Avocado on wooden table

What is copper?

Learn all about copper, the nutrient responsible for producing energy and building tissue. Find out how much we need and which foods are good sources.

Copper is a trace element and is a component of various enzymes that catalyse many different reactions in the body, including helping to produce red and white blood cells and triggering the release of iron to form haemoglobin (the substance that carries oxygen around the body). It is mainly absorbed in the upper small intestine and, to a lesser degree, in the stomach.

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Why do we need copper?

Copper has a vital role in the body and is required to build connective tissue, red blood cells and melanin. It also helps to produce energy, transport iron, maintain neurologic function and prevent oxidative damage. The majority of copper in the body is located in bone, muscle, the liver, kidneys, and brain. About 5% of the body’s copper is in the bloodstream, of which up to 95% is bound to a carrier protein, ceruloplasmin.

pile of dried beans with scoop on blue table

How much copper do we need and what are the effects of consuming too much?

The UK daily recommendation for copper is 1.2mg for healthy adults. You should be able to get this from your daily diet. Copper toxicity is very rare, but it could occur as a result of food or drink contamination or from taking high levels of supplements. If this happens, symptoms such as stomach pain, sickness and diarrhoea could appear.

Speak to your doctor or GP if you are concerned about nutritional deficiencies or if you are considering taking supplements.

Which foods are good sources of copper?

Dietary copper is found in a wide variety of foods, including shellfish, liver, fish, beans, cocoa powder, whole grains, avocados, almonds and sunflower seeds.

Recipes that are rich in copper

Broccoli pasta salad with salmon & sunflower seeds
Moroccan lamb with apricots, almonds & mint
Plum & almond crumble slice
Crab linguine with chilli & parsley

More on vitamins and minerals

What is selenium?
Am I getting enough vitamin D?
What is folic acid?
Five nutrients every woman needs
What is potassium?


This article was published on 25th June 2019.

Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London’s top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.

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