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Vitamins and minerals the key things to know

Vitamins and minerals: the key things to know

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Tiny but mighty, vitamins and minerals are essential for countless processes in the body. Here’s your guide to what they are, exactly, what they do and where to get them.

They may be microscopic, but vitamins and minerals play an important role in our health and wellbeing.

As compounds that the body uses in tiny amounts for a wide range of processes, the short story is that vitamins and minerals keep us healthy and help our bodies to function.

The difference between vitamins and minerals

While they often get lumped together, vitamins and minerals are actually quite different.

While vitamins are organic substances that are made by plants or animals, minerals are inorganic elements that originate in soil and water and get absorbed by plants or eaten by animals. We then consume them via the plants or animals that have absorbed those vitamins and minerals.

There are two types of vitamins and two types of minerals

Both vitamins and minerals can be divided into two different groups.

Vitamins are either:

  • fat-soluble, which means they dissolve in fat and can be stored in the body. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, E, D and K.
  • or water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water and can’t be stored by the body for any length of time, so you need a fresh supply of these each day. The B vitamins and vitamin C are water soluble.
  • Minerals are either:

  • major, which means they’re generally required by the body in larger amounts. Also called macrominerals, examples include calcium, phosphorous, sodium, potassium and magnesium.
  • Or trace, which, while equally as important as major minerals, are required in smaller amounts. Also called microminerals, these include iron, zinc, copper and manganese.
  • Why we need them

    Vitamins and minerals are right up there with air and water when it comes to what your body needs to keep it healthy and its various systems functioning properly.

    There are 13 different vitamins , eight of which come from the B-group of vitamins, and more than 15 different minerals that are considered essential, and they all have different functions – and often more than one.

    For example, while vitamin K helps the blood clot, vitamin C is important for the immune system, collagen formation and for iron absorption.

    The other thing to know about vitamins and minerals is that they’re micronutrients. Unlike macronutrients that provide energy, like fat, protein and carbohydrate, micronutrients don’t give us energy, but they are vital for the processes that allow the body to get and use the energy from those macronutrients.

    Where to get them

    Vitamins and minerals come from the foods we eat and most of us can cover off our needs by eating a healthy, unrefined and varied diet that includes all five food groups . These are:

  • vegetables and legumes
  • fruit
  • grain or cereal foods
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • milk, yoghurt and cheese or alternatives
  • Supplements may be useful if you’ve got a deficiency that’s been picked up on a blood test, if you have food group restrictions (including if, for example, you’re vegetarian or vegan), or if you’re pregnant.

    If you’re unsure whether a supplement is right for you, chat to a health practitioner such as a GP, naturopath or pharmacist first.