The key vitamins and minerals
In Switzerland, it is rare for healthy people with a balanced diet to be deficient in minerals and vitamins. However, illness or taking some medications on a long-term basis can increase the amounts you need. It is also important to ensure a sufficient intake of vital vitamins and minerals at certain stages of life, such as old age or pregnancy.
Vitamins play an important role in the metabolism and the body's immune defences. Learn here all about the key vitamins, why the body needs them and in which foods they are present.
Folic acid and folate are important in cell division and blood formation. Folic acid is the synthetically manufactured form of the vitamin, while folate is naturally present in some foods. In Switzerland, not everyone gets enough folate. A deficiency can be due to the following reasons:
- regularly taking medicines for pain, heartburn, type 2 diabetes (metformin), epilepsy and cancer as well as the contraceptive pill;
- high alcohol consumption, as alcohol prevents the absorption of folic acid;
- coeliac disease.
Women of childbearing age in particular should ensure they get enough folic acid. Before and during the first three months of pregnancy, the recommended intake of folic acid in the form of supplements is 400 micrograms daily. A deficiency can lead to premature birth or miscarriage, or spina bifida in the baby. Read our guide for more about nutrition during pregnancy.
These foods are particularly rich in folate:
- green leafy vegetables such as spinach and lettuce.
Other good sources of folate are:
- oranges, tomatoes and cabbage,
- dairy products, meat, liver and eggs,
- wholegrain cereals and pulses.
Folate is sensitive to light and heat. Therefore, it is important to prepare and cook these foods gently to retain vitamins.
Vitamin B12 is important for blood formation, nerve function and cell division. It is only contained in significant amounts in animal-based foods. It is not possible to get the required amount from plant-based foods.
The most common causes of a vitamin B12 deficiency are insufficient B12 intake, high alcohol consumption, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and regularly taking certain medicines. These include:
- antacids and gastric protectors,
- the diabetes drug metformin,
- drugs to treat cardiac arrhythmia,
- contraceptive pill.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is also common in elderly people. The signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency are fatigue, tingling in the feet or hands, poor memory and lethargy.
These foods are rich in vitamin B12:
- fish and mussels.
Other good sources of vitamin B12 are:
- milk and dairy products.
Important: People who have a vegan diet must take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Vitamin C is involved in lots of metabolic processes and promotes the absorption of iron in the intestine. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need slightly more vitamin C. However, vitamin C deficiency is rare in Switzerland. People at risk of not getting enough vitamin C are those who
- are suffering from a tumour,
- are on dialysis,
- regularly take medicines (e.g. painkillers or the contraceptive pill),
- older people who do not consume a balanced diet.
The following are particularly rich in vitamin C:
- citrus fruits,
- brassica vegetables,
Vitamin D is important for healthy bone and teeth formation. It is also involved in lots of other metabolic processes. Vitamin D can be produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight.
Causes and risk factors for a vitamin D deficiency are:
- advanced age,
- immobility and being bedridden (lack of exposure to sun),
- dark skin colour (the higher the pigmentation, the less UV light penetrates the skin),
- excess weight,
- winter months,
- clothing that covers the skin,
- sunscreen products,
- coeliac disease.
Who should take a vitamin D supplement?
The body produces roughly 85 per cent of the vitamin D we need by forming it in the skin. In winter, however, the sun is not strong enough in Switzerland to provide sufficient vitamin D. Around 60 per cent of people living in Switzerland do not get enough vitamin D during the winter months. Therefore, between October and April, a vitamin D supplement (e.g. in the form of drops) is advisable.
People aged 60 and over are advised to take vitamin D supplements all year round. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also discuss with their doctor whether they would benefit from a vitamin D supplement.
Very few foods provide significant quantities of vitamin D. These include oily fish such as:
- herring and
A few types of mushroom (e.g. button mushrooms), liver and eggs provide vitamin D, but only in small quantities.
A natural antioxidant, vitamin E stabilizes the cell membranes and reduces potential cell damage from free radicals. We seldom show signs of a deficiency, as our fatty tissue can store a large amount of vitamin E.
Good sources of vitamin E are:
- high-quality vegetable oils such as wheatgerm oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, soya oil and corn oil,
- almonds and hazelnuts.
Compared with vitamins, the primary function of minerals is that of a building material. Learn here all about the key minerals, why the body needs them and in which foods they are present.
In terms of how much we need, calcium is the most important mineral for us. The body of an adult contains around one kilogram of calcium. It is a building block for teeth and bones, and keeps the skeleton stable. When growing, the body needs particularly large quantities of calcium for bone formation. This process is complete by the age of around 30 years – the more calcium that can be stored by that age, the higher the bone density will be. Regular exercise – from childhood onwards – promotes the formation of bone mass. Optimum bone density means a low risk of brittle bones (osteoporosis).
These foods provide calcium
Milk and dairy products are particularly high in calcium. The calcium they contain is particularly easy for the body to utilize. People with coeliac disease are at increased risk of calcium deficiency. People on a vegan diet must also ensure they get enough calcium, and should choose calcium-enriched milk alternatives.
Plant-based foods such as nuts and seeds – especially almonds, sesame, poppy and chia seeds – provide large amounts of calcium. Other plant-based sources of calcium are green vegetables such as:
- kale and
Calcium-rich mineral water (>150 milligrams of calcium per litre) also helps meet calcium requirements. The following are particularly high in calcium, with over 400 milligrams per litre:
- Eptinger and
The calcium content of Swiss tap water is 70 milligrams of calcium per litre on average, but this does vary from one region to another.
An important building block in red blood cells, iron is involved in transporting oxygen.
Consequently, the signs of iron deficiency are lethargy and exhaustion. Blood loss due to heavy periods or undetected bleeds in the gastrointestinal area can cause iron deficiency. Coeliac disease is another risk factor for iron deficiency. Athletes who train very hard may need more iron.
These foods are rich in iron:
- red meat,
- wholegrain cereal products,
- oats and
- nuts, kernels and seeds.
Our body is better able to utilize iron from animal products than iron from plant-based foods. Furthermore, foods high in vitamin C increase the absorption of iron in the intestine.
Iodine is needed for the production of thyroid hormones, which perform important functions in the body. Not everyone living in Switzerland gets enough iodine – especially people who eat few products containing iodized cooking salt.
More iodine is needed during pregnancy in particular. If the mother does not have a sufficient iodine intake, this can cause developmental disorders of the skeletal and nervous system in the child.
A sufficient amount of iodine can only be ensured if you mostly eat products containing iodized cooking salt. Other good sources of iodine are:
- marine fish such as cod, haddock or salmon as well as
- nori seaweed.
Our guide contains more information about the nutrients salt and iodine.
If you suspect you have a vitamin and mineral deficiency or your intake is below the daily requirement, talk first to your doctor. A blood test can easily determine a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
If a lack of nutrients – whether vitamins or minerals – has been identified, nutritional supplements are advisable. This is also true if there is a risk of a deficiency due to diet or life circumstances.
Important: Overdosing on certain vitamin and mineral products can pose a health risk. Before taking any vitamins or minerals, get plenty of information on the correct way to take them.