When you think about health, ensuring you get all of the essential vitamins in your diet likely comes to mind but minerals are just as important. In fact, each mineral plays a crucial role in maintaining your overall health and wellness, such as building strong bones and teeth or ensuring proper fluid balance, regulating blood pressure, producing hormones, producing energy, and much more. Without them, the body simply can’t carry out these functions efficiently, which could lead to serious health issues. Unfortunately, more than 90% of the population is deficient in at least one vitamin or mineral but the good news is: you can easily increase your intake of essential minerals with a few simple changes and a hefty dose of knowledge.
What are Minerals vs. Vitamins?
Unlike vitamins, which are organic substances made by plants or animals, minerals are inorganic substances that are naturally found in soil and water. They get absorbed by plants or consumed by animals, which then enter the human body by consuming those plants or animals.
They’re absolutely imperative for your health and serve a plethora of functions, with the main three being: turning food into energy, controlling fluids inside and outside of your cells and building strong bones and teeth.
Types of Minerals and Their Functions
The body requires many different essential minerals to ensure proper functioning and optimal health and wellness. These minerals are typically put into two categories: macrominerals and trace minerals or microminerals. While both types of minerals are equally important, trace minerals are needed in smaller quantities compared to major minerals
However, the amounts of each mineral needed by the body don’t necessarily indicate their important as each one serves their own purpose and plays a role in your overall health. For example, your body needs larger amounts of calcium to grow and stay healthy and smaller amounts of zinc but both are crucial.
To have a better understanding of minerals and what they do for the body, let’s take a look at the different types of minerals and their functions.
As mentioned previously, macrominerals are major minerals, such as calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur.
and the body requires larger quantities of them. Let’s take a look at how each macrominerals plays a role in the grand scheme of your health:
- Calcium is crucial for building healthy, strong bones and teeth, as well as enabling smooth muscle relaxation and contraction. It also plays a vital role in nerve function, blood clotting, regulation of blood pressure, and promoting a healthy immune system. You can get calcium from milk, milk products, canned fish with bones such as sardines and salmon, fortified foods like tofu, legumes and leafy greens.
- Chloride is necessary for maintaining proper fluid balance and the production of stomach acid. It can be found in table salt, soy sauce, and in processed foods. You can also find smaller amounts in foods such as milk, meats, breads, and vegetables.
- Magnesium is essential for muscle contraction, nerve transmission, the production of protein and maintaining a healthy immune system. It can be found from a variety of food sources, such nuts and seeds, legumes, leafy green vegetables, seafood, chocolate, artichokes, and “hard” drinking water.
- Phosphorus is an important mineral that supports healthy bones and teeth. It can be found in every cell in the body and is also an important component of the system that maintains your acid-base balance. Phosphorus can be obtained from various food sources, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and processed foods such as soda pop.
- Potassium is an essential mineral required for ensuring proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. Meats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are all examples of excellent food sources of potassium.
- Sodium is an essential mineral that is also necessary for maintaining proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. You can find it in table salt, soy sauce, and processed foods that contain high amounts of sodium, as well as while milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats.
- Sulfur is a mineral that is essential for building and repairing DNA, protecting cells from damage that may result in serious illnesses like cancer, metabolizing food and promoting the health of your skin, tendons, and ligaments. It can be obtained from various food sources that contain protein, such as meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, and nuts.
Microminerals, also known as trace minerals, include chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc. They are needed in much smaller amounts but are still necessary for maintaining good health. Although, iron is an exception as the body requires slightly more of it than the other microminerals.
Let’s take a look at how each microminerals plays a role in your overall wellbeing:
- Chromium is a mineral that works in conjunction with insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels in the body. It can be found in unrefined foods, especially liver, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, nuts, and cheese.
- Copper is an essential mineral that is part of several enzymes in the body and is needed for iron metabolism. Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, organ meats, and drinking water are some examples of good food sources.
- Fluoride is a mineral that plays a significant role in the development of your bones and teeth, so much so that it even helps prevent tooth decay. Drinking water, eating fish, and almost all teas have some dietary sources of fluoride.
- Iodine is a mineral that is a crucial part of the thyroid hormone, which is responsible for regulating growth, development, and metabolism. You can find it in seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, and dairy products.
- Iron is a mineral that is an essential part of hemoglobin, a molecule found in red blood cells that is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body and energy metabolism. Some iron-rich dietary sources include organ meats, red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish (especially clams), egg yolks, legumes, dried fruits, dark, leafy greens, iron-enriched breads and cereals, as well as fortified cereals.
- Manganese is a mineral that is a key part in many enzymes in the body, such as amino acid, cholesterol, glucose, and carbohydrate metabolism. It plays a role in, bone formation, reproduction, and immune response and works in conjunction with vitamin K to help blood clotting and hemostasis. It is found in a variety of foods, particularly plant-based sources.
- Molybdenum is a component of various enzymes that play key roles in several biological processes, such as breaking down amino acids and metabolizing drugs and toxins. It is also essential for metabolizing amino acids that contain sulfur, making it a crucial building block of proteins. You can find molybdenum in legumes, breads and grains, leafy greens and vegetables, milk, and liver.
- Selenium is an antioxidant in the body that is particularly helpful for ensuring the health of your thyroid gland. It is found in meats, seafood, and grains.
- Zinc is a mineral that plays a part in many enzymes, making it necessary for the production of protein and genetic material, taste, wound healing, fetal development, production of sperm, growth, maturation, and immune system health. You can find it in meats, fish, poultry, leavened whole grains, and vegetables.
How to Get a Healthy Dose of Minerals
Although minerals are absolutely essential for maintaining good health, the human body doesn’t make these and the only way to get them is from your diet. Typically, a balanced diet will provide you with all of the essential minerals required by the body. If you take a look at the lists of minerals provided above, you’ll see where you can get them naturally from every bite you take. This list also gives you the opportunity to identify which foods you may to eat more of to ensure you get the proper minerals in your day.
Some fun ways to get excited about eating all of your mineral content is to start gardening and growing healthy produce, explore new farmer’s markets for fresher ingredients or try some new, mineral-rich recipes.
Alternatively, dietary supplements can fill in the voids that you just can’t seem to make up for but that’s not near as fun (or delicious) as eating them!
Minerals may not get as much attention as vitamins do, but they are certainly just as important. From building strong bones and teeth to ensuring healthy nerve and muscle function, minerals play a vital role in keeping you feeling good and living well. So, the next time you reach for a snack or meal prep for the week, consider grabbing ingredients that offer a little extra mineral power to ensure your body gets the mineral boost is desperately needs.