Minerals are an important part of a healthy diet because our bodies need minerals to perform several critical body functions.
But really, what are minerals, what do minerals do, and why are they so important to our health?
What are minerals?
From a nutritional perspective, minerals are substances that occur naturally in foods and within the earth which are needed in order for our bodies to function properly.
Unfortunately, some people are confused by this minerals definition because we don’t typically consider that we consume elements from the earth in order to survive.
And just what does the earth have to do with minerals nutrition anyway?
The short answer is A LOT! Minerals are often found within the soil where plants grow.
The plants absorb these nutrients from the soil and become the primary source of minerals in a healthy diet.
Our bodies don’t produce minerals, so we get them through eating plants (and animals that eat the plants).
Minerals are also not to be confused with vitamins. Though both vitamins and minerals are important for us to stay healthy and we can get them both by eating healthy foods, they are not the same.
For instance, vitamins are organic (meaning they contain carbon, which is derived from living matter only) that can become weakened when exposed to oxygen or heat.
On the other hand, minerals are stable, inorganic elements that contain no carbon and are not sensitive to air or temperatures
Types of minerals
First, there are two types of minerals found in the earth – those that are essential to human health, and those that are not.
A few examples of minerals that are not essential to our health include aluminum, arsenic, boron, germanium, and lead – we do not need to consume these in order to stay healthy.
However, 16 minerals are essential for our health, and they are broken down into two types of minerals: trace minerals and macrominerals.
Macrominerals. Sometimes called major minerals, these are required for healthy bone, brain, heart, and muscle functions, so your body needs large amounts of these minerals.
There are 7 macrominerals that we need to consume on a daily basis
Trace minerals. These are important to maintaining a healthy metabolism and controlling blood sugars.
Trace minerals function in various ways that are critical for our health, but we require these minerals in smaller quantities.
The world “macro” means large in Greek, so it’s easy to remember that you need larger quantities of macrominerals.
This substance is a primary component of our teeth and bones, but interestingly, it is also the building block of seashells and stalactites, which are the icicle-shaped formations found in the roof of caves.
Why do I need it? This well-known mineral is critical to the development and ongoing maintenance of our teeth, bones, and muscles. It is also important for healthy blood clotting and maintaining a consistent heart rate.
As we get older, it becomes our primary line of defense against osteoporosis because it keeps our bones from becoming weaker over time.
How much do I need? For most adults, at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day is recommended. However, men over the age of 50 and women over the age of 70 should consume at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day.
What are the best sources of calcium? You can get calcium from milk, kale, salmon, fish, soybeans, and beans. For example, a glass of orange juice, a serving of yogurt, and a cup of milk will satisfy your recommended daily intake.
Although it’s not as commonly known as some other minerals, chloride is found throughout our bodies within our fluids.
Why do I need it? Chloride is essential to maintaining blood pressure and blood volume in your body. It also helps keep the right amount of water inside and outside of your cells to keep your body fluids balanced, which is important to keep your body hydrated, and it regulates our stomach acids.
How much do I need? It’s important for this mineral to be in your diet, but not in large quantities. In fact, you should avoid large amounts of salty processed foods to avoid overconsumption of chloride.
What are the best sources of chloride? Chloride is found in salt, so you can get the minerals you need from table salt, soy sauce, and other salty goods. A healthy diet that includes dairy foods, meat, and bread will include all of the chloride you need for your health care.
Many people are vaguely aware that this mineral can be found in our bones and blood, but most people don’t know the importance of this mineral’s function.
Why do I need it? Magnesium enables our bodies to convert food into energy, regulates our nervous system, fights body pains, and helps our muscles contract and relax properly. It even helps us fight depression, diabetes, and hypertension.
How much do I need? Adult men should get at least 400 milligrams per day, and they should increase their intake to 420 milligrams per day after age 30.
Women should get at least 310 milligrams per day, and they should increase to 320 milligrams per day after age 30.
What are the best sources of magnesium? This mineral is found in foods containing dietary fiber, such as green leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds.
Breakfast cereals and other fortified foods often have added magnesium. Magnesium is also present in tap, mineral, or bottled drinking water.
Most people know little about phosphorus, which is present in our bones and cells, yet it is essential for our health.
Why do I need it? We need phosphorus for healthy teeth and bones, as well as healthy heart function and muscle development. It is also important in energizing our bodies.
Phosphorus is a salt that contains phosphate, which is part of our DNA, so it’s part of every cell we have in our bodies – an important building block of our health.
How much do I need? Adults need 700 milligrams of phosphorus per day, which is equivalent to 3 cups of yogurt.
What are the best sources of phosphorus? Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and dark chocolate are great sources of phosphorus. Just be careful not to get too much phosphate in your system, as it can cause kidney damage and osteoporosis.
