Vitamins and minerals – chart

On balance it can be better to take a multivitamin/mineral so that you know that you are getting a good spread of vitamins and minerals in the right doses. However, sometimes you need extra for a variety of reasons and this chart helps you to understand what these main vitamins and minerals do in the body.

They are vital to life, and many people believe they can get them all through their food. Sadly intensive farming, pollution and poor diets means that lots of us are not getting the nutrients we need. Young girls are often deficient in iron (see Vitamins – do I need them? and after a long winter Britons are usually lacking in Vitamin D (see Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sun). Extra Vitamin C can prove invaluable in fighting minor problems like coughs and colds, but also more serious illnesses.

Supplement RDA Functions Food sources Safety & combinations Times to take Absorption and effectiveness adversely affected by:
Vitamin C 60mg (80mg smokers) Essential for producing collagen, promoting healthy skin, keeping arthritis away. Boosts immune system, alleviates allergic conditions. Fresh fruit, vegetables (particularly green leafy), tomatoes. Cannot overdose as kidneys excrete excess. Not advisable for kidney stone sufferers. Can dilute trycyclic antidepressants.Function assisted by combination with bio-flavonoids in citrus fruits, onions, berries, grapes, garlic. Several times a day. Easier on stomach at meal times but not essential Refined sugar, tobacco, aspirin, corticosteroids, oral contraceptives, fluoridated water.
Vitamin A 800 mg For healthy eyes, boosts the immune system, wards off infections, and fights free radicals that damage body cells. Fish oil, liver, whole cream milk, egg yolks. Excess levels can be very toxic.Assists absorption of zinc. Meal times – absorption assisted by dietary fat Alcohol, antacids, aspirin and corto-steroids
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) 1.4mg Maintains healthy nervous system, can protect against arthritis, and is needed for energy production in the muscles. Whole grains, sunflower seeds, pork, seafood and beans. Non toxic in the short term. Can be toxic if excessive doses taken long term.Best taken as part of B complex Meal times Alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, tea, tobacco, antacids, antibiotics, oral contraceptives, diuretics
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 1.6mg Needed when body is growing, for good vision, hair, skin and nails, and helps cells use oxygen efficiently. Liver, cheese, eggs, almonds, green leafy vegetables.B2 enhances the activity of B6. No known toxic effects. Colours urine yellow but this is harmless. Meal times Alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, tea, tobacco, antacids, antibiotics, oral contraceptives, diuretics
Vitamin B3 (Niacin – a combination of niacinamide and nicotinic acid) 18mg Breaks down protein, fat and carbohydrates, reduces cholesterol, stimulates ccreate hormones, cancer-protecting and keeps skin and digestive tract healthy. Nuts, pig’s liver, soya flour, wheat, peanut butter, potatoes. High doses can cause liver damage, so should be medically supervised.Advisable to take B complex. Vitamin C increases effectiveness Meal times Alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, tea, tobacco, antacids, antibiotics, oral contraceptives, diuretics
Vitamin D (Calciferol) 5 mg Maintains healthy bones, teeth and muscle function. Keeps heart and nervous system healthy.People in UK often deficient in spring because of lack of sunlight. From exposure to the sun, oily fish, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, green leafy vegetables. Excess causes too much calcium in the blood, leading to drowsiness, nausea, weakness, excessive thrist, abdominal pain, and eventually kidney damage.Helps absorption of zinc. D is best utilised with Vitamin A Meal times as absorption aided by dietary fats Alcohol and corto-steroids
Iron 14mg Required for manufacture of red blood cells. Red meat, wholegrains, pulses, nuts, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit. 100g dose is potentially lethal. Overdose more likely in children. Unnecessary iron supplements cause liver and heart damage, skin problems and diabetes.Supplement with Vitamin C at same time, to aid absorption Preferably away from mealtimes, but not essential. Not at the same time as calcium, zinc or Vitamin A. Bran, rhubarb, spinach, chocolate, milk, tetracycline antibiotics
