We’ve all heard that minerals are an important part of a healthy diet. But how much do we really know about why we need them and what they actually do to help promote good health?
Minerals are actually inorganic substances. The knee-jerk reaction of some might be to assume anything that’s not organic isn’t as healthy as something that is. However, in this case, inorganic simply means that minerals are found naturally in non-living organisms – such as water, rocks or the soil.
We typically get minerals in our bodies when we eat plants that absorb minerals from the soil and water.
The Different Roles of Minerals vs. Vitamins
Unlike minerals, vitamins are organic compounds created by living organisms (plants and animals). Our bodies need all vitamins for optimal health, but we don’t need every mineral, and we require much more of some minerals than others.
But that doesn’t make the role of minerals any less important. In an article on Dummies.com, the difference between vitamins and minerals is explained this way…
“Think of your body as a house. Vitamins are like tiny little maids and butlers, scurrying about to turn on the lights and make sure that the windows are closed to keep the heat from escaping. Minerals are more sturdy stuff, the mortar and bricks that strengthen the frame of the house and the current that keeps the lights running.”
Vitamins help us make energy out of the food we eat and have unique support roles in our body – such as Vitamin A for eyesight and B Vitamins for energy production.
Vitamin chemical make-up can be altered by heat (cooking food) and exposure to light and air, but minerals hold their chemical structure. So it’s no surprise that minerals often help promote strong bones and healthy muscles.
Vitamins and minerals can also work together – or against each other. For example, your body needs Vitamin D to effectively absorb calcium. On the other hand, too much Vitamin C in your body can make it more difficult for you to absorb the essential mineral, copper.
Major Minerals and Trace Minerals
Another name for minerals that are necessary for human health is dietary elements. They are the naturally-occurring chemicals we need to live – excluding oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon.
There’s no such thing as essential minerals – because all dietary minerals are essential. However, we need more of some than others. That’s why we have major minerals (or macro-minerals) and trace minerals.
The recommended daily amount of major minerals is typically 100mg or more, while we require a fraction of that with trace minerals – 0.2 to 15mg per day depending on what it is.
Below you’ll find a list of macrominerals and the most common trace minerals, as well as how each one affects your health and where you can get them in the food we eat.
The 7 Major Minerals
Calcium is one of the minerals we hear the most about. It is essential for healthy bones and teeth – that’s where you’ll find about 99% of the calcium in your body.
But this mineral also plays a role in the health of your muscles and other tissue. Calcium levels tend to decline as we age – which may lead to complications like osteoporosis.
Food Source: You’ll find calcium in dairy products as well as green vegetables like kale and broccoli. You can also get it in things like black-eyed peas and even orange juice. So it’s possible to get calcium in food without consuming dairy. If you prefer to get your calcium from a supplement, try this option.
Magnesium is involved with a wide variety of functions in your body. That includes nerve function, immune system strength, a healthy heartbeat and strong bones. It is also part of more than 300 biochemical reactions in the human body.
However, many Americans have a lack of magnesium in their diets and magnesium deficiency is becoming a real issue. It may be partly to blame for health issues like diabetes, heart disease, anxiety disorders and even migraines.
Food Sources: Leafy greens are a good source of magnesium, as are certain nuts and seeds – like from pumpkins and squash. Beans and lentils provide magnesium as well as fruits like bananas, figs and dates. Even dark chocolate can give you a good amount of this mineral. Try a magnesium supplement here!
Potassium is a major mineral that is also an electrolyte. Electrolytes regulate the transportation of fluids, nutrients and waste to and from your cells.
A lack of potassium in your body could lead to high blood pressure, cause fatigue or simply make you more irritable.
Food Sources: You’ll find potassium in dried fruits like apricots and raisins. A baked potato – including the skin – gives you about 25% of your daily requirement. Potassium is also found in many beans – like kidneys, Lima beans and pinto beans – as well as squash and avocado.
Sodium is another major mineral that’s also an electrolyte. Of course, sodium is part of the compound sodium-choloride – or table salt. While our body certainly needs sodium – most people get plenty in their diets. In fact, many people may need to cut back on sodium intake.
There are, however, disagreements about whether a diet high in salt is truly harmful. Recent studies from Europe indicate people with high sodium levels were less likely to suffer from heart attack or stroke. But the American Heart Association refutes the findings and stands by its belief that most Americans need to reduce salt intake. It does seem to be true that excess salt can lead to high blood pressure levels.
Food Sources: Table salt is the most common source of sodium.Â Of course, salt is added to many foods as a seasoning because it can enhance flavor. Sodium is also found in baking soda/powder, and salt is used as a meat preservative.
Sulfur is another essential mineral that most people get enough of in their diets. That’s because our body gets sulfur from all sources of protein and many fats. However, some natural health experts, like Dr. Joseph Mercola, believe the need for sulfur may be underestimated.
