How many times have you heard, “Make sure you get your vitamins and minerals?”
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Wait, what ARE vitamins and minerals exactly? What is the difference between the two? And why do we need them??”
Essential vitamins and minerals are micronutrients required by the body for life.
In order to be classified as an essential vitamin or mineral, an absence of the substance must cause deficiency symptoms that are only corrected by including the substance in the diet again. A total absence of the nutrient for a long period of time would lead to death.
They differ from macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat, and alcohol) because they do not provide energy for the body.
They cannot be broken down to release energy. Another way to think of it: vitamins and minerals contain no calories.
Essential vitamins and minerals cannot be synthesized or cannot be synthesized in large enough quantities needed by the body for survival, and so must be consumed in the diet.
This is why it is important to eat a well-rounded and varied diet to get all of the essential nutrients our bodies need. A diet full of processed or fast foods will eventually starve your body of many vitamins and minerals it needs for optimal health.
So what’s the main difference between vitamins and minerals? It comes down to chemistry.
Vitamins are organic.
In chemistry, ORGANIC means ‘carbon containing’. Any substance that contains the element carbon is considered organic. This is not to be confused with the laypersons term ‘organic’, meaning free of pesticides. Totally different!
Vitamins are non-energy providing nutrients that contain carbon, and so are considered organic.
The essential vitamins are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Niacin (Vitamin B3)
- Vitamin B6
- Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
- Vitamin B12
Minerals are inorganic.
Minerals do NOT contain carbon, and so are classified as inorganic nutrients. They are similar to vitamins because they don’t provide energy for the body, but they are different because they do not contain carbon.
The essential minerals are:
- Other ultratrace minerals such as chromium, boron, silicon nickel, arsenic and vanadium are suggested to be essential, but this has not conclusively been determined.
- Additional ultratrace minerals with limited research on essentiality include aluminum, bromine, cadmium, germanium, lead, lithium, rubidium, and tin.
Where can you get your vitamins and minerals?
Eat everything! Don’t limit your diet to a few foods. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains (refined grains have fewer vitamins and minerals) and lean meats. Supplements usually aren’t necessary if you eat a well-rounded diet [but it’s important to consider medications & illnesses that impact nutrient status as well!! Check out this post for more info, and consider booking a session for personalized advice]
If you are interested in learning the vitamin and mineral content of specific foods, I highly recommend the World’s Healthiest Foods website. It’s fabulous!