Calcium 800mg For healthy bones, a natural tranquilliser, important role in blood clotting, and may help to prevent bowel cancer. Milk, milk products, beans, nuts, molasses and fruits. Excess is excreted but overdosing can cause kidney stones, weakness, constipation, abdominal pain, decreased appetite, nausea. Safer with magnesium. Not to be taken by kidney patients.Should be taken combined with magnesium. Absorption improved with presence of Vitamin D, A and iron Best time at night. Can be taken with or without food. Diuretic drugs, tetracycline antibiotics, coffee, spinach, chocolate, soft drinks (with phosphoric acid), refined sugar, tobacco, aspirin, wheat bran, excessive phosphorus or protein
Vitamin E 10mg Neutralises free radicals, protects against heart disease, strokes, arthritis, diabetes, and reduces incidence of blood clots. Good for healthy skin. Nuts, seeds, soya beans, wholegrains, lettuce, green vegetables. Over 800g occasionally linked with fatigue, nausea, stomach problems, palpitations and increased blood pressure. Not to be taken by diuretics and hyperthyroid sufferers.Assists in Selenium activity and vice-versa Meal times any time (one dose a day is sufficient) Alcohol, oral contraceptives
Magnesium 300mg Works with calcium and helps muscles to relax, releases energy from food, builds new cells and proteins. Vegetables (particularly organic), nuts, seeds, wholegrains. Excess excreted rapidly. Excessive doses can be dangerous if calcium levels are inadequate.Assists absorption of calcium and should be taken together. With or without food at any time of day Alcohol, coffee, excessive fat, wheat bran, soft drinks (with phosphoric acid), refined sugar, tea, diuretics, tetracycline drugs, excessive phosphorus
Selenium No RDA available Works with Vitamin E to neutralise free radicals that damage healthy cells. Eliminates toxic metals such as mercury and lead, fights infection, eases menopausal symptoms, gives energy, and helps produce health sperm in men. Shellfish, brazil nuts, wholegrains. Above 750mg can cause side-effects such as hair loss, tooth decay, nail problems, poor appetite and digestion, skin problems.Supplements should be accompanied by Vitamin E Meal times Alcohol
Zinc 15mg Essential for healthy immune system, helping to fight infection. Vital for normal growth in children, healthy hair, skin and nails. Wholegrains, nuts, seeds, ginger root, brewer’s yeast, fish, seafood, meat. Excess can cause nausea, vomiting and fever, dizziness and drowsiness.Requires Vitamin A for absorption. Meal times for stomach tolerance Better absorbed away from milk, eggs and cereal. Interferes with tetracyclines
Evening Primrose Oil Unavailable Can alleviate PMS symptoms and encourage healthy skin. In supplement form only. Occasional nausea, headaches and skin problems when first taken. Not to be taken with drugs for schizophrenia; or by epileptics Meal times, but not on an empty stomach Linseed and blackcurrant oil inhibit EPO
Fish Oils Unavailable Healthy brain development, good for the heart, helps keeps joints mobile. Can stave off dementia. Oily fish – salmon, tuna, sardines, herrings, mackerel. Plant sources: linseeds (flaxseed). High doses to be medically supervised. Should be avoided by those taking blood thinning drugs.Not to be taken when you have gallstones. Meal times to avoid nausea
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) 1 mg Manufactures red blood cells, maintains healthy nerves. Found in oily fish, egg yollk and liver. No toxic effects from overdosing.Advisable to take B complex and add B6 supplement if required` Meal times, throughout the day if on high doses Alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, tea, tobacco, antacids, antibiotics, oral contraceptives, diuretics
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) 2mg Balances hormonal changes during PMT in women, so is helpful to ease symptoms, maintains healthy function of immune system. Eggs, beans, walnuts, wheatgerm, sunflower seeds, liver and kidney. Too much (2g to 7g) can bring about numbness in extremities. Should not be taken with anticonvulsant or Parkinson’s medication.Advisable to take B complex and add B6 supplement if required` Meal times throughout the day if on high doses Alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, tea, tobacco, antacids, antibiotics, oral contraceptives, diuretics
Vitamin B5 Supports the adrenal glands, helps to combat stress, maintains healthy skin, muscles and nerves, and helps to release energy from food. Nuts, wheatgerm, pulses, eggs, pig’s liver. High doses of over 10g a day could cause diarrhoea Best taken with other B vitamins, Vitamin C, calcium and sulphur.

