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What vitamins should you take to improve your diet?

Jane Murphy / 08 December 2015

From omega-3 to vitamin C, find out why you might be missing out on key nutrients and how to make sure you get them.

Woman with vitamin C-rich oranges
Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that helps boost immunity and aids healing.

Our diets may not be as healthy as we think they are, according to a new review  published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

Researchers assessed the evidence from 34 previous studies involving adults in the over-50s age group. Their findings? Intakes of certain key nutrients were worryingly low in many people. 

Omega-3 fatty acids

Why do I need omega-3 fatty acids?

Long chain omega-3 fatty acids are essential for maintaining a healthy heart and may also alleviate some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including swollen and tender joints, poor grip strength and mobility. There's also strong evidence to suggest they can boost brain power, eye health and immunity.

Related: Self-help tips for rheumatoid arthritis

What are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3s are found in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, fresh (but not canned) tuna and sardines.

Adults are advised to eat two portions of fish each week, at least one of which should be oily.

'Average intakes of omega-3 remain below the recommended 450mg per day because two thirds of older adults don't eat oily fish on a regular basis,' says Dr Carrie Ruxton who led the study.

Don't fancy fish? Other good sources include dark green leafy vegetables, walnuts, almonds, flaxseed and tofu.

Related: Good sources of omega 3 for people who don’t like salmon

Vitamin D

Why do I need vitamin D?

'Vitamin D is a key nutrient for healthy ageing, with a proven role in maintaining normal bone health and immune function,' says Dr Ruxton.

'Yet dietary intakes in older British adults are just 30 to 40 per cent of the recommendation, with one-fifth found to be clinically deficient.'

Related: Vitamin D and fractures

What are the best sources of vitamin D?

We get most of our vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin. However, the ability to synthesise it in this way decreases as we age.

Besides, most of us aren't getting enough sun – particularly in winter – which is why dietary sources are so important, too. These include oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals.

Related: Find out more about the health benefits of Vitamin D


Why do I need calcium?

A combination of calcium and vitamin D is essential for maintaining healthy bones and preventing fractures. Around one in three women and one in 12 men over the age of 55 will suffer from the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis at some point.

Related: Find out more about preventing osteoporosis

What are the best sources of calcium?

You should be able to get the recommended daily intake of 700mg from dairy products, tofu, nuts and green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage but not spinach.

Another tip? Skimmed milk contains slightly more calcium than whole milk.

Related: Find out more about the health benefits of calcium


Why do I need iron?

Iron helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Consuming too little puts you at risk of iron deficiency anaemia: symptoms include tiredness, lack of energy, shortness of breath and palpitations. Around 14 per cent of older adults suffer from an iron deficiency.

Related: Seven secrets to more energy

What are the best sources of iron?

Iron is found in beans, nuts, dried fruit, wholegrains and dark green leafy vegetables. Red meat is another good source – but do opt for lean cuts.

Related: Find out more about the health benefits of iron

Vitamin B12

Why do I need vitamin B12?

This important vitamin has been found to impact positively on cognitive function, particularly memory – and plays a vital role in maintaining energy levels.

However, the ability to absorb vitamin B12 appears to decrease with age: around five to 10 per cent of over-65s suffer from low intake, according to the British Nutrition Foundation.

Related: Ten ways to feed your brain

What are the best sources of vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is found in salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs, red meat and some fortified breakfast cereals – but not in any fruit, vegetables or wholegrains, which is why vegans in particular may not get the recommended 0.0015mg per day.

Related: Find out more about how vitamin B12 affects your health

Folic acid

Why do I need folic acid? 

Otherwise known as folate or vitamin B9, folic acid works with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells and boost cognitive function.

Related: Five of the best brain-training apps

What are the best sources of folic acid? 

Folic acid is found in small amounts in spinach, broccoli, asparagus, peas, liver and fortified breakfast cereals. Adults need around 0.2mg per day.

Related: Find out more about the health benefits of folic acid

Vitamin K

Why do I need vitamin K? 

As well as playing a vital role in wound-healing, there's strong research to suggest that vitamin K helps keep bones healthy, so reduces risk of osteoporosis.

Related: Osteoporosis – the foods to eat and the treatments available

What are the best sources of vitamin K? 

You should be able to get the recommended 0.001mg each day from green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils and cereals.

Related: Learn more about the health benefits of vitamin K

Vitamin C

Why do I need Vitamin C? 

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that helps boost immunity and aids healing. It's particularly important for warding off colds during the winter months.

Related: What to eat to beat a cold

What are the best sources of vitamin C? 

As you're no doubt already aware, vitamin C is found in fruit and vegetable – most notably oranges, berries and red and green peppers. You should be able to get the 40mg you need by eating at least five portions of fruit and veg each day.

The problem? Most of us aren't eating enough: only 30 per cent of UK adults regularly consume their five-a-day, according to the World Cancer Research Fund.

Related: More information on the health benefits of vitamin C


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.