A healthy balanced diet containing a variety of foods should provide all the vitamins your body needs to work properly.
There are 2 types of vitamins, fat-soluble and water-soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins are mainly found in foods that are high in natural fat - such as dairy, eggs and oily fish.
You don't need to eat these types of food every day to get enough of these vitamins. Every time you eat these foods your body stores them in your liver and body fat for future use.
Fat-soluble vitamins include:
- vitamin A
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
- vitamin K
Vitamin A (also known as retinol) has several important functions, including:
- helping your immune system to fight infections
- helping your vision in dim light
- keeping your skin healthy
Good sources of vitamin A include:
- oily fish
- fortified low-fat spreads
- milk and yoghurt
Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, important for bone, teeth and muscle health.
Vitamin D is made by our skin from sunlight and is also found in small amounts in some foods.
Good sources of vitamin D include:
- oily fish – such as salmon, herring and mackerel
- red meat and offal - such as liver and kidney
- egg yolks
- fortified cereals, soya products and spreads
Since vitamin D is found in only a small number of foods. In Scotland everyone over the age of 5 should consider taking a supplement with vitamin D, especially over the winter. Therefore, everyone aged over one year - including pregnant and breastfeeding women - should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.
Between April and September, the majority of people aged 5 years and above will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight when they are outdoors. They might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.
Some population groups (with very little or no sunshine exposure) will not obtain enough vitamin D from sunlight and are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. This includes:
- people who are seldom outdoors such as frail or housebound individuals and those who are confined indoors e.g. in institutions such as care homes
- people who habitually wear clothes that cover most of their skin while outdoors
- people from minority ethnic groups with dark skin such as those of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin
These people should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms vitamin D throughout the year.
Given the uncertainty of consistent sunshine in Scotland and the risks of exposing infants 0-6 months to the sun, it may be advisable for pregnant and lactating women to take a daily supplement throughout the year.
Staying safe in the sun
In Scotland, 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure is safe for all. After sunscreen is correctly applied, vitamin D synthesis is blocked.
Staying in the sun for prolonged periods without the protection of sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to:
- repair damaged cells and protect them from free-radicals
- keep your skin and eyes healthy
- strengthen your immune system
Good sources of vitamin E include:
- plant-based oils - such as olive and rapeseed
- nuts and seeds
- cereals and cereal products
Vitamin K is important for healthy bones and blood clotting, an essential part of healing.
Good sources of vitamin K include:
- green leafy vegetables – such as broccoli and spinach
- plant-based oils
- nuts and seeds
- dairy products
- soya beans
Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, you need to consume water-soluble vitamins more often. Your body can't store these for future use and gets rid of any excess when you pass urine.
Water-soluble vitamins include:
- vitamin C
- B vitamins
- folic acid
They're found in:
- fruit and vegetables
- dairy foods
Being water soluble, these vitamins can be lost or destroyed through heating, dissolving or exposure to air. To keep as many of these as possible, choose to steam or grill these foods instead of boiling (unless you're making soups or stews with the liquid).
Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) helps to:
- protect and keep cells healthy
- maintain healthy connective tissue
- heal wounds
Vitamin C is found in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Good sources include:
- citrus fruit - including oranges and grapefruit
- red and green peppers
- strawberries, blueberries and blackberries
- green leafy vegetables - such as broccoli and brussels sprouts
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
Thiamin is also known as vitamin B1. It helps the other B vitamins to break down and release energy from food and keep your nervous system healthy.
Thiamin is found in most types of food. Good sources include:
- meat and fish - such as pork and trout
- vegetables – such as peas, asparagus and squash
- fresh and dried fruit
- wholegrain breads
- some fortified breakfast cereal
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Riboflavin is also known as vitamin B2. It helps to keep your skin, eyes and nervous system healthy and release energy from the food you eat.
Good sources of riboflavin include:
- fortified breakfast cereals
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. It helps to release energy from the foods you eat and keep your skin and nervous system healthy.
There are 2 forms of niacin – nicotinic acid and nicotinamide – both of which are found in food.
Good sources of niacin include:
- wheat flour
Pantothenic acid helps to release energy from the food we eat. It's found naturally in most meats, vegetables and wholegrains, including:
- chicken and beef
- tomatoes and broccoli
- wholegrains – such as brown rice and wholemeal bread
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Pyridoxine is also known as vitamin B6. It helps the body to:
- use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates in food
- form the substance that carries oxygen around the body (haemoglobin) in your blood
Good sources of vitamin B6 include:
- lean meat - such as chicken or turkey
- whole cereals – such as oatmeal, brown rice and wholegrain bread
- soya beans
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Biotin is also known as vitamin B7 and is only needed in small amounts. It helps your body process (metabolise) fat.
As the bacteria in your bowel make biotin, you may not need any additional biotin from your diet. However, it's still important to eat a healthy and varied diet.
Vitamin B12 helps your body:
- make red blood cells and keep the nervous system healthy
- release energy from the food we eat
- process folic acid
Good sources include:
- fish - such as salmon and cod
- dairy foods
- some fortified breakfast cereals
Vitamin B12 is not found naturally in plants and grains. If you're vegan, you should consider taking a B vitamin supplement to reduce the risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia.
Folic acid (also known as folate) works with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells.
It can also help to reduce the risk of central nervous system defects - such as spina bifida - in unborn babies.
Good sources of folic acid include:
- brussels sprouts
- fortified breakfast cereals
If you don't have enough folic acid in your diet you're at risk of developing folate deficiency anaemia.
More about folic acid before and during pregnancy