Vitamins and Minerals are substances your body needs in small but steady amounts for normal growth, function and health
Together, vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients.
Your body can't make most micronutrients, so you must get them from the foods you eat or, in some cases, from dietary supplements.
* Vitamins. These nutrients are needed for a variety of biological processes, among them growth, digestion and nerve function.
Vitamins are involved in many processes that enable your body to use carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy and repair.
Though vitamins are involved in converting food into energy, they supply no calories.
* Minerals. These nutrients are the main components in your teeth and bones, and they serve as building blocks for other cells and enzymes.
Minerals also help regulate the balance of fluids in your body and control the movement of nerve impulses.
Some minerals also help deliver oxygen to cells and help carry away carbon dioxide.
Dietary supplements aren't meant to be food substitutes, as they can't replicate all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
Dietary supplements can still play a role in your health by complementing your regular diet if you have trouble getting enough nutrients.
Whole foods: Your best source of micronutrients.
Whole foods are your best sources of vitamins and minerals. They offer three main benefits over dietary supplements:
* Greater nutrition. Whole foods are complex, containing a variety of the micronutrients your body needs — not just one.
An orange, for example, provides vitamin C but also some beta carotene, calcium and other nutrients. A vitamin C supplement lacks these other micronutrients.
* Essential fiber. Whole foods provide dietary fiber.
Fiber can help prevent certain diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and it can also help manage constipation.
* Protective substances.
Whole foods contain other substances recognized as important for good health.
Fruits and vegetables, for example, contain naturally occurring food substances called phytochemicals, which may help protect you against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Many are also good sources of antioxidants — substances that slow down oxidation, a natural process that leads to cell and tissue damage.
If you depend on dietary supplements rather than eating a variety of whole foods, you miss the benefits of these substances.
Who needs dietary supplements?
Many people don't receive all of the nutrients they need from their diet because they either can't or don't eat enough, or they can't or don't eat a variety of healthy foods.
For some people, including those on restrictive diets, dietary supplements can provide vitamins and minerals that their diets often don't.
Pregnant women and older adults have altered nutrient needs and may also benefit from a dietary supplement.