From information provided by Solgar Vitamins, Quest’s Professional Product Manual, The Vitamin Alphabet by Dr Christina Scott-Moncrieff, and the Council for Responsible Nutrition

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Vitamins and minerals for kids

Not only do children need minerals and vitamins to grow and develop physically, they also need them to feed their brains and perform well at school. In an ideal world children would get all the vitamins and minerals they need from their food, but we no longer live in that world.

Food provides enough vitamins and minerals doesn’t it?

This is the argument many people put forward but there are several reasons why it is not necessarily the case any more, depending on where you live and what you eat.

  • Much of the food we eat lacks the nutrients it used to have;
  • The widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers means that when children eat fruit and vegetables they are eating chemicals as well (see Nutrition, We Are What We Eat);
  • Fried food and sugary snacks are generally devoid of vital nutrients;
  • Fizzy drinks strip the bones of phosphorus.

The case for kids’ vitamins

Author and nutritional therapist Barbara Cousins is adamant, ‘Parents must be prepared to make their children eat sensibly. Children desperately need minerals because they come from parents who haven’t got enough.’

Patrick Holford, author of The Optimum Nutrition Bible and founder of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition believes that children need supplements as soon as they come off breast milk.

He says, ‘The evidence shows clearly that both adults and children who achieve optimal intakes of nutrients are healthier. I therefore recommend that children have superhealthy diets and this means supplementing’.

  • Optimal levels of Vitamin C are 300 to 500mg a day but it is unlikely that any children will eat that much.’ Additional Vitamin C will definitely boost their immune systems,’ Patrick says.
  • Vitamins B and C are essential for brain development which is most crucial between two and 12.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids which include fish oils or flaxseed (linseed) oil, are essential for healthy brain development;
  • Once girls have started their periods they need iron, calcium and zinc;
  • Calcium is essential for growth at all young ages and some children get precious little if they are not keen on cheese or milk.

What supplements kids need

Multivitamins that have been specially made for children ensure that they are getting a good spread of nutrients. Taking one supplement also prevents them getting too much of one vitamin or mineral. Children are much more susceptible to overdosing than adults and should only be given the recommended dosage for their age.

Recommended intake
Vitamin A 2,500 iu a day for under 1, up to 5,500 iu for 12+ Can be toxic, so don’t overdose. Don’t mix with fish oils.
Vitamin B (1-12) B1, B2: 3mg for under 1, 20mg 12+; B12: 3mcg for under 1 up to 10mcg for over 12s; B3, 5,6: 7mg for under one, to 35mg for 12+ Could be toxic in the long term if overdosed. B6 taken at night can prompt vivid dreams.
Vitamin C 100 mg for under one year to 625mg for 12+ Overdosing could cause diarrhoea, and other stomach problems, but excess is quickly excreted.
Vitamin D 200 iu up to 11, 300iu for 12+ Can be toxic, so must not be taken in large doses. Don’t mix with fish oils.
Vitamin E 10iu under 1, going up in increments of 5, to 70 at 12+ Unlikely to be toxic as it is eliminated. Too much could cause stomach upsets.
Selenium from 7mcg (under 1) to 20mcg at 12+ Very toxic if overdosed so only take from one source only (multi-vitamin).
Iron 2mg under 1, up to 8mg at 12+ Can be very toxic if taken in too large quantities, or when not needed (by boys who eat lots of meat).
Calcium 150mg any age Too much long-term is dangerous.
Magnesium 25mg (under 1) to 95mg for 12+ Not toxic, but can be dangerous is too little calcium in the body.
Zinc 3mg (under 1) to 12mg (12+) Non-toxic unless the dose is exceeded by several times.
Chromium 10 (under 1) to 30 (12+) Unlikely to be toxic.
Manganese 0.7mg (under 1) to 2 (12+) Not toxic as a supplement.
Fatty acids: (Omega 3 & 6) Best way to take is to have a mixture of ground seeds or a supplement made for children Not toxic for healthy children, but fish oils should not be mixed. High doses of cod liver oil can be toxic. Evening Primrose Oil is best for teenage girls to balance hormones.
Folic acid 50mcg for under 1s, and 100mcgs for 12+ Overdosing could cause upset stomach, lack of energy and insomnia
Garlic Only needed in food – no need for children to take capsules Safe in food, unless it causes stomach upsets

Sources: various

For details of recommended intake see The Optimum Nutrition Bible by Patrick Holford – click on the Amazon carousel.

A good multi-vitamin is the safest way of giving children what they need ensuring that they do not overdose on Vitamins D or A or selenium. There are special children’s vitamins and ones for teenagers too.

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Food is important

Healthy eating isn’t seen as ‘cool’ like junk food, but it does improve skin condition and hair – very appealing to teenagers who want to attract the opposite sex.

A multivitamin should be accompanied by healthy eating with plenty of:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Fresh fish
  • Garlic in meals
  • Water to drink instead of  squashes or fizzy drinks full of either sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Vitamins – choosing and using

As many as 41 per cent of Britons obviously do believe they need vitamin and mineral supplements because they spend over £350 million a year on them. Here we look at how much to take, what to purchase, and when to take them.

