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Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements: The Basics

What are Vitamins?

Vita means “life” in Latin, and vitamins were named this way because they are necessary for life. Vitamins are compounds that have regulatory functions in the human body. They are required by our bodies, generally in small amounts, and obtained through food because the body cannot fully or wholly produce them on its own. This makes vitamins essential to life, and a deficiency of vitamins can lead to specific symptoms and diseases. Consuming adequate amounts of each vitamin is important in preventing disease (1).

The following chart categorizes vitamins according to their solubility (the form which they combine with to dissolve and become a solution the body can use) as well as basic body functions they play a role in.

What are Minerals?

Minerals are elements that come from the earth (water, soil, and plants). They play a role in normal cellular activity, balance body fluids, strengthen bones and teeth, and participate in many other roles that help to regulate body functions. As with vitamins, minerals are essential for healthy human functioning (1,2).

What are supplements?

Dietary supplements are products intended to complete or enhance dietary consumption. I’ll walk you through evaluating ingredients, efficacy, and supplement use in an upcoming post. For now, here is a chart that will tell you some of the simple facts about supplements:

"My Doctor wants me to eat more Vitamins,but he didn't tell me how..."

This is a common complaint I hear, both from my clients and as my colleagues who work in healthcare as they express the challenges of their occupations to me. The following is quoted directly from the government’s most recent published Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020:

“A history of poor eating and physical activity patterns have a cumulative effect and have contributed to significant nutrition- and physical activity-related health challenges that now face the U.S. population. About half of all American adults—117 million individuals—have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor quality eating patterns and physical inactivity. These include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and poor bone health.”

Since nearly half of Americans suffer from diseases that healthy nutrition patterns could play a significant role in preventing or healing, learning about nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and supplementing of nutrients) can be a valuable and life-enhancing decision.

The truth is, doctors aren’t necessarily the experts on nutrients. Some doctors can choose to be more educated on nutrition by choice or through specializing in certain areas. However, recent studies into this topic report that less than 20% of American medical schools require nutrition courses, and less than 25 hours of nutrition is taught over those four years (3).

Dietitians can be an excellent resource for patients and for providers looking to expand their knowledge on supplement use. Registered Dietitians (RD) are trained as part of their rigorous curriculum to understand how to detect low levels of essential vitamins and minerals, how to perform a nutrition-focused physical examination (NFPE), as well as many other aspects of using integrative and complementary medicine. You can find an expert in your area by clicking here.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be writing a series on vitamins, minerals, and supplements, with many resources like the reference sheets available for download with this article. Whether you are a patient or provider, it’s important to know this information and to find resources that can help you to navigate a world saturated with health information. Use the following free pdf handouts to learn (or teach) the basics about vitamins, minerals, and supplementation.

VMS patient Basics resource
Download PDF • 155KB
VMS provider basics resource
Download PDF • 164KB

Each vitamin and mineral we discuss in this series will have additional resources and packs available for purchase, so you can expand your library of nutrient-rich knowledge.



  1. Gropper SS, Smith JL, Carr TP. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, Seventh Edition. Cengage Learning. 2018. ISBN: 978-1-305-62785-7.

  2. Mahen LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process, Edition 13. 2012. Saunders. ISBN: 978-1-4377-2233-8

  3. Harvard TH Chan. Doctors need more nutrition education. Harvard School of Public Health. 2017. Accessed at


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