Science

What's the Difference Between Vitamins and Minerals?

4 min read

Curious about the difference between vitamins and minerals? Let's dig into the science of it.
Curious about the difference between vitamins and minerals? Let's dig into the science of it.

Vitamins and minerals are different categories of nutrients that help support overall health. But while vitamins and minerals are often grouped together, the truth is, these compounds are actually pretty different.

Both vitamins and minerals are considered micronutrients, meaning the body only needs them in small (or “micro”) amounts. Larger amounts or too much of any vitamin or mineral may actually do more harm than good. Think of it like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: not too little, not too much, but just the right amount of vitamins and minerals are necessary for optimal support. (1)

Eating a balanced diet full of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and other nutritious foods is a great way to get these micronutrients into your system—and for any shortfalls, dietary supplements can help fill in the gaps.*

So, what’s the difference between vitamins and minerals?

Let’s start with vitamins. Vitamins are organic compounds, which means they can be broken down by a variety of sources, including heat, air, and light. Within the vitamin category, there are two different types of vitamins: water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins are vitamins that dissolve in water—and, because our bodies are made up of mostly water, they’re easily absorbed into the bloodstream. (It also means that we tend to eliminate any excess of these vitamins when we urinate.) All of the B vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble, including: (2)

Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins that don’t dissolve in water. There are four fat-soluble vitamins in the human diet, which include: (3)

Because these vitamins can’t dissolve in water, they’re best absorbed into the body through high-fat foods. Some of these vitamins occur naturally in high-fat food sources (like fatty fish), and others can be better absorbed by pairing them with a high-fat food—like topping a salad with vitamin A-rich carrots and leafy green vegetables with a healthy dose of olive oil.

Minerals, on the other hand, are inorganic compounds. That means they maintain their chemical structure regardless of whether they’re exposed to air, heat, or other elements.

There are two types of minerals: major minerals and trace minerals. (4)

Major minerals are categorized as minerals needed in 100 milligrams per day or more, and include:

Trace minerals (which you need less of per day) include:

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Iodine
  • Chromium
  • Selenium
  • Fluoride
  • Molybdenum
  • Copper
  • Manganese

So, vitamins are organic compounds while minerals are inorganic. Why is this difference important? Because vitamins are organic compounds, processes like cooking or improper storage can cause vitamins to break down in foods—while trace minerals found in soil or water will stay intact in the plants, fish, meat, or other foods you consume.

Bottom line

Both vitamins and minerals are micronutrients necessary to help support overall health. Another thing they have in common is that it’s not always easy to get the spectrum of vitamins and minerals we need through diet alone—which is why opting for a quality multivitamin to help fill nutrient gaps is a good idea.*

References:

  1. Vitamins and Minerals. (2018, February 9). Retrieved from National Institutes of Health
  2. National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. (1989, January 1). Water-Soluble Vitamins. Retrieved from National Institutes of Health
  3. Healthline. 2017, February 16. The Fat-Soluble Vitamins: A, D, E, and K. Retrieved from: Healthline
  4. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Precious metals and other important minerals for health. Retrieved from Harvard Health

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