We can obtain nutrients from the things we eat. Nutrients like vitamins and minerals can help keep our bodies functioning are essential to life, almost as important to us and our function as water. It is important to understand the differences between these supplements to maximize your body's abilities.
So what is the difference between vitamins and minerals? Let’s explore this further.
What are Vitamins?
Vitamins are organic substances that come from plants and animals. They are necessary to human function as we need all thirteen vitamins for our metabolic processes.
The Thirteen Essential Vitamins
- Vitamin A plays an essential role in vision, growth, cellular lifecycle, and the immune system.
- Vitamin C is used in a wide array of body functions, from the immune system to mineral absorption.
- Vitamin D is an integral pre-hormone for calcium regulation and androgen hormone production.
- Vitamin E is generally used as an antioxidant in animals but is also involved in many mechanisms.
- Vitamin K - is one of the critical regulators for calcium production.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is used to break down carbohydrates and create communication molecules, such as neurotransmitters and hormones.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is vital in the conversion of other B vitamins and for energy production.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) is the precursor to NAD, one of the most essential molecules for energy production in the body, second only to ATP.
- Pantothenic acid (B5) is involved in the synthesis of coenzymes, fats, and proteins.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is integral for many reactions involving metabolism, immune function, and brain development.
- Biotin (B7) is used in the regulation of DNA and cell communication. Also, biotin has an integral role in metabolism.
- Folate (folic acid and B9) is an essential factor for DNA replication and cell division. Also, used in the metabolism of proteins and other vitamins.
- Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) is key to creating new red blood cells, DNA synthesis, nervous function, and protein and fat metabolism mechanisms.
Fat-Soluble & Water-Soluble Vitamins
These vitamins split up into two groups based on how they are best ingested: fat-soluble and water-soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins are easily absorbed when eaten with fats and may be stored in the body's adipose (fat) tissue. The more dietary fat, the more that these vitamins absorb into the body. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble vitamins.
Meanwhile, B and C vitamins are found in the water-soluble category. Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body but cycle through the bloodstream when they cannot be absorbed, and thus extra water-soluble vitamins are then discarded through the urine.
The body can keep a short supply of these vitamins in the body, but these need to be taken every day to get the most benefits. Vitamins B-12 is the only exception to this rule, as it can be stored in the liver for many years.
Minerals are elements that are found in non-living organic material, like dirt and water. These are then consumed by humans, plants, and animals.
Some of the most common minerals are fluoride, aluminum, and calcium. These natural forming supplements aid with everyday productivity and help your body perform at its peak. The National Parks Service released a qualifying list of what makes a mineral:
- Minerals must be naturally occurring, not artificial like steel.
- Minerals must not come from plants or any other living material.
- Minerals must be solid at room temperature.
- Minerals must have an ordered internal structure (which can potentially form crystals).
- Minerals must have a chemical composition that is the same everywhere the mineral occurs.
Research from Harvard Medical School also found these to be the most essential minerals for the body and its health:
- Calcium builds bones and teeth.
- Chromium helps maintain normal blood sugar levels.
- Copper assists with metabolizing fuel, making red blood cells.
- Iron helps make hemoglobin -- the oxygen-carrying chemical in the body's red blood cells -- and myoglobin -- a protein in muscle cells. It is essential for activating certain enzymes and making amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters, and hormones.
- Magnesium, like calcium, builds bones and teeth. It also helps to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar and enables muscles to contract, nerves to send messages, blood to clot, and enzymes to work.
- Manganese helps form bones and helps metabolize amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.
- Molybdenum activates several enzymes that break down toxins and prevents the buildup of harmful sulfites in the body.
- Potassium balances fluids in the body to help maintain a steady heartbeat and benefit bones and blood pressure.
- Sodium balances fluids in the body, helps send nerve impulses and helps make muscles contract.
- Zinc helps blood clot, helps make proteins and DNA, bolsters the immune system, and helps with wound healing and cell division.
What Is the difference?
While vitamins are organic material coming from plants and animals, minerals are inorganic and come from the earth. Both vitamins and minerals are essential to our body’s general health and well-being, albeit, in relatively small amounts.
How to Get More Minerals and Vitamins in Your Diet
After learning about how essential these are for your body’s function, you’re probably wondering how you can start implementing these into your daily life.
Follow a Healthy Diet
Eat foods that are high in each vitamin/mineral and get a healthy balance. To help create a healthy balanced diet, Harvard's medical school released a guide to all the vitamins and minerals you need and what foods are high in that vitamin or mineral.
There are tons of ways to consume these foods, such as:
- Blend them up and make a smoothie or smoothie bowl.
- Juicing to combine the ingredients.
- Track your eating habits, make sure you are getting the right amount of vitamins, minerals, and calories every day.
Take Daily Vitamins
The classic one-a-day vitamins can be super helpful and so easy to add to your morning routine. Add a daily vitamin to your breakfast plate, and you'll be on your way to meeting your daily requirements.
Much like the one-a-day vitamins, supplements can be so beneficial to the body if used correctly. Do not consume too many, but try investing in supplements that target the areas you seem most deficient in. These can encourage the body to stay healthy and be more productive throughout the day.
Vitamins and minerals are as essential for living as air and water. Not only do they keep your body healthy and functional, but they may also decrease your likelihood of getting a variety of diseases.
It’s not very difficult to see why people wonder what the difference between these two categories is, but knowing how all these nutrients impact your body day-to-day can enable you to be the best version of yourself.
Choosing to live a healthy life is choosing to live a happy life.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Dr. Jay Cowin, Nutrition Expert
Founder of Functional U, a Nutrition, Performance & Optimal Health practice.