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M&S Health & Nutrition



What Are Vitamins?

Vitamins are essential for a wide range of metabolic functions. Eating a varied balanced diet is all that's needed to ensure we get all the different vitamins we need to stay healthy.

Vitamins can be split into two groups; fat soluble and water soluble:

Fat soluble vitamins are dissolved in fat and found mainly in fatty foods such as dairy products. Fat soluble vitamins can be stored in by the body in fat and the liver.

Water soluble vitamins can be dissolved in water and so found mainly in water rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. You need to include foods which contain water soluble vitamins everyday as they can not be stored in the body- the best way to do this is by eating 5 a day

Some of the water soluble vitamins are lost from foods over time and can be destroyed by processing (e.g. chopping) cooking and exposure to air and light. To maintain the maximum amount of vitamins in your fruits and vegetables it is best to store them in a cool dark place and prepare foods as close to the time as you need to use them.

Nutrient Reference Values

We only need small amounts of each vitamin or mineral a day and require different amounts at different stages in our life.

In the UK there are Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs) which are estimates of the amount of vitamins and minerals needed to maintain the health of groups of adults- individuals may have different requirements.

Vitamin Supplements

Most people get all the vitamins they need by eating a healthy balanced diet including foods from all the food groups. Some groups of people may benefit from supplements such as the elderly, sick, pregnant and possibly children if they are fussy eaters. Always consult with dietician or doctor for advice.

Vitamin Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Vitamin Role Sources NRV

Vitamin A

  • Important for good vision
  • Helps the body to fight infection (immune system)
  • Normal structure, growth or repair of body tissues such as the skin
  • Liver
  • Oily fish
  • Eggs
  • Fortified margarine
  • Dairy products
  • The body can convert the anti-oxidant B-carotene to vitamin A.
  • B-carotene gives yellow and orange fruits their colour:
  • Carrots
  • Red and yellow peppers
  • Tomatoes


Thiamine (B1)

  • Helps release energy from carbohydrates
  • Helps keep the nervous tissue functioning properly
  • Pork
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes (peas and beans)
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Fresh and dried fruit
  • Eggs
  • Wholegrain breads
  • Some fortified breakfast cereals


Riboflavin (B2)

  • Needed to release energy from protein, carbohydrate and fat in foods
  • Helps to keep the structure of skin and mucous membranes healthy
  • Plays a role in the metabolism of iron
  • Can help to reduce tiredness and fatigue
  • Supports the normal functioning of the nervous system
  • Milk and other dairy foods
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Yeast extracts
  • Fortified breakfast cereals


Niacin (B3)

  • Helps to release energy from food
  • Required for the normal function of the nervous system
  • Needed for healthy skin and mucous membranes
  • Can help to reduce tiredness and fatigue
  • Found in most foods, main source in UK diet is from meat
  • Can be made in the body from the amino acid tryptophan


Panothenic acid (B5) and Biotin

  • Helps to release energy from fats in food
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Porridge
  • Tomatoes
  • Wholegrains
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

Vit B5

Biotin 50 µg

Vitamin B6

  • Helps metabolise proteins
  • Involved in iron metabolism and transport
  • Together with B12 and folate, helps to regulate blood homocysteine levels. High levels of homocysteine in the blood are a risk factor for heart disease.
  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Whole grains
  • Eggs
  • Some vegetables
  • Fortified breakfast cereals


Vitamin B12

  • Involved in normal cell division
  • Normal red blood cell formation and function
  • Supports the normal functioning of the nervous system
  • Together with folic acid and vitamin B6, it plays a role in maintaining blood homocysteine levels. High levels of homocysteine in the blood are a risk factor for heart disease
  • Meat
  • Fish particularly salmon and cod
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Fortified breakfast cereals


Vitamin C

  • Helps to produce collagen
  • Important for normal structure and function of the connective tissue in skin, cartilage and bones
  • Needed for normal structure of blood vessels
  • Aids absorption of iron from the diet particularly from non meat sources
  • Antioxidant vitamin which can help protect cells from damage by free radicals and oxidation
  • Helps the immune system fight infections
  • Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oranges and other citrus fruits
  • Blackberries and other berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Kiwi fruit


Vitamin D

  • Required for calcium and phosphorous absorption from food
  • Essential for normal bone and tooth structure
  • Needed to help absorb calcium
  • Important for cell division
  • The body can make vitamin D from exposure to ultra violet rays from sunlight.
  • Oily fish
  • Liver
  • Eggs
  • By law in the UK, margarine is fortified with vitamin D
  • Some breakfast cereals and bread are also fortified.


Vitamin E

  • Antioxidant vitamin which can help protect cells from damage by free radicals and oxidation
  • Plant oils ( soy, corn, olive and other vegetable oils)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Wheat germ.


Folate (Folic acid)

  • Normal cell division
  • Normal development of the structure of the nervous system -particularly the neural tube in unborn babies and so is essential during pregnancy
  • Has a role with B6 and B12 in maintain normal blood homocysteine levels. There is strong evidence to suggest that raised blood homocysteine levels may be an independent risk factor for heart disease or stroke however more studies are necessary to determine whether we would benefit from supplementation.
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Some fruits (oranges and bananas)
  • Brown rice
  • Chick peas
  • Wholegrains
  • Breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid
  • Liver
  • Yeast extracts


Vitamin K

  • Essential for the clotting of blood
  • Needed for healthy bones
  • Meat
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Vegetable oils
  • Cereals
  • Also made by gut bacteria


For further information visit:
British Nutrition Foundation