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What is the Difference between Vitamins and Minerals?

Updated on January 27, 2015

Introduction

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that aid in performing hundreds of roles in the body. There are 13 essential vitamins and 19 essential minerals that are needed for the body to perform, but that the body does not produce on its own. These vitamins and minerals are needed to perform essential tasks including shoring up bones, healing wounds, and bolstering your immune system. They also convert food into energy, and repair cellular damage.

With over 30 vitamins and minerals, it is difficult to keep track of and understand these nutrients. The purpose of this article is to provide a summary of the key differences between vitamins and minerals, provide a deeper dive into vitamins and minerals and their roles in the body.


Differences between Vitamins and Minerals

Below are the key differences between vitamins and minerals.

  • Vitamins are organic compounds, meaning they contain carbon which is an element found in all living things. Minerals are inorganic elements, meaning they are much simpler in chemical form than vitamins.
  • Vitamins are obtained from plants and animals. Minerals are obtained from soil and water. Therefore, you can get vitamins directly from eating plant and animal sources, while you can get minerals from plants and water.
  • Vitamins can be broken down by heat, air, or acid. Minerals hold on to their chemical structure. Therefore, you should be careful in cooking and storing foods rich in vitamins. While minerals are more stable in food preparation, mineral loss can occur when they are bound to other substances in foods (such as oxalates found in spinach and tea, and phytates found in legumes and grains), making them unavailable for the body to utilize.
  • All vitamins are needed for the body while all minerals are not needed. There are 13 vitamins, all of which are essential, and 19 minerals, of which approximately 16 are found to be essential.
  • Minerals help in bone and tooth formation, blood coagulation and muscle contraction. Vitamins release energy from the food, develop red blood cells, help in blood clotting and help in maintaining healthy skin, eye, and hair.


Vitamins

Vitamins are micronutrients that provide vital functions for the body without added calories. There are 13 essential vitamins (A, C, D, E, K, B1, B2, B3, Pantothenic acid, Biotin, B6, B12, Folate) that are required for the body to function but not produced by the human system. In general, vitamins are coenzymes, or parts of enzymes, that function to assist a specific enzyme to increase the rate of a reaction. Vitamins can either be fat soluble or water soluble.

Fat soluble vitamins are the vitamins that dissolve in the body’s fat tissue before the body uses them. Once they dissolve in fat stores, the blood stream will absorb them as needed and any extra will be stored in the liver. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, it is very possible to over consume fat-soluble vitamins since they remained stored in fat deposits for a long period of time. Since these vitamins can be stored, While these vitamins are needed everyday, if enough is consumed on average, then they do not need to be consumed everyday.

Fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K) help keep your eyes, skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system in good repair.

Water-soluble vitamins are the vitamins that dissolve in water once ingested. They are used right away and not stored for long periods. It is difficult to over consume water-soluble vitamins because the body will excrete any extra as waste. Water-soluble vitamins are needed daily to replenish what has been used or lost. It should be noted however, that some water-soluble vitamins can stay in the body for long periods of time, including vitamin B12 (several years and folic acid and vitamin C (couple of days).

Water soluble vitamins (C, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, Folate, Biotin) perform many tasks in the body. One of their most important roles is helping to free the energy found in the food you eat. Water soluble vitamins also help keep tissues healthy, build protein and cells and make collagen, which support teeth and bones.

Fat Soluble Vitamins
Water Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
Vitamin D
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
Vitamin E
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin K
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
 
Vitamin B6
 
Vitamin B12
 
Folate
 
Biotin

Minerals

There are 19 minerals (16 of which are essential), which are broken up into major and trace minerals. Major minerals and trace minerals are equally important. However, the body needs major minerals in much greater quantities.

One of the key roles of major minerals is to maintain the proper balance of water in the body. Sodium, chloride, and potassium take the lead in doing this. Three other major minerals, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, are vital for healthy bones. Sulfur helps stabilize protein structures, including some of those that make up hair, skin, and nails.

Trace minerals carry out a diverse set of tasks, including (but not limited to) ferrying oxygen throughout the body (Iron), strengthening bones and wards off tooth decay (Fluoride), helping blood clot and bolstering the immune response (Zinc) and helping form several enzymes which assist in iron metabolism and the creation of hemoglobin (Copper).

Major Minerals
Trace Minerals
Calcium
Chromium
Chloride
Copper
Phosphorus
Fluoride
Sodium
Iodine
Sulfur
Iron
Potassium
Manganese
Magnesium
Molybdenum
 
Selenium

Conclusion

To summarize, the difference between vitamins and minerals can be broken down in the following way:

  • Source. Vitamins come from plants and animals while minerals come from soil and water.
  • Need. All vitamins are needed in the body while not all minerals are needed.
  • Properties. Vitamins are organic compounds while minerals are inorganic elements. Vitamins are either fat soluble or water soluble. Minerals can either be major or trace minerals.
  • Effect on heat. Cooking or heating destroys vitamins while minerals are less susceptible to heat.
  • Function. The biological functions are different for them each playing significant roles in maintenance, development and growth of tissues.

While vitamins and minerals both serve functions in the human body, they need to be balanced in the right amounts. Too much or too little of each can cause issues. Generally speaking, eating a healthy, balanced diet will allow you to obtain most of the vitamins and minerals. However, you should look into supplementation if you are deficient in any of these areas.

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