Vitamins are organic substances, which means that they are produced by plants or animals. Minerals are inorganic elements that come from soil and water, and are absorbed by plants or ingested by animals. Your body needs higher amounts of some minerals, such as calcium, to grow and stay healthy. Vitamins are produced by living beings, while minerals are found in the Earth.
For example, carrots produce beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A; minerals, such as iron and copper, can be found in soil and rocks. Vitamins are much more delicate than minerals and can be broken down with heat or age, and are organic; minerals are inorganic, so their chemical form is simpler than that of vitamins. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that the body needs to perform a number of normal functions. However, these micronutrients are not produced in our body and must be derived from the food we eat.
Although all are considered micronutrients, vitamins and minerals differ in basic ways. Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid. Minerals are inorganic and maintain their chemical structure. However, if you are on a restricted diet or have certain health conditions, you may need a multivitamin supplement or other dietary supplements.
Contrary to popular belief, some water-soluble vitamins can remain in the body for long periods of time. Vitamin K is a group name for a number of compounds that help the body produce the proteins needed for blood clotting. When vitamins are taken as supplements, they are introduced into the body at levels that could never be achieved with the healthiest diet. Widely known for its importance for good vision, vitamin A also supports the immune system and is needed for a healthy pregnancy.
The B complex vitamin family is comprised of 8 B vitamins, each of which plays a different important role throughout the body (online table). Vitamin D allows the body to extract calcium from foods that pass through the digestive tract instead of from bones. Calcium is more like a fat-soluble vitamin because it requires a transporter for absorption and transport. For this reason, people who take blood thinners may need to be careful about how much vitamin K they eat.
For example, provitamin A (beta-carotene) found in foods is accompanied by hundreds of its carotenoid relatives. Vitamin E is used for cellular communication, to strengthen the immune system, and to form red blood cells. If you think you might be lacking certain vitamins and minerals, it might be best to consider changing your diet and lifestyle rather than resorting to supplements. There are so many different vitamin and mineral supplements available that it can be overwhelming to decide what to take.
Eating a healthy diet is still the best way to get enough of the vitamins and minerals you need.