Assessment of vitamins and minerals in foods

Humans require vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) in addition to carbohydrates, protein and fat (macronutrients).

Vitamins and minerals are involved in numerous metabolic processes. Among other things, they play a major role in electrolyte and water balance, are essential for the immune system and for the development and function of bones, muscles and teeth. They are required for visual processing and the nervous system and are also involved in blood clotting and in reproductive processes, cell division and differentiation.

What are vitamins?

Vitamins are organic compounds that the human organism cannot produce, or can only produce in insufficient amounts. Since they are indispensable (essential) for humans, vitamins must be ingested with foods. They are produced by plants and microorganisms and are thus mainly contained in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and cereals. They enter the animal organism via feed and are therefore also present in meat, fish, eggs, milk and products made from them.

What are minerals?

Minerals are inorganic food components that are found in plant-based and animal-based foods. Since the human organism requires them in different amounts, they are categorised into minerals and trace elements.

Risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency

In Germany, insufficient intakes of vitamins and minerals and resulting deficiencies are very rare in healthy people with a varied diet.

However, the risk of deficiencies increases when there is a low supply of vitamins or minerals, e.g., due to an unbalanced diet, weight-reducing diets, intestinal absorption (in the event of illness) or due to increased requirements (e.g., in pregnant and lactating women).

Risk of oversupply of vitamins and minerals

An oversupply of vitamins and minerals through their intake via normal dietary consumption of foods such as fruits, vegetables, bread, meat or cheese is nearly impossible. However, if highly dosed food supplements and fortified foods are consumed, this may lead to excessive intakes, meaning that the risk of oversupply with the micronutrients in question increases.

Maximum levels suggested by the BfR for using vitamins and minerals in foods

Since the additional intake of high amounts of vitamins and minerals increases the risk of undesirable health effects, the BfR has derived recommendations for maximum levels of vitamins and minerals (PDF file,347.53 KB) in food supplements and fortified foods. The recommendations aim to limit the nutrient intake via these two food groups to an acceptable level.

The maximum levels proposed by the BfR take into account the tolerable upper intake levels (ULs) of the respective nutrients derived by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The UL is the maximum level of total chronic daily intake of a nutrient from all sources judged to be unlikely to pose a risk of adverse health effects to humans. Furthermore, the dietary reference values derived by the D-A-CH societies and EFSA as well as the vitamin and mineral intake from the usual diet, determined in nutrition surveys (National Food Consumption Survey and EsKiMo Study), were also taken into account when deriving maximum levels.

Water-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins


Minerals

Trace elements


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