The Big Difference Between Vitamins And Supplements

Vitamins and supplements are often used interchangeably, but they're not exactly the same — and that can be said for minerals and nutrients. However, we've grown accustomed to lumping all of these terms together and using them interchangeably.

To develop a clear understanding of the difference, we'll start with nutrients. MedicalNewsToday defines nutrients as elements that provide nourishment, and they fall under 2 categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients refer to carbohydrates (including fiber, sugar, and starch), fats, proteins (which consist of 20 amino acids), and water. Micronutrients refer to vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Pharmacy Times broke down the difference between vitamins and minerals by analyzing their chemical composition, source, vulnerability, and nutritional requirement. Vitamins are complicated, organic substances that come from plants and animals. They're easily broken down by heat and chemicals, and the body needs all of them to function properly. Minerals, on the other hand, are simple, inorganic substances that are found in soil and rock. They're not broken down by heat or chemicals, and they're not all required for proper body function.

Supplements, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), are pills (including gummies), powders, or liquids that are made of vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes. While supplements can help ensure your body is receiving enough nutrients, they cannot be marketed to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure any ailment.

How to pick the right supplements

The best way to get the nutrients your body needs is through food. Eating plenty of nutritious fruits and vegetables can help achieve this goal. There are some situations — like being a vegan, pregnancy, the effects of different medications, for example — when diet alone can't guarantee you'll receive all the nutrients required. While taking a supplement can help, keep in mind that they're called supplements for a reason. They're not meant to replace a good diet, but can help when your diet isn't enough. Since supplements aren't regulated by the FDA, it's important to know what to look for in a supplement.

The first thing to consider is who the supplement is for. According to WebMD, pregnant women, children, non-meat and non-dairy eaters, people older than 50, recipients of gastric bypass surgery, people with dark skin, and people with certain health conditions may need different supplements.

The next thing to consider is if you have any deficiencies. Experiencing certain symptoms can point to what type of supplements you need. Some things to look out for include hair loss, bone or joint pone, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, and slow healing wounds, among others.

The last thing to consider is the quality of the supplements. Consumer Reports notes that there are 15 ingredients to look out for, their claims, and possible side effects. It also says labels such as "verified" and "approved" don't mean anything, so be careful not to get tricked by marketing tactics.