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What are Vitamins and Minerals?

Last updated: December-29,2021

What are Vitamins and Minerals?

Unlike protein, carbohydrates and fats which are macronutrients required by the body in many grams, vitamins and minerals are micronutrients which are generally required by the body in milligram or even microgram amounts. Even so, they are just as important as macronutrients for your good health, and a deficiency of any of them can have serious ramifications. Read on to learn the answers to the age old question - "what are vitamins and minerals?"

What Are Vitamins?

When it comes to understanding what makes a vitamin a vitamin, there are 3 key takeaways:

  1. It is essential for normal human growth and nutrition.
  2. The body cannot make it on its own.
  3. It is an organic compound (not in the "USDA-certified" sense, but in the "its carbon and hydrogen-based" sense).

What is the Difference Between Vitamins and Minerals?

The primary and most basic definition for vitamins goes something like this – "a group of organic compounds that are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the body."

Similarly, minerals are naturally occurring substances that are essential for bone building, hormone production, regulating functions like heartbeat and overall healthy functionality of the body. You get the idea!

The Difference Between Vitamins and Minerals - Infographic

Why are Vitamins Important?

As mentioned above, humans cannot produce vitamins on their own, or it is produced in small quantities. We are dependent on food or supplements to ensure that our body gets its essential nutrients.

Vitamin Industry Trends 2019

According to the latest Vitamin industry trends, total U.S. retail sales were at $11 billion in 2018 while the sale of minerals was estimated to reach $2.5 billion.

Ignoring their staggering economic value for a moment, the human body cannot function without a handful of key vitamins and minerals. One of the best ways for anyone – be they a consumer or an industry insider – to help their body run at its best is by understanding the fuel that it needs.

What are the Two Types of Vitamins?

Currently, scientists have identified 13 types of vitamins that are necessary for the human body to function, which can be split into two categories – fat-soluble and water-soluble.

What are Fat-Soluble Vitamins?

Fat-soluble vitamins are those that can dissolve in fats and oils. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed along with fats in the diet and can be stored in the body’s fatty tissue. This means that it may be possible to reach toxic levels of these vitamins—although it would require an excessively high intake in order to do that. Fat-soluble vitamins come from plant and animal foods or dietary supplements. Vitamins A, D (cholecalciferol or ergocalciferol), E (tocopherol), and K (phylloquinone and menaquinone) are fat-soluble.

What are Water-Soluble Vitamins?

Water-soluble vitamins are those that can dissolve in water. Water-soluble vitamins are carried to the body's tissues but are generally not stored in the body. Consequently it is less likely to reach toxic levels of these vitamins. Water-soluble vitamins are found in plant and animal foods or dietary supplements and must be taken in daily. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and members of the vitamin B-complex are water-soluble. The B-complex vitamins include Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin or Niacinamide (B3), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin or Methylcobalamin), Pantothenic acid (B5), Biotin (B7), and Folate or Folic acid (B9).

The Important Ones

What is Vitamin A?

A fat soluble vitamin, plays an important role in vision, bone growth, reproduction, gene cell division, and cell differentiation, as well as helping to regulate the immune system.

Scientific Name – Retinol. Also, beta-carotene can be converted by the body into retinol, and so also is often referred to as Vitamin A.

Vitamin A Deficiency Symptoms – Lack of Vitamin A can cause impaired vision, night blindness, keratomalacia, and hyperkeratosis.

Sources of Vitamin A – Ripe yellow colored fruits like oranges, squash, carrots, paprika, leafy green vegetables, soy milk, and sweet potatoes.

What is Vitamin B1?

A water-soluble vitamin, essential for cells to turn carbohydrates into energy.

Scientific Name – Thiamine

Vitamin B1 Deficiency Symptoms – Lack of Vitamin B1 can cause Beriberi, a condition that causes loss of appetite, weakness in limbs, swollen feet and hands, and pain.

Sources of Vitamin B1 – Whole grains, brown rice, sesame seeds, nuts, legumes, dried herbs and spices, and wheat germ.

What is Vitamin B2?

A water-soluble vitamin, essential for body growth and maintenance of red blood cells.

Scientific Name – Riboflavin

Vitamin B2 Deficiency Symptoms Digestive problems, dizziness, hair loss, skin rashes, eye problems, and insomnia.

Sources of Vitamin B2 – Bananas, dried herbs, asparagus, almonds, sesame seeds, sun-dried tomatoes, dried pepper, popcorn, and green beans.

What is Vitamin B3?

A water-soluble vitamin that helps maintain healthy skin and nerves.

Scientific Name – Niacin, niacinamide

Vitamin B3 Deficiency Symptoms  Pellagra (Diarrhea, dementia, aggression, insomnia, weakness, confusion).

Sources of Vitamin B3 – Rice bran, wheat bran, paprika, peanuts, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and tree nuts.

What is Vitamin B5?

A water-soluble vitamin that is essential for metabolism.

Scientific Name – Pantothenic Acid

Vitamin B5 Deficiency Symptoms – Paresthesia (burning sensation in hands and feet, muscle cramps, numbness, tingling sensation, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, sleep disturbance, and restlessness).

Sources of Vitamin B5 – Broccoli, avocado, wheat bran, rice bran, whey powder, mushrooms, cheese, corn, fish, and squash.

What is Vitamin B6?

A water-soluble vitamin that helps in red blood cell formation and brain function.

Vitamin B6 Deficiency Symptoms  Anemia, peripheral neuropathy, sore tongue, depression, and cognitive problems.

Sources of Vitamin B6 – Tree nuts, dried spices, sesame seeds, wheat bran, bananas, pistachio, raw garlic, sunflower seeds, and hazelnuts.

