Even though they’re in almost everything we eat and drink, many people aren’t exactly clear what the distinction is between vitamins and dietary minerals. We’re told they’re important and we need them to keep us healthy, but what’s the difference?
What Are Vitamins?
Vitamins are essential nutrients that our bodies require to function. Prolonged vitamin deficiency can seriously impact our overall health. In extreme examples it can even be life-threatening.
The vitamins our bodies need generally fall into one of two primary categories – water soluble, and fat soluble. Water soluble vitamins are found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These include B complex and C vitamins, among others. Because they break down easily in water, our bodies are able to flush away excess water-soluble vitamins when we use the bathroom. While this means that they are almost impossible to overdose on, it also means that our bodies need an ongoing daily supply to stay alive.
Fat soluble vitamins, as their name suggests, are absorbed by stored body fat. Unlike their water-soluble counterparts, they can be stored for later use. Although our bodies need this type of vitamin less often, over consumption can be dangerous. Examples of fat soluble-vitamins include A, D, E, and K. These are found most abundantly in naturally fatty foods, such as oily fish, dairy, beef. Vegetarian and vegan-friendly sources include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, although in much lower concentrations than in animal-based options.
One of the easiest ways to distinguish between water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins, when shopping for food at the store, is to look at the overall percentage of total daily requirement. Water-soluble vitamins will often appear in obscenely large amounts – many over-the-counter multivitamins, for example, contain several hundred, or even thousands of, times the normal recommended amount. Fat-soluble vitamins, conversely, rarely appear in concentrations that exceed 25-50% of their total daily recommended amount.