Vitamins and minerals A-Z

In this fact sheet: Cooking & storage of vitamin rich foods, Vitamin A, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pyridoxine, Vitamin B12, Biotin, Folate, Pantothenic acid,, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Zinc, Trace elements

Vegetarians can obtain all the vitamins they need from a balanced and varied diet. Vitamins are required in small amounts but are essential for many processes in our bodies. Vitamins are classified in 2 groups: fat-soluble vitamins - A, D, E and K and water-soluble vitamins - C and B vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, folate, biotin and pantothenic acid. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body which means dietary sources are not needed every day. Excessive intakes of some fat-soluble vitamins can accumulate causing harm to the body. The body is less able to store water-soluble vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B12 which is stored in the liver) which means a dietary source is required daily. In general the body readily excretes any excess water soluble vitamins but very high intakes of vitamin B6 and niacin can have adverse effects.

Cooking & storage of vitamin rich foods

Perishable foods should be eaten as fresh as possible to gain the most nutritional value. Eating local, seasonal produce will also help to ensure the freshness of your food. Grains, flours, pulses and dried fruit should be stored in air-tight containers in a cool dark place. Heat, light and air interact with vitamins in foods with losses and damage occuring during cooking and storage. To reduce oxidation (exposure to air) of prepared vegetables, cut vegetables into big chunks and avoid shredding, grating and pureeing. The amount of vitamin C and B's is most likely to be reduced during cooking. Steaming vegetables is the best method for retaining vitamins and minerals. Exposure to air can affect the vitamin E content in oils, nuts and seeds if they are kept for too long.

Vitamin A (and beta-carotene)

Vitamin A is required for healthy skin, tissue development and has an important role in reproduction, embryonic development, growth, infection resistance and vision in dim light. Preformed vitamin A occurs in foods of animal origin (milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, cream, egg yolk) but is also found in fortified margarines and spreads. Beta-carotene is found in plant foods and can be converted to retinol by the body. Carrots, squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach and broccoli), red peppers, tomatoes, and yellow fruits such as apricots, mango and peaches are the most concentrated food sources of beta-carotene. Vitamin A is stable to heat but not when air is present. Therefore when butter or margarine is used for frying the vitamin A is destroyed but if it is eaten with bread the vitamin A will remain available.

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The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Limited, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham WA14 4QG
Registered Charity No. 259358, Registered Company No. 959115 (England and Wales)

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