For some people a good multivitamin and multimineral provides sufficient intake.
Combining vitamins and minerals

A number of supplements depend on the presence of others for optimum absorption and effectiveness:

  • Vitamin C or foods rich in the vitamin when you are taking iron;
  • To release Vitamin A into the system you should take zinc;
  • Vitamin E and selenium are helpful to each other;
  • The body can’t use calcium effectively without magnesium;
  • Vitamin D assists the absorption of calcium too;
  • Vitamin B6 requires Vitamin B2 to be effective so a B complex may be better
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Selenium 200ug Viridian Nutrition 30 veg capsules £6.20
Calcium + Vitamin D Vega 30 caplets £4.95
High Six B6 with Vitamin B complex Viridian Nutrition 30 veg caps £6.65
High Five B complex/Magnesium Ascorbate Viridian Nutrition 30 veg caps £6.50
Calcium, Magnesium,Vitamin D3 Nature’s Plus 60 £12.85
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High doses and RDAs
High doses of supplements may be vital to someone affected by PMS or menopause or more seriously ME, multiple sclerosis, PMS, irritable bowel and arthritis and other symptoms.
According to Patrick Holford, Founder of the Institute of Optimal Nutrition, ‘The RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowance) are levels which are designed to prevent deficiency, such as scurvy, beri beri and rickets, not to provide optimum health.
Patrick Holford

‘With some vitamins such as Vitamin C you could take 10 times the recommended daily allowance for specific problems. But for magnesium, calcium and zinc, for example, the RDAs are about the accurate amount that one should take.’


Some people take care to avoid eating wheat, dairy products, yeast, sugar, salt, artificial flavourings and sweeteners, without realising they are contained in the supplements they are taking.

For instance, pure Vitamin C is quite unpleasant to taste and bears no resemblance to the sweet-tasting orange tablets which children love because they are either laced with sugar or (even worse) sweeteners that have been linked to health problems.


  • Look carefully at the list of ingredients to avoid unwanted additives;
  • Become familiar with what they mean and go for the supplements where ‘added extras’ are left out;
  • Tinctures present no problems as they do not need binders, fillers or coatings;
  • Avoid supplements made from GM sources;
  • Look to see if sugar or an artificial sweetener is listed in the ingredients;
  • Check the list of fillers and binders – see “Acceptable Ingredients” below;
  • If there are any E numbers listed don’t buy!


Tablets (but not capsules) usually need additional materials to make up their bulk and these are called fillers or excipients while binders bind all the ingredients together. Some of the commonly used excipients are shellac – insect resin – and talc, which most of us don’t fancy eating!

Acceptable ingredients

Dicalcium phosphate; cellulose; alginic acid/sodium alginate; gum acacia/gum arabic; calcium stearate or magnesium stearate (vegetarians should check if this is animal or vegetable source); silica; zein; and Brazil wax.

From: The Optimum Nutrition Bible, Patrick Holford


Some proprietary brands contain cochineal which is considered by Patrick Holford, to be one of the top 20 additives to be avoided, as it is linked to asthma and rhinitis. It’s made from the dried bodies of an insect found on cactus plants!


When it comes to choosing between tincture, capsules, tablets or vegi caps, Patrick Holford, claims, ‘There isn’t much difference between them. The advantage of a tablet or capsule is that you can pack in more ingredients. A concentrated extract is absorbed quicker – but you need to take higher doses to equal the amount packed into a tablet.

‘Manufacturers carry out disintegration tests on their products using simulated gastric juices. Capsules or vegi caps dissolve quickly, but tablets made by good manufacturers will completely disintegrate in 10 minutes.’

What is foodstate?

Some supplements incorporate the vitamin or mineral in a more complex molecule so that they are in the form they appear naturally – sometimes known as foodstate. They are better absorbed by the body and can be more powerful.

 When to take vitamins

If you take a number of supplements you don’t want to be remembering C at meal times, B in between, A at bedtime and so on. The most important thing is to remember to take your supplements every day and it’s easier to remember if you take them at a set time. Many supplements have to be taken with a meal so breakfast is a good time to enable you to get the most of them throughout the day.

  • One main exception is calcium which should be taken at night time because bone regeneration takes place in your sleep;
  • Evening primrose oil and some of the fishy oils can make people feel a bit nauseous and it is obviously better to take those with food;
  • Any supplements containing isoflavones such as estroven, should be taken at the same time every day because they prompt a rapid increase in blood isoflavones which peaks within four hours and then decreases.

What is time release?

Time Release supplements release small quantities of the supplement over a prolonged period. They are most suitable for people who find it easier to take their supplements all together first thing in the morning.