Introduction to Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, and by definition, they make up a relatively small part of our diet. However, when it comes to vitamins and minerals, a little bit goes a long way. They have many essential jobs in our bodies.

For example, if you’ve taken a drink of water today, you can thank the minerals that serve as electrolytes, helping to balance fluids in the body. If you’ve taken a breath of air, you can thank the vitamins and minerals that act as antioxidants, protecting vital molecules from free radical damage. If you’ve taken a step, you can thank the vitamin D, calcium, and other minerals that make your bones strong. If you’ve moved a muscle, you can thank the many vitamins and minerals that serve as cofactors in metabolic reactions, which unlock the energy contained in nutrients so that your body can use it.

A photograph of a variety of tomatoes that are different colors (red, yellow, green and deep purple).

There are some 13 vitamins and 16 minerals important to human nutrition, and each serves multiple functions in the body. Entire books have been written about each one, and we could easily spend a whole term learning about all of these amazing nutrients. But as this is an introductory course, we’ll use the next two units to introduce you to some of the most interesting vitamins and minerals, with a focus on those that are commonly limiting in the human diet.

We’ll begin this unit with a general introduction to vitamins and minerals, and we’ll consider the role of dietary supplements in meeting our vitamin and mineral requirements. Then, we’ll spend the remainder of this unit and the next exploring major functions of vitamins and minerals, where we find them in food, and what happens if we consume too little or too much of each.

Unit Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you should be able to:

  1. Classify the vitamins as fat-soluble or water-soluble, including differences in absorption, storage, and toxicity.
  2. Identify the major minerals and trace minerals, including factors that impact absorption and bioavailability.
  3. Identify common food sources of vitamins and minerals and how processing affects nutrient retention in foods.
  4. Describe how vitamins can be made in the body through provitamins and intestinal bacteria.
  5. Define dietary supplements and describe how supplements are regulated and the concerns with their safety and efficacy.
  6. Identify guidelines and recommendations for choosing nutrition supplements and for their appropriate use.
  7. Describe the role of electrolytes in fluid balance, as well as the more specific functions, food sources, and effects of deficiency and toxicity for sodium, potassium, and chloride.
  8. Describe the general function of antioxidants, as well as the more specific functions, food sources, and effects of deficiency and toxicity for vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium.
  9. Describe how vitamin A and beta-carotene contribute to normal vision, and know common food sources and effects of deficiency and toxicity of vitamin A.

 

Image Credits:

“assorted-color tomatoes” by Vince Lee on Unsplash (license information)

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Nutrition: Science and Everyday Application by Alice Callahan, PhD, Heather Leonard, MEd, RDN, and Tamberly Powell, MS, RDN is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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