Essential Minerals – Are You Eating Rocks?

Vitamins are a pretty common topic in nutrition but what about essential minerals? Are they just rocks? Or are they in food sources?

There are a number of definitions of mineral as it pertains to the environment. For our purposes, we are only interested in essential minerals – the chemical elements that the human body needs to survive.

Types of Essential Minerals

There are TWO different categories of essential minerals…

Macro essential minerals

These elements are needed in larger quantities.

  • Calcium – needed for strong bones and teeth. The top sources are dairy products ranging from milk to cheese, yogurt and ice cream.  Other sources are some leafy vegetable like broccoli and cabbage as well as calcium fortified foods like orange juice or flour.
  • Chloride  – used with sodium to help distribute body fluids, is found in stomach acid, red blood cells and in the liver.  It is found primarily in salt, seaweed, lettuce and celery.
  • Magnesium – like phosphorus, it is found in DNA, RNA and enzymes.  Common sources are some spices, nuts, cereals, coffee, cocoa, tea, and vegetables.
  • Phosphorus – is found as phosphate in your DNA and RNA as well as your cell membranes. Source include any food that contains protein which contains phosphorus like meats, soy and nuts.
  • Potassium – works closely with your muscles and nervous system. It helps regulate the amount of water in your muscles so a lack of potassium can cause muscle cramping during exercise. Important sources are fruit (especially bananas), nuts, fish, shellfish, citrus fruit, beans and peas.
  • Sodium – is used primarily as an electrolyte: to help electrical charge move in the body (nerve impulses). The largest source is table salt (sodium chloride).
  • Sulfur – found in all proteins including those in skin, nails and hair, in enzymes, in compounds used as fuel by the body and in some vitamins. Important sources are grapefruit and garlic (which gets its strong smell from sulfur), animal products and eggs (especially the yolk).

Trace Essential Minerals

These elements are needed in lower quantities.

  • essential mineralsCobalt – is used in the functioning of the brain and nervous system and the formation of blood.  The most common source is in Vitamin B12.
  • Copper – is found in the liver, brain, bones and muscles as an enzyme to create hormones,  release of energy from cells and forming red blood cells. Sources include some cereals, legumes, nuts , chocolate and some seafood like shrimp.
  • Iodine – is used to create thyroid hormones. Sources include iodized table salt , seaweed, cod, shrimp, eggs and milk
  • Iron – needed by your body to produce hemoglobin which transports oxygen as a part of your blood. Rich sources include red meats, liver, dark green leafy vegetables, potato skins, eggs and fortified cereal. You can actually take the iron out of the cereal with a magnet! Try it: crush up your cereal then stir it with a magnet and see if it has iron flakes on it.
  • Molybdenum – is necessary for the function and repair of cells.  Food source are black beans, walnuts and lentils.
  • Selenium – is found in enzymes and is used to convert one thyroid hormone to another. Good sources are seeds, nuts, shellfish and liver.
  • Zinc – works with your immune system to help fight illness and infections. Some people take zinc tablets to fight off a cold.  Good sources are meats like beef and pork, beans, peas and some cereals and  breads.

Many essential minerals are used in conjunction with vitamins  and other minerals but some do work against each other.  A high amount of iron of example can cause of decrease in the level of zinc.

A mineral supplement is rarely ever needed as a balanced, healthy diet will supply all of the minerals needed for normal body function.

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