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A-Z of nutrients and supplements

Did you know- one of the keys to healthy living is a diet that is rich in essential vitamins and minerals?

However, statistics show that over 90 per cent of Australians have an inadequate intake of vegetables, while half don’t eat enough fruit. This handy checklist of nutrients from A to Z is ideal to share with patients who may not be eating a balanced diet, and leaving themselves at risk of being malnourished.

Vitamin A

 Why we need it:

Vitamin A plays an important part in supporting vision, bone growth, immune system and healthy skin. Because vitamin A is obtained through what we eat and drink each day, it’s important to include a range of vitamin A-rich foods in the diet. Vitamin A deficiency is rare, but can happen in people who can’t absorb it from their food. High-risk groups include those who drink a lot of alcohol, people who have liver disease, cystic fibrosis, anorexia nervosa or coeliac disease; or anyone who has recently had gastrointestinal surgery. Note: Vitamin A supplements should only be taken under medical advice, as too much vitamin A can cause a number of health problems.


Found in: Butter, cheese, whole milk, yoghurt, egg yolk, leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomatoes, mangoes, oily fish, liver or liver pate.


Why we need them:

Antioxidants are substances that fight ‘free radicals’, a by-product of the many chemical reactions that take place in the body. Antioxidants neutralise these free radicals, thereby reducing the damage to health and the ageing effect. One of the most disruptive consequences of aging is less bladder control. However, for some people, a supplement that helps strengthen the bladder and surrounding areas may be useful. While the body produces antioxidants, they’re also found in a variety of foods. The main antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene and selenium, along with phytochemicals, such as lycopene and lutein.


Found in: Nuts, wholegrains, some meat, poultry and fish, but particularly brightly-coloured fruits and veggies. Tea, coffee and cocoa are also rich in antioxidants.

Vitamin B

Why we need it:

B vitamins are a group of vitamins that play different roles in our health, but are all essential in their own right. Overall, they help the body release energy from food; keep the nervous system healthy; make red blood cells; contribute to healthy eyes and skin; play a role in sleep; and influence cognitive and immune function. B vitamins are mainly found in animal products and are known as:

 thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin (vitamin B7), folic acid (vitamin B9), cobalamin (vitamin B12)

Those at risk of deficiency include vegetarians and vegans, people who eat large amounts of processed or high-sugar foods and those who drink too much alcohol. Symptoms of a vitamin B deficiency will depend upon which type is lacking, but as deficiency can be harmful in some cases, anyone suspected of suffering a deficiency should be referred to a doctor.

Found in: Animal-based foods including meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, green leafy vegetables, beans and peas, and fortified cereals and breads.

Vitamin C 

Why we need it:

Vitamin C is obtained through the diet and plays an important role in healing — particularly keeping skin, bones and connective tissue healthy; healing wounds; fighting and preventing infections; and assisting with the absorption of iron from food. Vitamin C deficiency (also known as scurvy) is rare, however those who smoke heavily or are dependent on alcohol or drugs may be susceptible. Elderly people, those with an eating disorder or people in low-income households are also at risk, as they may find it more difficult to get access to fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition, those with health conditions such as coeliac disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may also be at risk.

Found in: Fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, berries, blackcurrants, kiwifruit, all colours of capsicums, tomatoes, sprouts, and broccoli.


Why we need it:

As well as being essential for healthy teeth and bones, calcium it’s also required for the healthy function of nerves, muscles and the heart. Calcium deficiency may lead to osteoporosis. In order for our body to absorb calcium, we also need vitamin D. Those at risk of calcium deficiency include people postmenopausal women; those taking medications such as antibiotics, anti-seizure medication or proton pump inhibitors; and people with thyroid or kidney problems.

Found in: Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are the richest sources of calcium, however it’s also found in tofu, canned fish (particularly varieties with bones), green leafy vegetables, nuts, cereals and legumes.

Vitamin D

Why we need it:

Vitamin D aids calcium absorption. Unlike other nutrients, around 80% of vitamin D is formed as a result of exposing bare skin (i.e. without sunscreen) to the sun. The amount of time you need in the sunlight depends upon where you live, the season, what time of the day you’re in the sun, your skin colour and the amount of skin exposed. Those who spend lots of time indoors, cover their skin for medical or religious reasons, are obese, or take medications that affect vitamin D absorption, may be at risk of deficiency. Anyone with a deficiency may benefit from a vitamin D supplement.

