Once you’ve completed the step of learning about the difference between vitamins and minerals, and then made the jump in understanding that there is a difference between inorganic and organic minerals, you are ready to make a quantum leap to understand why organic chelated minerals are different.
This is where we must start to get scientific; after all, the word "chelate" is a very specific scientific word that has almost become trendy in the marketplace. Certainly the word chelate is often misinterpreted and then, not surprisingly, misused. Because of this, “chelate” is almost reaching the point of being genericized in reference to nutritional minerals. This is why Albion Human Nutrition feels a strong and compelling need to help educate the industry and consumer regarding mineral chelates.
“Chelate” is a specific term identifying a type of bond between an inorganic mineral atom and an attached molecule structure referred to as a ligand. As you learned in Vitamins, Minerals, Chelates: What's the Difference, we know that the mineral portion of a chelate is an element and the attached organic ligand is a molecule. When this ligand attaches to the mineral to form a new molecule, it must attach itself in two locations - not just one. This is the broad basis of what a “chelate” is. Now it starts to get fun. Life itself is all about variation, and chelates are no different.
The definition of a chelate does not specify ligand type or size. This is a very important fact to remember. There are a host of molecules that can serve as a ligand. Some possible ligands are so bad for the environment that they are controlled by strict regulation (see EDTA at the end of this article). Others are so large they must be broken apart in order to be absorbed. If the ligand must be broken apart to be absorbed, it is not much better than an inorganic mineral. The ligand type will also give the resulting chelate different properties. Ligand choice is a distinguishing feature of chelated mineral products. See the illustration below of different types of ligands.