A lot of people know that bananas are a good source of potassium. Unfortunately, that’s all many people know about this important mineral.
Why do I need it? Potassium can be found inside our cells to reduce high blood pressure, anxiety, and complications associated with strokes.
It also boosts our metabolism, maintains water balance, enhances muscle strength and contraction function, and helps us maintain healthy kidney function.
It also stabilizes blood sugar, improves our nervous system, and stimulates healthy brain function.
How much do I need? Adult men can meet their daily recommended amount with 3,400 milligrams, and adult women are recommended to have 2,600 milligrams per day.
What are the best sources of potassium? Foods high in potassium include turkey, bananas, dried apricots, oranges, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, milk, coffee, and tea.
Most of us are familiar with sodium because we are often advised to reduce the sodium in our system.
While it’s true that we don’t want too much sodium in our system, we still need to maintain a healthy balance to support our muscles, nerves, and fluid balance.
Why do I need it? Sodium also plays a role in our heart health as well as insulin resistance so we can fight diabetes. It also helps our muscles contract, influences blood pressure, and promotes nerve health.
How much do I need? Unfortunately, most people consume too much sodium. We only need about 2,300 milligrams (about 1 teaspoon) per day. Keep in mind that this includes the salt in cooked food.
What are the best sources of sodium? For most people, a healthy diet, and even an unhealthy diet, will include more than enough sodium, so let’s focus on ways to limit the sodium in your diet.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium, so they should make up significant portions of our diet.
However, you can also make sodium reductions by getting your sauce and dressing on the side to avoid drenching your salads and other foods.
You should avoid processed foods, including processed meat, and choose spices and seasoning that don’t have as much table salt.
These minerals are only needed in small amounts in our bodies, so it’s easy to forget them. However, you could experience major health problems if you don’t get enough of these in your system.
Yes, this is the same chromium that is used to make stainless steel and other alloys in shiny cars, so many people are surprised to see chromium listed as an essential mineral that we all need in order to be healthy.
Why do I need it? We only need trace amounts, but chromium is needed to control cholesterol, promote weight loss, and perhaps even fight heart disease. However, it is best known for enhancing our insulin.
How much do I need? Our chromium intake should vary by age and gender. Adult men should consume 35 micrograms per day, while women should consume 25 micrograms per day.
However, once we reach age 50, our intake needs will increase to 30 micrograms for men and 25 micrograms for women.
What are the best sources of chromium? To get these important minerals, foods in your diet should include, for example, 1.5 servings of broccoli or 2 cups of grape juice. You should also include mashed potatoes, orange juice, green beans, beef, and garlic in your diet.
We only need trace amounts of copper in our systems, so there’s no cause for alarm about consuming a mineral used to make cookware and car parts.
Why do I need it? Copper is necessary for our survival. It helps us make red blood cells and absorb iron, another essential mineral. Additionally, it helps us produce collagen for healthy skin and energy for a healthy metabolism.
How much do I need? Adults need at least 900 micrograms of copper per day.
What are the best sources of copper? Beef liver and oysters are very rich sources of copper, so a single serving of these foods far exceeds the minimum daily recommended intake.
However, a couple of servings of potatoes, sunflower seeds, dark chocolate, turkey, and tofu will also give you enough copper for the day.
This mineral is found in bone, water, soil, and plants, but it is best-known for its benefits for our teeth.
Why do I need it? When we eat, the bacteria in our mouths create acids that break down the minerals in our teeth, which can lead to cavities.
Fluoride fights this by helping to protect our enamel and maintain the minerals in our teeth to keep them strong over the long-term. It can even help reverse the early signs of deterioration in our teeth.
How much do I need? Adult men should consume at least 4 milligrams of fluoride daily, and women should consume at least 3 milligrams.
What are the best sources of fluoride? Drinking water and some mouthwash, toothpaste, and other dental supplements are often sources of fluoride.
You should also read the labels of your over-the-counter medications since they are often fortified with fluoride as well.
Most of us only know iodine as something that’s added to salt. However, people became concerned about consuming too much salt, so now many people are not getting the proper levels of iodine in their systems.
Why do I need it? Iodine is important for a healthy thyroid and proper brain function, especially in children. It’s needed for a healthy pregnancy, to reduce the risk of cancer, and it may even be helpful in treating infections and cysts.
How much do I need? Adults should consume 150 micrograms of iodine per day. But make sure you don’t consume more than 1,100 micrograms per day, as it can cause thyroid cancer, stomach problems, and a weakened heartbeat.
What are the best sources of iodine? Cod, tuna, yogurt, cheese, bananas, green peas, and iodized table salt are all good sources of iodine.