What is Vitamin B7?

A water-soluble vitamin essential for the metabolism of protein and carbohydrates.

Scientific Name – Biotin

Vitamin B7 Deficiency Symptoms – Hair loss, fatigue, depression, nausea, muscle pain, anemia, and dermatitis.

Sources of Vitamin B7 – Oil roasted peanuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, dried yeast, oatmeal, walnuts, and instant coffee.

What is Vitamin B9?

A water-soluble vitamin that is essential for the production of DNA and helps form red blood cells.

Scientific Name Folic Acid

Vitamin B9 Deficiency Symptoms  Heart problems, macular degeneration, depression, and neural tube defects.

Sources of Vitamin B9 – Green leafy vegetables, pasta, bread, cereal, turnips, beets, Brussels sprouts, yeast, and root vegetables.

What is Vitamin B12?

A water-soluble vitamin that helps in the formation of red blood cells and maintains the central nervous system.

Scientific Name – Cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Symptoms Heart problems, weakness, rapid breathing, tiredness, pale skin, sore tongue, weight loss, and diarrhea.

Sources of Vitamin B12 – Clams, oysters, mussels, liver, caviar, fish, crab, lobster, beef, mutton, cheese, and eggs.

What is Vitamin C?

A water-soluble antioxidant that protects gums and teeth.

Scientific Name Ascorbic Acid

Vitamin C Deficiency Symptoms  Scurvy, dental problems, muscle pain, weight loss, dry hair, and infection.

Sources of Vitamin C – Guava, green chilies, bell peppers, fresh herbs, broccoli, cauliflower, green leafy vegetables, strawberry, oranges, papaya, and kiwi.

What is Vitamin D?

A fat-soluble vitamin essential for the development of healthy teeth and bones.

Scientific Name Ergocalciferol (D2) or cholecalciferol (D3)

Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms  Rickets and Osteomalacia. Lack of vitamin D could also lead to cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Sources of Vitamin D – Fish, eggs, liver, mushroom, and sunshine.

What is Vitamin E?

A fat-soluble vitamin essential for the formation of red blood cells and process Vitamin K.

Scientific Name Tocopherol

Vitamin E Deficiency Symptoms – Vitamin E deficiency is rare. It can cause mild hemolytic anemia, myopathies, and peripheral neuropathy.

Sources of Vitamin E – Almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, dried apricots, pickled green olives, corn oil, sunflower oil, and red chili powder.

What is Vitamin K?

A fat-soluble vitamin essential for blood coagulation and bone health.

Scientific Name Phylloquinone and menaquinone

Vitamin K Deficiency Symptoms – Bleeding diathesis. Newborns are more likely to be affected by Vitamin K deficiency.

Sources of Vitamin K – Cucumber, dried herbs, dark leafy herbs, Brussels sprouts, paprika, asparagus, and cabbage.

What are Minerals?

In plain words, a mineral is – "an inorganic substance needed by the human body for good health."

What Do Minerals Do for the Body?

Like vitamins, when it comes to understanding what makes a mineral a mineral, there are three key takeaways.

  1. It is essential for normal human growth and nutrition.
  2. The body cannot make it on its own.
  3. It is an inorganic compound (again, not in the "USDA-certified" sense, but in the "it isn't carbon-based" sense).

In simple terms, vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our body cannot make on its own but are equally important for the normal development of the human body.

What Are Macro Minerals and What Are Trace Minerals?

So far as our bodies are concerned, minerals can be split into two categories – macrominerals and trace minerals. As their names suggest, the body requires relatively large amounts of the macrominerals and relatively small amounts of the trace minerals.

Here's a list of 15 minerals needed by the body –

15 Essential Minerals

  • Macrominerals – Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, and Sulfur.
  • Trace Minerals – Iron, Manganese, Copper, Iodine, Zinc, Cobalt, Fluoride, and Selenium.

Just like the vitamins, each of these minerals plays a unique role in helping the body function.

What are the Symptoms of Mineral Deficiency?

A deficiency happens over time and progresses slowly. Mineral deficiency symptoms depend on which nutrient the body lacks. Typically symptoms of mineral deficiency include –

  • Constipation, bloating or abdominal pain
  • Decreased immunity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle cramping
  • Nausea
  • Poor concentration
  • Slow social and mental development in children
  • Weakness or fatigue

What is a Multivitamin With Minerals?

Just as the name suggests, this last category is made by combining the first two. As of 2006, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provided this lengthy definition – "Any supplement containing three or more vitamins and minerals but no herbs, hormones, or drugs, with each component at a dose less than the tolerable upper level determined by the Food and Nutrition Board – the maximum daily intake likely to pose no risk for adverse health effects."

Multivitamin Mineral Supplements

Typically, an multivitamin mineral (MVM) supplement can be placed in one of three major sub-categories –

  • Broad-Spectrum MVMs are designed to be taken daily. They can be formulated to cater to the specific nutritional needs of men, women, pregnant women, children, or seniors.
  • Condition-Specific MVM supplements contain vitamins and minerals that are intended to meet the needs of people with a specific health condition.
  • Natural and Organic MVM supplements are generally made from whole food sources. The rise in this category's popularity is a direct result of a consumer push for options presenting vitamins and minerals in more "natural" states.

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March 17th, 2016

About the Author:

Gene Bruno

Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG) - Mr. Bruno possesses over 43 years of dietary supplement industry experience. With a Master's degree in nutrition and a second Master's degree in herbal medicine, he has a proven track record of formulating innovative, evidence-based dietary supplements. Mr. Bruno currently serves as both the Senior Director of Product Innovation at Twinlab Corporation and Professor of Nutraceutical Science at Huntington University of Health Sciences.