Found in: Oily fish (mackerel, herring, salmon, tuna), eggs, lean meat and dairy products.

Vitamin E

Why we need it:

Vitamin E contributes to the proper functioning of many parts of the body. It acts as a defense against free radicals, and may help protect from heart disease and some cancers. It also aids good skin, vision and helps the immune system function properly. It’s important not to take a vitamin E supplement without medical advice, as it can be harmful, especially to people who take blood-thinning medications or cholesterol medications.

Found in: Polyunsaturated oils (canola, corn, sunflower and soybean), nuts, seeds, wheat germ. avocadoes, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals.


Why we need it:

Iodine is needed to support normal growth and development of the brain. It’s also required to produce a hormone called thyroxine, which is important for the growth of bones, and nerves, as well as helping the body use fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause worldwide of thyroid disease, with more than 50% of children, and pregnant or breastfeeding women deficient in the element.

Found in: Oysters, snapper, tinned salmon. Bread, eggs, milk and milk products such as yoghurt also contain iodine, and some brands of salt have added iodine.



Why we need it:

Iron plays an important role as it produces haemoglobin in the blood, which carries oxygen around the body. It’s also important for the immune system, skin, hair and nails. A deficiency can cause the patient to be fatigued or develop anaemia. People at risk of developing iron deficiency include those who lose a lot of blood (through menstruation, stomach and bowel problems, as a result of some medication), those who don’t include iron-rich foods in their diet, people who can’t absorb iron in the bowel (Crohn’s disease, untreated coeliac disease).

Found in: Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, whole or enriched grains, leafy greens, nuts, and iron fortified cereals and breads

Vitamin K

Why we need it:

Vitamin K helps the liver make proteins that help blood to clot. It also plays a role in bone health. Our body produces vitamin K and we also get it from fat in our diet. We only need a small amount each day, but it’s important to ensure levels are right as deficiency can mean blood doesn’t clot properly. Most people get enough vitamin K in their diets.

Signs a patient may have vitamin K deficiency include lots of bruising, or the patient bruising more easily, as well as bleeding that is difficult to stop. The majority of people who have vitamin K deficiency usually have other health problems including diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cystic fibrosis, digestive disorders, or even a blocked bile duct.

Found in: Dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, parsley, broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts and salad greens), green beans, avocados, kiwifruit, vegetable oils, yoghurt, fermented food and drinks, and some cheeses.


Why we need them:

Omega-3s are also known as essential fatty acids. They play an important role for heart health, eye health, brain health and development, fight inflammation, joint health and improve mood. As they can’t be produced in our body we need to obtain them from our food. However, taking a supplement can also be useful if ensuring an adequate intake is difficult.


Found in: Marine animals including oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines), barramundi, bream, scallops, mussels, squid, canola oil, soybean oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.


Why we need it:

Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant. However, too much can be harmful so supplements should only be taken on the advice of a doctor.

Found in: Nuts (especially Brazil nuts), cereals, meat, fish, eggs.


Why we need it:

Sodium is most commonly found in salt. While too much salt is unhealthy, small amounts are required to keep the electrolytes and fluids in our bodies balanced.


Found in: Mostly processed foods. Only 10% of salt consumed occurs naturally in food, with the majority of our sodium (salt) intake coming from processed foods. That’s why it’s important to limit these types of foods


Why we need it:

Zinc is required for a healthy immune system and many of the body’s normal functions such as wound healing, blood clotting, thyroid function, and the senses of taste and smell. We only need small amounts and usually can be obtained through our diet.


Found in: Oysters and other seafood, red meat, poultry, wholegrains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and dairy.

While it’s important to eat a healthy diet most of the time, eating well shouldn’t be a source of stress. Patients who struggle to eat a balanced diet or who are at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency can boost their nutrition through supplementation. There are a range of different products available that are designed to fill nutritional gaps.

Please note: The information supplied is general in nature. Please consult your medical practitioner for individual advice.

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