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What Are Minerals in Food? Benefits, Sources & Why We Need Them

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Minerals - Dr. Axe

Within a so-called “balanced diet” you’ll find macronutrients and micronutrients, both of which are essential nutrients we must get from food sources because our bodies cannot make them on their own. The three main macronutrients are fats, carbohydrates and protein, while micronutrients include vital vitamins and minerals.

What are the main types of minerals? The human body requires 13 different types of minerals to maintain overall health, including:

We need these nutrients for purposes including muscular movement, nerve signaling, cardiovascular functions, growth, development and more.

What Are Minerals?

A mineral is defined as “a solid inorganic substance of natural occurrence.” In other words, a mineral has the following characteristics:

  • Found in nature but not made by humans
  • Has never been alive
  • Solid and not liquid like water or gaseous like air
  • Has a definite chemical composition, as each type is made of a particular mix of chemical elements
  • Has an ordered atomic arrangement, which is why minerals can appear as crystals

Although we need both, minerals in our diets are a bit different than vitamins because vitamins are made by plants or animals, while minerals come from soil and water. Minerals make their way into the foods we eat by being absorbed by plants and animals, which we then eat.

Types/Varieties for Health

There are two categories that essential minerals fall into: macrominerals, which we need in larger amounts, and trace minerals, which we need in only small amounts. Even though we only need tiny quantities of trace minerals, it’s still important to obtain them on a regular basis, just like with macrominerals (which include electrolytes).

What are the 13 main minerals? Essential minerals that the body requires include:

  1. Calcium
  2. Sodium
  3. Potassium
  4. Magnesium
  5. Chloride
  6. Phosphorus
  7. Iodine
  8. Iron
  9. Zinc
  10. Copper
  11. Manganese
  12. Sulfur
  13. Selenium

Other types of minerals that benefit the body and work in conjunction with other nutrients include chromium, molybdenum and fluoride.

Benefits

What are minerals good for? Minerals in our diets have numerous important functions that keep us alive every day.

They maintain our overall health by performing jobs such as:

  • Creating enzymes that help with digestion, energy production and metabolic processes
  • Facilitating nerve transmissions
  • Allowing for muscle contractions, muscle relaxation and movement
  • Regulating fluid balance, which helps prevent swelling and edema
  • Maintaining normal blood pressure levels
  • Carrying oxygen throughout the body
  • Maintaining normal bone density and teeth strength
  • Facilitating blood clotting
  • Producing stomach acid and other digestive “juices”
  • Supporting growth and development in babies and children
  • Healing wounds and damaged tissues
  • Facilitating thyroid function
  • Maintaining a normal acid-base balance (pH level)

Below are some of the roles and benefits that different essential minerals have in the human body:

  • Calcium — Important for maintaining a healthy skeletal structure, bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health and metabolic functions.
  • Magnesium — Assists in enzymatic reactions, helps with synthesis of DNA; found in bones; needed for making proteins and for muscle contractions, nerve transmission and immune system health.
  • Potassium — Helps with fluid balance, nerve transmissions, muscle contractions and normal blood pressure. Also helps prevent heart arrhythmia and swelling and reduces the risk for hypertension and stroke.
  • Sodium — Needed to maintain fluid balance and counteract potassium, supports nerve transmissions, and assists in muscle contractions.
  • Phosphorus Important for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balance; helps nerves function and makes muscles contract.
  • Chloride — Works with sodium to help balance fluids and assists in digestion by producing stomach acid needed to maintain a normal pH level.
  • Iodine — Needed to produce thyroid hormones; supports metabolic reactions; helps with development; facilitates normal brain development and cognitive functions.
  • Iron — Helps form hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood; prevents anemia; assists in development; helps make amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters and certain hormones.
  • Zinc —Aids in cell division, immune function, skin health and wound healing.
  • Copper Supports metabolic functions; facilitates iron uptake in the GI tract; fights free radical damage; helps with neurotransmitter production.
  • Manganese — Helps with breakdown of protein, carbohydrates and cholesterol; aids in cell division; facilitates blood clotting.
  • SeleniumMaintains normal thyroid hormone production; assists in metabolism and DNA synthesis; protects against oxidative damage; supports immune system in fighting infections; needed for healthy fertility, especially in men since it promotes sperm health.
  • Sulfur — Supports immune system in fighting infections; has natural antibacterial properties; helps repair DNA damage.

Food Sources

Where can you find minerals in your diet? Minerals in foods vary widely depending on the specific nutrient.

You can find minerals in both animal and plant foods, including things like nuts, fish, organ meats, seeds, legumes, whole grains, dairy products and vegetables.

Here are some examples of mineral food sources to emphasize in your diet:

