel or think you might be, avoid taking nickel supplements.

The nickel found naturally in food should not cause any harm.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is a mineral that helps build strong bones and teeth and helps release energy from food.

Good sources of phosphorus

Phosphorus is found in:

  • red meat
  • dairy foods
  • fish
  • poultry
  • bread
  • rice
  • oats

How much phosphorus do I need?

Adults need 550mg of phosphorus a day.

You should be able to get all the phosphorus you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much phosphorus?

Taking high doses of phosphorus supplements for a short time can cause diarrhoea or stomach pain.

Taking high doses for a long time can reduce the amount of calcium in the body, which means bones are more likely to fracture.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the phosphorus you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take phosphorus supplements, it is important not to take too much because this could be harmful.

Taking 250mg or less a day of phosphorus supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Potassium

Potassium is a mineral that has many important functions, including:

  • controlling the balance of fluids in the body
  • possibly helping lower blood pressure

Good sources of potassium

Potassium is found in most types of food. Good sources of potassium include:

  • fruit, such as bananas
  • vegetables
  • pulses
  • nuts and seeds
  • milk
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • beef
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • bread

How much potassium do I need?

Adults need 3,500mg of potassium a day. You should be able to get all the potassium you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much potassium?

Taking too much potassium can cause stomach pain, nausea and diarrhoea.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the potassium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take potassium supplements, do not take too much because this could be harmful.

Taking 3,700mg or less of potassium supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.

However, older people may be more at risk of harm from potassium. This is because as we get older, our kidneys may become less able to remove potassium from our blood. Therefore, older people should not have potassium supplements unless advised to take them by a doctor.

Selenium

Selenium is a trace element that plays an important role in our immune system's function and in reproduction. It also helps prevent damage to cells and tissues.

Good sources of selenium

Selenium is found widely in the environment. Good food sources include:

  • brazil nuts
  • fish
  • meat
  • eggs

How much do I need?

The amount of selenium you need is:

  • 0.075mg a day for men
  • 0.06mg a day for women

If you eat meat, fish or nuts, you should be able to get all the selenium you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much selenium?

Too much selenium causes selenosis, a condition that in its mildest form can lead to loss of hair, skin and nails.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the selenium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet that includes meat, fish or nuts. If you take selenium supplements, it is important not to take too much because this could be harmful.

Taking 0.35mg or less a day of selenium supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Silicon

Silicon is a mineral that helps keep bones and connective tissues healthy.

Good sources of silicon

Silicon is found in high levels in grains such as oats, barley and rice. It is also found in fruit and vegetables.

How much silicon do I need?

You should be able to get all the silicon you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much silicon?

There is not enough evidence to know what the effects might be of taking high doses of silicon supplements each day.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the silicon you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take silicon supplements, it is important not to take too much because this might be harmful.

Taking 700mg or less of silicon supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.

Sodium chloride (salt)

Sodium chloride is commonly known as salt. Sodium and chloride both help keep the level of fluids in the body balanced.

Chloride helps the body digest food because it is an essential component of the fluids in the stomach and intestines.

Sources of salt

Salt is found naturally at low levels in all foods, but some salt is added to many processed foods such as:

  • ready meals
  • meat products, such as bacon
  • some breakfast cereals
  • cheese
  • some tinned vegetables
  • some bread
  • savoury snacks

How much salt do I need?

You should have no more than 6g of salt (2.4g of sodium) a day. However, on average people eat 9.5g of salt (about 3.7g of sodium) a day. 

A few practical tips for cutting down on salt include:

  • check food labels and choose foods with less salt
  • choose tinned vegetables and pulses with no added salt
  • use sauces, such as soy sauce, sparingly because these are often high in salt
  • eat fewer salty snacks, such as crisps and salted nuts
  • add less salt when cooking  use herbs and spices for flavour instead
  • choose low-salt stock cubes, or make your own stock
  • taste your food first and do not automatically add extra salt

Read more facts about salt, cutting down on salt and how much salt is good for me?

What happens if I have too much salt?

Having too much salt is linked to an increase in blood pressure (hypertension), which raises your risk of a stroke and heart attack.

What does the Department of Health advise?

On average, we eat 3.5g more salt than we should each day.

The Department of Health advises people cut down on salt and that sodium chloride should not be used in supplements.

Sulphur

Sulphur is a mineral that is involved in many different processes. For example, it helps make tissues such as cartilage.

Sources of sulphur

Sulphur is found naturally in many different forms in all foods. It is also used in the form of sulphates and sulphites as food additives in some processed foods.

How much sulphur do I need?

You can get all the sulphur you need from your daily diet.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You can get all the sulphur you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

Zinc

Zinc is a trace element that has several important functions. For example it:

  • helps make new cells and enzymes
  • helps us process carbohydrate, fat and protein in food
  • helps with the healing of wounds

Good sources of zinc

Zinc is found widely in the environment. Good food sources of zinc include:

  • meat
  • shellfish
  • milk
  • dairy foods, such as cheese
  • bread
  • cereal products, such as wheat germ

How much zinc do I need?

The amount of zinc you need is about:

  • 5.5-9.5mg a day for men
  • 4-7mg a day for women

You should be able to get all the zinc you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much zinc?

Taking high doses of zinc reduces the amount of copper the body can absorb. This can lead to anaemia and weakening of the bones.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the zinc you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take zinc supplements, it is important not to take too much because this could be harmful.

Do not take more than 25mg of zinc supplements a day, unless advised to by a doctor.

Page last reviewed: 26/11/2012

Next review due: 26/11/2014

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Comments

The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

polyhedron said on 24 September 2011

Re Selenium sources

I accept that bread, which was predominantly made from wheat grown in selenium-replete areas of North America, used to provide a significant part of our selenium intake.

Has this advice been re-considered as home-grown wheat has doubled in usage in milled products over the last 30 years and now represents around 80% of usage?

I assume that home-grown wheat would reflect the relatively poor selenium content of the UK's soils.

So is bread still a "good food source"?

Rod

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danycherie said on 12 April 2011

very clear and helpful.

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Healthy eating

A healthy diet contains food from the five major food groups to give us the energy and nutrients we need