Vitamins and minerals are two types of micro-nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy and maintain optimal working capacity. While similar in some ways, vitamins and minerals have some pretty important differences that you should be aware of.
What Are Vitamins?
Vitamins are organic micro-nutrients that are made by plants and animals. They will either be fat soluble or water soluble, which marks an important difference. Fat-soluble vitamins can be found in fatty foods such as animal products (meat, dairy and eggs) as well as oily fish. When you eat these vitamins, which include vitamins A and E, your body will store whatever it doesn’t immediately need in your tissues and liver. While that means you have some for later, it can also mean you can take in too much and could suffer from nerve problems and difficulty sleeping.
The second type of vitamin is water soluble, which includes vitamins B-complex and C. These vitamins are primarily plant based and the body will immediately flush any unneeded portion, which means they cannot be stored up. Cooking and boiling foods containing these vitamins can also result in some loss. Your body may flush unneeded amounts but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a danger of overdoing it. Consuming too many water-soluble vitamins can have a number of negative side effects, including nausea and diarrhea.
What Are Minerals?
Unlike vitamins, minerals are found in the soil and water and are absorbed by plants and eaten by animals, making them accessible within our diets. These include iron, zinc and even calcium. Minerals are a vital component of building a healthy, strong body, keeping your heartbeat regular and hormone development.
There are two types of minerals—macro minerals and trace minerals. Macro minerals, such as calcium, are those you need in larger quantities. Micro minerals, such as zinc, are those you only need in small amounts.
How Vitamins and Minerals Work Together
Taking certain combinations of vitamins and minerals can help or hurt your overall absorption. For example, when you get vitamin C, it can help you absorb the mineral iron. However, when you take mineral supplements, they may compete with each other to get your body to prioritize absorption. This is why you may want to stagger the times of the day that you take various mineral supplements.
The Problem with Fortified Foods
Fortified foods are those that have been “beefed up” with vitamins and minerals in order to help prevent nutritional deficiencies for people who don’t eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Recent studies have shown that at least 33 percent of U.S. citizens don’t get enough calcium, magnesium and vitamin A while more than 50 percent don’t get enough vitamin D and E— which means fortified foods are still very important. However, for those individuals who pay attention to what they eat, making sure they get sufficient vitamins and minerals, fortified foods can contribute to health problems such as kidney stones and stomach upsets. Additionally, unlike supplements, fortified foods contain calories that, when consumed in excess, can contribute to weight gain. They may also have high levels of sugar and fat that are detrimental to your health.
Supplements can be a very important part of your daily routine when you need added amounts of a particular vitamin or mineral or when your diet prevents you from getting everything you need from food. However, you still want to make sure the supplements don’t create an overage of any vitamins and minerals and that they won’t have any negative interactions with your prescription medications.
A good rule of thumb is to consult with a doctor or nutritionist to discuss how to improve your eating and choose supplements that will be helpful— not harmful. Doing so will not only lower your risk of illness but it will also increase the chances of achieving optimal health and wellness.