We all know that we need trace amounts of iron in our system, but most of us don’t realize how much iron impacts how we feel every day.
Why do I need it? Iron helps regulate body temperature so that you’re not cold all the time, improves muscle function by maintaining elasticity in your tissues, and enhances brain function by improving the flow of oxygen to your brain.
It also promotes better sleep, boosts your immune system, reduces fatigue, and improves your energy metabolism to control your weight and blood sugars.
How much do I need? Adults need at least 8 milligrams of iron per day. However, women aged 19 – 50 have a greater need for iron, so they should consume at least 18 milligrams during this age range.
What are the best sources of iron? Lean red meats, tuna, turkey, eggs, baked potatoes, raisins, whole grains, spinach, and fortified cereals are all good sources of iron.
Not to be confused with magnesium, manganese is required for healthy functioning of the brain and nervous system.
Why do I need it? This mineral supports bone density to help prevent deterioration, has antioxidants that help keep our blood healthy, and reduces inflammation to fight body pain.
It also helps to regulate blood sugars, promotes wound healing, supports a healthy metabolism, and more.
How much do I need? Adult men need 2.3 milligrams per day while adult women should consume 1.8 milligrams per day.
What are the best sources of manganese? You can get the manganese that you need by eating mussels, lentils, kale, oatmeal, and pecans. You can also get manganese from tea, pineapples, and black pepper.
What in the world is molybdenum? Pronounced like “muh-lib-duh-num’, this essential mineral helps break down harmful sulfites and prevent toxins from building up in our bodies.
Why do I need it? It helps us metabolize fats and carbohydrates, and it breaks down enzymes that contribute to hypertension and asthmatic reactions. Additionally, molybdenum helps our body process alcoholic beverages.
How much do I need? Adults only need 45 micrograms of this important mineral.
What are the best sources of molybdenum? If you eat black-eyed peas, beef liver, or lima beans, you will exceed the daily recommended amount by a long shot. However, if these aren’t your cup of team, you can also eat yogurt and potatoes to satisfy your daily recommended intake.
Another little-known mineral, this powerful antioxidant is found in our skeletal muscles, but it has an important impact on our whole bodies.
Why do I need it? Selenium reduces oxidative stress, which has been linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, and even mental decline that leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
It also boosts your immune system, reduces asthma symptoms, and promotes the healthy functioning of your thyroid.
How much do I need? Only 55 micrograms of selenium is needed in our diet every day.
What are the best sources of selenium? Tuna, halibut, oysters, and Brazil nuts each have more than 100% of the daily recommended amount. However, eggs, children, shiitake mushrooms, and brown rice are also good sources of this important mineral.
This is another mineral that surprises many people to learn that it is essential for our health.
Why do I need it? Sulfur is required in order for our bodies to produce essential amino acids. Research is underway to explore the positive impacts that sulfur has on allergies, body pains, and even skin conditions.
It can also have a positive impact on insulin production, strong hair, and healthy blood vessels.
How much do I need? This particular mineral does not have a recommended daily allowance. However, research shows that methionine, which is an amino acid that contains sulfur, is recommended at a rate of 16 micrograms per day.
What are the best sources of sulfur? These minerals’ nutritional value is impressive as some of the healthiest food in nature has sulfur. This includes avocado, oranges, bananas, garlic, onions, eggs, lean beef, beans, asparagus, and cauliflower.
This mineral is well-known for its health benefits. Though we only need trace amounts, they have a huge impact on our daily lives.
Why do I need it? Zinc boosts our immune system to enable our bodies to fight infection, including the common cold, and it enhances our cognitive functions.
Additionally, it slows down age-related deterioration, including vision loss and inflammation that leads to chronic disease. Research shows that it may even have a positive impact on fertility.
How much do I need? Adult women need 8 milligrams per day and adult men need 11 milligrams per day.
What are the best sources of zinc? Foods that are rich in zinc include lean beef, oysters, cashews, chicken, and peas.
This mineral is sometimes included in the list of essential trace minerals because it is important for the production of red blood cells and maintenance of the nervous system.
However, cobalt is part of vitamin B-12, which is also essential for your health. Therefore, if your diet has a healthy amount of vitamin B-12 foods, your cobalt intake is sufficient.
Foods that are rich in cobalt and vitamin B-12 include broccoli, oats, fish, nuts, and kale.
Time for Action
Minerals are an important part of your healthy diet plan. Without them, we will increase the likelihood of significant health issues, including poor coordination, impaired immune system, sexual dysfunction, hair loss, fatigue, and a host of other serious health conditions.
Unfortunately, mineral deficiencies are relatively common. Therefore, be sure to maintain a healthy diet of the foods high in these essential minerals, and consider a supplement if you aren’t eating enough of each type.