Your body uses sulfur for nervous system function as well as to produce healthy hair, cartilage, skin and nails.
Food Sources: While meat and eggs are the most common sources of sulfur. It’s also available in many vegetables. That includes broccoli, cauliflower, onions and Brussels sprouts.
Phosphorous is another major mineral that plays a role in bone health. It also helps provide energy to cells.
Food Sources: Almost all types of food contain some phosphorous, and not many people are lacking it. It is most prevalent in meat and seafood. You’ll also find it in cheese nuts and seeds.
Of course, chloride is the other half of sodium-chloride (NaCl) AKA table salt. It’s an essential electrolyte found in body fluids including digestive juices (hydrochloric acid). Chloride helps maintain an acid/base balance, transmitting nerve impulses and regulating fluid transport.
Food Sources: Salt is the main source of chloride in our diets. Yet it is also found in plants like tomatoes, celery and olives.
9 Important Trace Minerals
Zinc gets a lot of credit for helping promote a strong immune system. It also plays an important role in normal growth and development. Zinc even helps maintain your sense of smell and vision.
Food Sources: Protein sources like meat and beans are good sources of zinc. You can also get it from whole grains, spinach and even cocoa. If you’re interested in trying a zinc supplement, try Zinc Bis-Glycinate, which is chelated to support absorption.
Iron is a trace mineral that is important for healthy blood. It helps red blood cells transport oxygen throughout your body, and helps carry carbon dioxide out. A deficiency in iron can lead to the condition known as anemia.
Food Sources: Red meat and egg yolks are high in iron. But you can also find it in spinach, artichokes, dried fruit and mollusks. Some cereals are enriched with iron. If you need extra iron in your diet, consider an iron supplement like this one.
Our bodies use copper to produce connective tissues and healthy bones. One of its jobs is helping the body absorb iron.
A deficiency in copper could lead to osteoporosis, joint problems and a compromised immune system. Copper can be poisonous in large amounts – which is why it’s a trace mineral – requiring just 2mg a day.
Food Sources: You’ll find copper in seafood like oyster, lobster and crab. Plant sources include kale and avocado. It’s also available in nuts, seeds and mushrooms, and in supplements.
The main role of the trace mineral iodine is promoting healthy thyroid function. It helps your body create thyroid hormones that regulate growth and metabolism. It is often combined with potassium to support thyroid health.
Too much or too little iodine can lead to the conditions known as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Selenium is a trace mineral required for healthy heart function. It is also an antioxidant that promotes immune system strength and works with Vitamin E in your body.
Food Sources: Found in most cereals, meats, fish and dairy. For plant sources, selenium is available in legumes and Brazil nuts, as well as fruits and vegetables grown where the mineral is present in the soil. You can get selenium in a supplement here.
Manganese supports enzyme functions and helps our bodies absorb nutrients by breaking down carbohydrates and cholesterol. It’s also important for bone and joint health.
Food Sources: Good sources of manganese include spinach and kale as well as black tea. You can also get manganese from beans, seafood and whole wheat bread. If your manganese levels need extra support, consider a supplement like this one.
Chromium is involved with regulating blood sugar levels in our bodies as it appears to enhance insulin activity.
Food Sources: Broccoli may be the best vegetable for chromium. It is also found in Brewer’s yeast, molasses, barley and oats as well as meat sources. You can get chromium supplements here.
Fluoride is used by the body in small amounts to promote bone formation as well as strong teeth. You’ve probably heard about it when it comes to things like toothpaste.
There is some controversy on fluoride found in drinking water. Read Mary Bloomer’s article on flouride for more on that.
Food Sources: We typically get the trace mineral fluoride from drinking water, where it can occur naturally or is added to the water supply.
The trace mineral molybdenum triggers enzymes in the body that help us break down proteins. It promotes normal growth and development.
Food Sources: Found in milk and cheese as well as many beans and legumes. Dark green leafy vegetables provide molybdenum as do cereals and nuts. We offer a liquid molybdenum supplement here!
Making Sure You Get the Minerals You Need
As you can probably tell, the best way to make sure you body has the minerals it needs is to consume a healthy, balanced diet.
But that’s not always easy…
Our diets are full of processed foods that lack those important nutrients. Plus, common agricultural practices in the United States have depleted the soil of many of the minerals our bodies need to function in good health. As a result, even proper diets may be lacking in mineral content.
That’s why it may be wise to fill potential nutrient gaps through supplementation. Whether it is vitamins, minerals or other important dietary factors – Natural Healthy Concepts offers a wide selection of products to help you meet your nutritional needs.
Visit our online store today to find selections that can be partners in helping you live as healthily as possible!