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Micronutrients and food sources: Part 6 of 7-Minerals

This is post 6 in a seven-part series about the nutrients that our body needs to function optimally.           

Minerals are a micronutrient. A mineral is an inorganic substance that is naturally occurring from the ground and usually has a crystalline structure. Many minerals are required for human life and human health. Minerals have a wide variety of functions and may be utilized in the body for many functions, or only a few selective functions. A number of minerals are essential for health: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, sulfur, cobalt, copper, fluoride, manganese, and selenium. These essential minerals are sometimes divided up into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). These two groups of minerals are equally important, but trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than major minerals. The amounts needed in the body are not an indication of their importance.

A balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all food groups usually provides all of the essential minerals. The two tables below list minerals, what they do in the body (their functions), and their sources in food.

Major minerals (macrominerals)

One of the key tasks of major minerals is to maintain the proper balance of water in the body. Sodium, chloride, and potassium take the lead in doing this. Three other major minerals—calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium—are important for healthy bones. Sulfur helps stabilize protein structures, including some of those that make up hair, skin, and nails.

MineralFunctionSources
SodiumNeeded for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contractionTable salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats
ChlorideNeeded for proper fluid balance, stomach acidTable salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, meats, breads, and vegetables
PotassiumNeeded for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contractionMeats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes
CalciumImportant for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system healthMilk and milk products; canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines); fortified tofu and fortified soy milk; greens (broccoli, mustard greens); legumes
PhosphorusImportant for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balanceMeat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, processed foods (including soda pop)
MagnesiumFound in bones; needed for making protein, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, immune system healthNuts and seeds; legumes; leafy, green vegetables; seafood; chocolate; artichokes; “hard” drinking water
SulfurFound in protein moleculesOccurs in foods as part of protein: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts

Minerals interact with each other in the body to help keep things balanced. Having too much of one major mineral can result in a deficiency of another. These sorts of imbalances are usually caused by overloads from supplements, not food sources. Here are two examples:

  • Salt overload. Calcium binds with excess sodium in the body and is excreted when the body senses that sodium levels must be lowered. That means that if you ingest too much sodium through table salt or processed foods, you could end up losing needed calcium as your body rids itself of the surplus sodium.
  • Excess phosphorus. Likewise, too much phosphorus can hamper your ability to absorb magnesium.

Trace minerals (microminerals)

The body needs trace minerals in very small amounts. Note that iron is considered to be a trace mineral, although the amount needed is somewhat more than for other microminerals.

MineralFunctionSources
SodiumNeeded for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contractionTable salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats
ChlorideNeeded for proper fluid balance, stomach acidTable salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, meats, breads, and vegetables
PotassiumNeeded for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contractionMeats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes
CalciumImportant for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system healthMilk and milk products; canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines); fortified tofu and fortified soy milk; greens (broccoli, mustard greens); legumes
PhosphorusImportant for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balanceMeat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, processed foods (including soda pop)
MagnesiumFound in bones; needed for making protein, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, immune system healthNuts and seeds; legumes; leafy, green vegetables; seafood; chocolate; artichokes; “hard” drinking water
SulfurFound in protein moleculesOccurs in foods as part of protein: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts

Trace minerals can also interact with one another, sometimes in ways that can trigger imbalances. Too much of one can cause or contribute to a deficiency of another. Here are some examples:

  • A minor overload of manganese can exacerbate iron deficiency. Having too little can also cause problems.
  • When the body has too little iodine, thyroid hormone production slows, causing sluggishness and weight gain as well as other health concerns. The problem worsens if the body also has too little selenium.

The difference between “just enough” and “too much” of the trace minerals is often tiny. Generally, food is a safe source of trace minerals, but if you take supplements, it’s important to make sure you’re not exceeding safe levels. If you have questions about the supplements you are taking or how to get enough of these minerals, make an appointment to discuss with a dietitian.

Stay healthy!
Lisa Robinson-Mihiar, RDN, LD
ClubWorx Dietitian

Have a question you want Lisa to answer on the blog? Send your questions and ideas to Lisa at lrobinson (at) clubworx.net

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