Introduction 

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. If you choose to take vitamin and mineral supplements, be aware that taking too many or taking them for too long can cause harmful effects.

Some people may need to take vitamin and mineral supplements. For information on who could benefit from supplements, see Do I need vitamin supplements?

The pages in this section contain advice and information about vitamins, minerals and trace elements essential for health, including: 

  • what they do
  • how much you need
  • what happens if you have too much
  • safety advice about supplements 

For information about nutrition for children, see vitamins for children.

What are vitamins?

There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are found mainly in fatty foods such as animal fats, including butter and lard, vegetable oils, dairy foods, liver and oily fish.

While your body needs these vitamins every day to work properly, you do not need to eat foods containing them every day.

This is because your body stores these vitamins in your liver and fatty tissues for future use. These stores can build up so they are there when you need them. However, if you have much more than you need, fat-soluble vitamins can be harmful.

Fat-soluble vitamins are:

Water-soluble vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body, so you need to have them more frequently.

If you have more than you need, your body gets rid of the extra vitamins when you urinate. As the body does not store water-soluble vitamins, these vitamins are generally not harmful. However, this does not mean that all large amounts are necessarily harmless.

Water-soluble vitamins are found in fruit, vegetables and grains. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they can be destroyed by heat or by being exposed to the air. They can also be lost in water used for cooking.

This means that by cooking foods, especially boiling them, we lose many of these vitamins. The best way to keep as many of the water-soluble vitamins as possible is to steam or grill foods, rather than boil them.

Water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C, the B vitamins and folic acid.

There are also many other types of vitamins that are an important part of a healthy diet.

What are minerals?

Minerals are necessary for three main reasons:

  • building strong bones and teeth
  • controlling body fluids inside and outside cells
  • turning the food you eat into energy

Minerals are found in foods such as meat, cereals (including cereal products such as bread), fish, milk and dairy foods, vegetables, fruit (especially dried fruit) and nuts.

Essential minerals include calcium and iron, although there are also many other types of minerals that are an important part of a healthy diet.

What are trace elements?

Trace elements are also essential nutrients that your body needs to work properly, but in much smaller amounts than vitamins and minerals.

Trace elements are found in small amounts in a variety of foods such as meat, fish, cereals, milk and dairy foods, vegetables and nuts.

Examples of trace elements are iodine and fluoride.

Salt and effervescent vitamins

If you're trying to cut down on your salt intake, you might want to avoid vitamin and mineral supplements which come as effervescent or fizzy tablets.

These - and some effervescent painkillers - can contain up to 1g salt per tablet.

Get more tips for a lower-salt diet.

Does your child need vitamin supplements?

Find out why vitamins are so important to your child's health, and which vitamin supplements are recommended

Page last reviewed: 26/11/2012

Next review due: 26/11/2014