What vitamins and minerals do and where to get them: quick answers

What vitamins and minerals do and where to get them: quick answers

Easy guide of all of the nutrients we need


Parents often need a quick reminder about the vitamins and minerals they read or hear about. What does that vitamin do again? Why do we need that mineral? And what are the best ways to get them?

vitamins and minerals

So here are the essential vitamins and minerals, their functions in the body, and how you can get them in your diet. 

Quick Guide to The Vitamins Your Family Needs

Vitamins are either absorbed with the fats in your diet (these are called Fat soluble). They stay in the cells even when there's more than enough). The others are Water soluble (they flush out into the urine when you have more than you need). When milk, cereal or other foods are fortified with a vitamin(s) or mineral(s), that means that the food didn't contain that vitamin or mineral until it was added. The most common is milk, where vitamins A and D are added because people don't usually get enough of those vitamins.  

Water Soluble/RequiredImportanceSources
Thiamine (B1)Carbohydrate and amino acid metabolism, nerve and muscle membranesGrains, nuts, potatoes
Riboflavin (B2)Energy use, cell respiration and repairDairy, meats, green vegetables, eggs, yeast
Pyridoxine (B6)Enzyme activation and cofactorMeats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, legumes
Cyanocobalamin (B12)Formation of genetic code, amino and fatty acid metabolism, blood cell and nerve developmentMeats, eggs, milk products, fortified plant milks, fortified cereal
FolateFormation of genetic code, utilization of proteinGreen vegetables, nuts, liver, fortified cereal
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C)Collagen formation/wound healing, immunityFruits (citrus), vegetables (peppers, potatoes, broccoli, greens)
Water Soluble/Conditional

Niacin (B3)                        need when prolonged diarrheaProtein and energy utilizationGrains, poultry, fish
Choline  Usually can be manufacturedCell transport signaling and integratingMilk, eggs, liver, peanuts
Biotin     needed when tube feedings, excess egg whitesEnergy metabolism activation of folateIntestinal bacteria, organ meats, yeast, soy, nuts, cereals
Pantothenic acidUsually can be manufacturedFat metabolismMeats, whole grains, legumes, vegetables
Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Vitamin AVision, skin integrity, gene expressionYellow/ orange fruits and vegetables, fortified milk, fish oils
Vitamin DCalcium and phosphorus absorption, possible immune regulationSun, fish, eggs, fortified milk products, fortified plant milks, fortified cereal
Vitamin ECell membrane stability, antioxidantFruits, vegetables, meats, oils, sunflower seeds
Vitamin KClottingIntestinal bacteria, meats, green vegetables, prunes, chia seeds

Adapted from Stan Cohen, What to Feed Your Baby, Rowman & Littlefield, 2013. 

Quick Guide to The Minerals Your Family Needs

We tend to forget about the minerals that we get from the plants. They are important. At the same time, some of the green vegetables contain phytates that hold on to the minerals tightly so our bodies can't absorb them very well (that even happens with the iron in spinach). <<iron>>

Water Soluble/Required


Water Soluble/Required


CalciumBone formation, nerve signaling, hormone secretionDairy, broccoli, kale, fortified plant milk and cereal
CopperCreation of bone structure, energy metabolismSeafood
ChromiumSugar metabolismMeats, fish, grains, Brewer's yeast
FluorideStrengthening of teeth, bone formationFluoridated water, toothpaste, mouth rinses
IronTransportation of oxygen and energyMeats, beans, iron-fortified cereals
MagnesiumBone metabolism, metabolic processesGrains, nuts, leafy vegetables
ManganeseProtein and fat metabolism, bone formationVegetables, grains, organ meats
PotassiumRegulation of fluids in cells, nerve signaling, heart contractionsFruits (bananas, oranges), vegetables
SeleniumAntioxidant (similar to vitamin E), part of enzyme systemBrazil nuts, Vegetables, meats, fruits, milk products
SodiumRegulation of hydration and fluid in blood vesselsSalt in food preparation, processed foods
ZincProtein and fat formation, processing of genetic codesFish (oysters), meats

Adapted from Stan Cohen, Healthy Babies, Happy Kids (New York: Delilah Books, 1982) and What to Feed Your Baby (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013).