The Difference Between Vitamins and Supplements

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Supplements, vitamins and nutrients are always a controversial topic.

Certain items come in and out of favor with new fads, new celebrity endorsements, new internet advice.

But what’s the difference between vitamins and supplements?

Does everyone need them? Which are the most important? Can they cause harm?

Let’s get to the bottom of this. 

First of all, it is important to discern the difference of these terms:


The word nutrient is a very broad term, it can include macro-nutrients, which are the large categories of carbohydrates, proteins and fats and also includes micro-nutrients which then include vitamins and minerals.


Vitamins are specific chemicals that the body needs to live and run its chemical reactions; this will include cellular respiration, removal of cellular waste, the production of energy as ATP in the cell, detoxification of harmful chemicals. The name vitamin signifies the involvement of an amine group (containing nitrogen).

Although over the years some have been mislabeled- such as Vitamin D- but the point is that “vitamins” are specific.

They are specific chemicals and they play a very specialized role within the body acting as co-factors and catalysts in every chemical reaction the body must do. Without them, work is not performed.

Many of us have memories of trying to grasp the inner workings of the Kreb’s cycle and its relation to energy production in the cell. Want the skinny on this deal? Without vitamins, the Kreb’s cycle functions poorly or not at all, and less energy is produced. This leads to fatigue.


Supplements are a broad, broad category. The name should say it all, items that are supplemental or in-addition to a baseline healthy diet.

Some have become very confused- the general media does not help- and many believe they need supplements over healthy food and fitness choices.

This concept is completely upside-down. Supplements may be in the form of protein powders (and therefore a macro-nutrient) or a B-complex (a vitamin blend). Regardless, supplements enter the diet only after baseline needs are met and an additional need is present.

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The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in starchy carbohydrates, low in healthy fats and proteins and often very refined and therefore very low in vitamin and nutrient status.

The average person, therefore, does need a multi-vitamin. Our food source should cover all of our health needs but two major factors interrupt this.

Today, American food has become over-processed, non-organic and lower in nutrients.

Additionally, most people live higher stress lives, sleep less than necessary, eat on the run and are exposed to higher levels of hormones, toxins and environmental factors.

This is the basic outline of how to get started:

The plan should be…

  • Eat a diet high in produce with very clean meats and healthy fats
  • Avoid refined flours and sugars
  • Follow a healthy fitness regimen including strength, cardiovascular and interval training
  • Try to get enough sleep
  • Try to do something good for the brain every day; laugh, read, meditate, crossword puzzle…etc
  • Include a good daily multi-vitamin, fish oil and probiotic

difference between vitamins and supplements

The final piece of the puzzle is to understand the concept of bioindividuality.

Each of us is unique. We metabolize differently, process differently and each have different needs.

Blood tests are available to analyze nutrient status. If you are following all of the healthy advice from the previous paragraph and not feeling your best, it’s time to look a little deeper.

Sources: Visual Economics

Gina Sirchio

Gina Sirchio

Dr. Sirchio is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist, practicing physician, lecturer and author. She is the owner of the LG Institute of Health, and co-author of The Nourish Series: Prenatal Nutrition. Learn more about her at
Gina Sirchio

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