Why mineral? My simple answer to this question, rhetorical or not is “why not minerals?” And my follow-up thought would be, “they are essential just like vitamins for the proper functioning and health of our body’s.” Vitamins and minerals work in consortium in performing all the metabolic and enzymatic functions of the body. Therefore, to be deficient in one, can lead to the depletion of another which can further lead to the development of chronic diseases.
In addition, like vitamins, they are found abundantly in our foods; Take for example a raw banana, which according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Database comprises of seven (7) minerals namely, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. Further, 1 cup or 116 grams of raw pumpkin contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc and selenium. In addition, a mineral such as calcium is considered the architecture of the body, as it helps to form the skeletal or the structural parts of the body such as the teeth and bones while the other minerals have equally important qualities such as helping to regulate our heartbeats, making hormones as well as causing enzymatic responses throughout the body.
There are two (2) categories of minerals – macro-minerals and micro-minerals (trace minerals). Macro-minerals are minerals that our bodies require in large amounts (at least 100 mg per day). These minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. Conversely, the body only requires minute amount of micro-minerals or trace minerals, less than the amounts that would be required by macro-minerals (less than 100 mg per day). Micro-minerals include chromium, copper, iron, zinc, selenium, molybdenum and manganese. Fluoride, the controversial mineral is also listed as a macro-mineral in many scientific journals. However, fluoride will be explored in more details in an upcoming post. As such, for this post, only the prior listed minerals will be discussed.
As denoted earlier, these vitamins are required by the body in amounts that are larger than its micro-minerals counterpart so as to aid in the proper functioning and overall good health of the body. These minerals comprises of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. Calcium is the most abundant of these minerals in the body followed by phosphorus. Most of the body’s calcium is found in the bone, at least 99% with the remaining 1% found throughout the body in the blood, muscles and the fluids between the cells. One of the main functions of calcium in the body is for the building of bones and teeth as well as for nerve transmission among other metabolic function. However, we must ensure that we consume enough vitamin D, which is a fat-soluble vitamin so as to help our bodies absorb this vital nutrient.
We must also be mindful that the absorption of calcium can be inhibited by phytic and oxalic acid which are major acids found in some plant-based foods such as the infamous kale and spinach. As such, we must ensure that we consume a wide variety of foods so as to prevent nutritional consequences on the body. On the other hand, phosphorus, another critical nutrient helps the body to get rid of waste, repair tissues and cells as well as aid in the proper functioning of the kidney. Similar to the synergy of calcium and vitamin D, phosphorus works in conjunction with the B-vitamins (water –soluble vitamins) for the successful execution of its bodily function. You can read more on B-vitamins or vitamins here.
Magnesium, which is another critical nutrient, is responsible for over Three Hundred (300) enzyme systems that help to regulate the body’s biochemical functions such as protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function as well as blood sugar regulation. Sodium, while controversial, is a crucial nutrient that is needed by the body to aid in the maintenance of normal blood pressure as well as muscle and nerve functions. The main source of dietary sodium chloride for most persons is table salt. One (1) tsp of salt consists of about Two Thousand (2,000) milligrams of sodium chloride. However, according to the American Heart Association, it is recommended that we consume less than Two Thousand Three Hundred (2,300) milligrams of salt per day, less than a teaspoon. While sodium and salt is often times used interchangeable, sodium chloride is actually the mineral that makes up salt. In fact, most table salt contains about 97% to 99% sodium chloride. Nonetheless, while sodium is found naturally in foods such as celery, olives and even eggs, it is more so found abundantly in processed foods. Hence, the need for us to monitor our consumption in general, especially when it comes to processed foods.