  • Magnesium — avocado, bananas, potatoes, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, leafy greens, artichokes, whole grains, beans and legumes, dark chocolate, some fish.
  • Sodium — sea salt, pickled/fermented foods like sauerkraut and pickles, cottage cheese and other cheeses, olives, canned and preserved foods, soy sauce, milk, breads and unprocessed meats (in small amounts, as processed foods contain the most added sodium).
  • Potassium — bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, lentils, orange juice, most beans, peas, beets, dried fruit like dates, coffee.
  • Calcium — yogurt, kefir, raw milk, cheese, canned sardines, leafy greens like mustard greens or kale, broccoli, cashews, almonds, fortified tofu and fortified soy milk, parsley, legumes.
  • Phosphorus — meat like beef, fish, chicken, turkey, dairy, seeds like pumpkin and sunflower seeds, legumes like lentils.
  • Iron — organ meats like chicken or beef liver, red meats, fish, poultry, clams, egg yolks, legumes, dried fruits like raisins, dark, leafy greens.
  • Zinc — meats like beef, organ meats like liver, fish, poultry, some vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli and asparagus, wheat germ, garlic, oats, rice, corn.
  • Iodine seafood and fish like cod and tuna, some algae/seaweeds and sea vegetables, shellfish, iodized salt, fortified breads, some dairy products.
  • Selenium — Brazil nuts, fish and seafood like tuna, organ meats, beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, oatmeal, milk, lentils, cashews, oats.
  • Chloride — table salt, soy sauce, seaweed, olives, breads, celery, tomatoes.
  • Copper — shellfish, organ meats, spirulina, mushrooms, dark chocolate, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, wheat bran.
  • Sulfur — foods rich in protein including meats like beef, poultry, fish, soybeans, black beans and kidney beans, eggs, milk, nuts.
  • Manganese — Whole grains, shellfish, nuts, soybeans and other legumes, rice, leafy vegetables, coffee, tea.

Supplements and Dosage

Multivitamins typically contain all or most essential minerals, although dosages vary depending on the specific kind of supplement. For example, some lack iron or calcium, since these can be hard to tolerate in supplement form and needs differ depending on someone’s age and health.

If you’re low in one particular mineral, such as calcium or magnesium, it can be helpful to take a supplement to boost your intake. It’s best to discuss specific mineral supplements with your doctor if you’re deficient.

Among the most popular and best supplements for increasing your mineral intake include magnesium, zinc and iron supplements. These help support things like digestion, fertility and circulation.

Calcium supplements, when consumed when other key nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium, are somewhat controversial but may help offer protection against issues like heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. Ideally, choose foods-based supplements whenever possible, which means that the nutrients are easier to digest.

Dosages and Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA):

Below are some of the minerals that are needed in our diets in the highest amounts to maintain general health:

  • Magnesium: RDA of 350 to 420 milligrams/day.
  • Sodium: RDA of no more than 2,300 milligrams/day (should be consumed in moderation to balance other minerals).
  • Potassium: RDA of 4,700 milligrams/day.
  • Calcium: RDA of 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams/day.
  • Phosphorus: RDA of 1,250 milligrams/day.
  • Iron: RDA of 8 to 18 mg/day (more for pregnant women and premenopausal women)/
  • Zinc: RDA of 8 to 11 mg/day.
  • Iodine: RDA of 150 to 200 micrograms/day.
  • Selenium: RDA of 55 to 70 micrograms/day.

Signs of Deficiency

When you don’t acquire enough minerals from foods, it’s possible to develop a deficiency. Symptoms of mineral deficiency can vary based on which mineral you’re lacking.

Among the most important minerals that the body needs on a consistent basis are electrolytes, which are macrominerals that carry either a positive or negative charge when dissolved in water. These minerals include magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride and phosphorus.

Because we need them in greater amounts than trace minerals, deficiencies in these nutrients tend to be more common.

It’s critical to consume foods with electrolytes often because you lose these minerals every day in your blood, sweat and urine. You may also lose them at an accelerated pace if you’re very active, stressed or sick.

You’re most likely to suffer from a nutrient deficiency if you don’t eat a nutritious variety of foods. Eating a poor diet, experiencing dehydration or fluid loss caused by excessive sweating or diarrhea, or having a health condition such as kidney or heart disease can also lead to mineral deficiencies.

People who are most likely to be deficient in key minerals include:

  • The elderly, who often have a reduced appetite and a hard time absorbing some nutrients.
  • Those who consume a large amount of processed foods, sugar, refined grains and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  • People eating calorie-restrictive diets.
  • Those with malabsorption/gut issues.
  • People who consume high amounts of alcohol or smoke.
  • Those under a lot of mental/physical stress.
  • Endurance athletes or people who are very active.
  • Pregnant women who have higher calorie and nutrient needs.
  • People exposed to various environmental pollutants.
  • Those on a vegan diet or vegetarian diet that doesn’t include any animal or much animal products.

Some symptoms you may experience if you’re deficient in certain minerals can include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Pale or yellow-looking skin
  • Bruising easily
  • Poor immune function and susceptibility to infections
  • Impaired fertility
  • Weight gain
  • Acne and other skin problems
  • Fluid retention, edema/swelling
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor-quality sleep
  • Thinning hair
  • Irregular or heavy periods
  • Greater risk for health problems such as stroke, heart disease and cognitive impairment

Risks and Side Effects

Can you consume too much minerals? It’s possible if you take supplements, however food sources of minerals are not likely to lead to toxicity.

Supplements are most likely to cause side effects when when they are taken in high doses or in combinations with prescribed medicines.

Some supplements can interact with prescription drugs in ways that might cause problems or make the drugs less effective. This means that you shouldn’t take supplements in place of, or in combination with, prescribed medications without talking to your doctor first.

Be especially careful about taking new supplements if you’re taking medications like blood thinners, antidepressants, birth control pills or chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer — or if you’re pregnant.

Conclusion

  • Minerals are types of nutrients we get from a balanced diet. They are found in the soil and earth and then consumed by plants and animals, which we can eat to increase our own intake.
  • What are mineral examples? There are 13 different types that are “essential,” meaning we must obtain them from foods. These include minerals like calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, potassium and zinc, among others.
  • It’s important to meet your mineral needs to support functions like heart health, immunity, maintenance of bone density, skin health, cognitive functioning, fertility and much more.
  • You get minerals from foods such as meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, nuts, seeds, legumes, seaweeds, eggs, and milk. The best way to prevent a deficiency is to eat a varied diet filled with whole, unprocessed foods.

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