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Vitamins & Minerals Differences (and Which Ones You May Not Be Getting Enough from Your Diet)
By Dr. Josh Axe
June 7, 2022
If you look at the nutrition label on any multivitamin supplement, you’ll probably see a long list of nutrients, including both vitamins and minerals. But do you need all vitamins and minerals? Or are some types more important than others?
When it comes to vitamins vs. minerals in your diet and supplement routine, there are some differences; however, both of these groups contain “essential” nutrients.
This means we must get both vitamins and minerals from outside sources (foods or supplements) since our bodies can’t make them on their own.
Below we’ll look at the major differences between vitamins and minerals, plus specific types that you’re most likely to be lacking and therefore should prioritize.
“Micronutrients” refers to nutrients that we need in small amounts to maintain overall health. Both vitamins and minerals fall into this category.
How many vitamins and minerals are there? The human body requires 13 different types of minerals and 13 types of vitamins. Each type has its own specific roles and benefits, plus many work in conjunction with one another.
While minerals can usually be taken with or without a meal, some “fat soluble” vitamins are best absorbed with a meal containing some fat. Vitamins can often be combined, but you want to avoid taking large amounts of minerals together, since they compete for absorption inside the gut.
We require minerals for purposes including muscular movement, nerve signaling, cardiovascular functions, bone development, digestion, metabolic processes and much more.
A mineral is defined as “a solid inorganic substance of natural occurrence.” Some of the characteristics of minerals include: being found in nature (not made by humans), never having been alive, and having solid structure and definite chemical composition.
We typically acquire minerals from the foods we eat (both plants and animals), which absorb minerals from the earth’s soil and water.
The 13 minerals that are essential in our diets include:
Vitamins are made by plants or animals, as opposed to minerals which come from soil and water. We acquire vitamins directly from the foods we eat, whether plants or animal foods such as eggs, fish and meat.
There are many reasons we need vitamins, including for supporting a healthy immune system, nerve functions, blood pressure, blood health and cholesterol regulation, bone building, fighting free radicals, and getting energy from the foods we eat.
The 13 types of vitamins that the body needs from foods/supplements are:
Vitamins A, C, D, E, K
B vitamins, which include thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12 and folate
Vitamins vs. minerals: Which do we need more? The truth is that we need 26 different nutrients, including specific types from both major groups (vitamins and minerals). Therefore, neither vitamins or minerals are more essential than the other.
That being said, there are some nutrients that a high percentage of people are missing in their diets — due to factors like not eating enough produce and/or eating foods grown in poor quality soil.
Ideally, it’s best to obtain all the nutrients you need from foods, considering foods contain many different compounds that work synergistically. However, supplements come in handy for filling in gaps in your diet, especially since it’s difficult to eat a near-perfect diet.
Below are some vitamins and minerals to focus on most when it comes to your diet and supplement choices. Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including supplementation.
Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is made from our skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. It has many different uses in the body, such as helping to strengthen bones and support a healthy immune system and cardiovascular functions.
Unfortunately, many people are falling short on vitamin D because they don’t spend enough time outdoors in the sun or eat enough foods with vitamin D. This is where vitamin D supplements come into play.
Adults require at least 600 IU of vitamin D daily. You can meet your needs via a combination of sunlight exposure, supplementation, and foods such as fatty fish, fish liver oils, and fortified milk and dairy products.
What is the most important mineral in your body? Some would argue that it’s magnesium, which plays a role in over 300 chemical reactions that take place in the body. While some minerals are needed in small (trace) amounts, calcium, magnesium and potassium are needed in larger amounts for purposes such as muscle and nerve functions.
Adults need about 320 to 420 mg of magnesium per day. You can meet your needs by eating foods like leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products like yogurt, plus from supplementing with either magnesium capsules or powder.
Is calcium a mineral or a vitamin? It’s an essential mineral and also an electrolyte. Getting enough calcium is important for bone strength, regulating heart rhythms, aiding in muscle functions, promoting healthy blood pressure and more. It’s key to consume enough calcium along with vitamin D and magnesium for the most health benefits.
Aim for about 1,000 milligrams per day from foods like yogurt or kefir, leafy green vegetables (such as collard greens and kale), broccoli, okra and beans. Some adults can benefit from calcium supplements to further boost their intake; speak to your doctor about whether this would be helpful for you.
Considering that potassium helps counterbalance the effects of sodium, which most people eating modern-day diets consume too much of, it’s a very important mineral to obtain enough of each day. Yet, many adults lack potassium in their diets, since it’s found in mostly vegetables, potatoes, fruits and dairy products.
Potassium helps promote healthy blood pressure and generally supports cardiovascular and muscular health. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for potassium is 3,400 mg/day.
Coming up short on iron is among the most prevalent nutritional shortfalls in the world. We need iron to produce hemoglobin, a type of protein that transports oxygen via blood from the lungs.
The most absorbable type of iron (heme iron) is found in eggs, meat, fish and poultry (leafy greens and beans are other good plant-based options). Try to consume at least 8 to 18 milligrams of iron daily from a combo of foods and/or enzyme-activated iron supplements.
Zinc is one of the most prevalent types of minerals in our bodies. It supports healthy immune function and immune defenses, and also a healthy metabolism.
You can obtain zinc from foods like shellfish, organ meats, meat, poultry, beans, whole grains and dairy products. Adults require at least 8 to 11 mg/day of zinc. For healthy immune system support, consider supplementing with enzyme-activated zinc supplements to maximize absorption.
Like other B vitamins, vitamin B12 is involved in metabolic functions and also supports the transport of oxygen throughout the body. Getting enough B12 can help promote healthy energy levels and generally supports cognitive functions, too.
The RDA for B12 for adults is 2.4 mcg/day. You’ll find B12 in multivitamins, B complex supplements, and foods including beef, organ meats, poultry, milk and nutritional yeast.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and the recent Ancient Remedies.