Potassium, another macro-nutrient is essential for the support of key body processes. An adequate daily intake of potassium will help to reduce the risk of strokes, protect against muscle mass loss as well as the lowering of blood pressure. However, a major function of potassium is the regulation of the body’s fluids which includes the blood, urine, saliva and tears. Potassium is found in foods such as pomegranate, beet greens and coconut water. Chloride is another essential macro-mineral which is also a major electrolyte of the body. The other electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphates and sulfates. Calcium works in consortium with sodium and potassium in the conduction of electrical impulses when dissolves in water. As such, electrolytes are minerals that help the body to create balance through blood chemistry, muscle action and other processes. Chloride is also responsible for the breaking down of proteins as well as the absorption of vitamin B12 and other metallic minerals.
Lastly, sulfur, forms a major part of the four (4) amino acids cystine, taurine, cysteine and methionine. Cystine is beneficial for liver disorders, taurine helps with digestion while sulfur is the combination of methionine and cysteine which helps in the metabolism of homocysteine, which is a common amino acid found in the blood. Further, sulfur helps the body to resist bacteria, disinfects the blood as well as aid in oxidative processes such as the relief of bodily stress.
Micro-minerals or trace minerals are equally important as macro-minerals. However, micro-minerals are needed by the body in smaller or ‘trace’ amounts unlike macro-minerals that are required in larger amounts. These minerals include chromium, copper, iodine, iron, zinc, selenium, molybdenum and manganese. Chromium is a trace mineral that is needed in small amounts for the healthy functioning of the body. It helps the body to carry glucose (blood sugar) across all membranes by working closely with insulin, which is a hormone that is made by the pancreas which allows our body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that we eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Chromium is found in foods such as green beans, raw tomatoes and broccoli. Copper, another trace mineral, is a nutrient that cannot be formed by our bodies and as such must be ingested from the food we eat or by supplementation. Copper works in combination with certain proteins to produce enzymes that are involved in the production of energy as well as for the formation of connective tissue and iron metabolism. Copper also helps the body to make red blood cells.
Iron, is another critical micro-mineral that is needed by the body to make the oxygen-carrying proteins called hemoglobin and myoglobin in the muscles. For this process to be successful, the body must have sufficient copper so as to aid better absorption of iron. Iodine, is a nutrient that is needed by the body for the production of thyroid hormone. These hormones are vital for the proper functioning of the bone as well as brain development, especially during pregnancy and infancy. A deficiency in iodine can lead to conditions such as goiter, hypothyroidism and mental retardation in infants if the mother herself was deficient during pregnancy.
Zinc, is an essential micro-mineral that stimulates the activity of about One hundred (100) enzymes in the body and helps the immune system to work properly. Zinc also plays a vital role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing as well as the breakdown of carbohydrates. An important point to note about zinc is that it is needed for the execution of the sense of smell and taste and for healthy testosterone levels. Selenium, another essential mineral, helps the body to make antioxidant enzymes which are special proteins that plays a critical role in preventing cellular damage, especially when it is combined with vitamin E. Like iodine, selenium plays a role in thyroid function and heart health. Molybdenum is essential trace mineral that is usually found in the liver, bones and kidneys. Further, molybdenum plays a critical role in the processing of waste from the kidneys, the development of the nervous system as well as the conversion of food to produce energy. Importantly though, this mineral works best with Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) for the production of red blood cells as well as for nitrogen metabolism.
Finally, Manganese, a less popular mineral among the assembly of previously mentioned super house minerals. However, it is vital for the optimal functioning of the body like calcium, iron, potassium or magnesium. Manganese is needed for the metabolization of cholesterol, carbohydrates and protein. It is also required by the body for bone health, especially when combined with calcium, zinc and copper. A deficiency in manganese can lead to such conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis or epilepsy. Studies have shown that people who suffer from seizure disorders had lower levels of manganese in their blood and hair. Nonetheless, one must be careful not to over-consume this mineral as over consumption can lead to heavy metal toxicity and brain ill-health. In fact, manganese, zinc, copper, selenium and iron are nutrients that are also categorized as heavy metals and must be consumed with care. Foods that are high in manganese include seeds, legumes and leafy greens should be sufficient in providing our bodies with the recommended daily allowances.
Here is a summary of the list of minerals, their benefits, food sources as well as the recommended daily allowances.
The recommended daily allowances are quoted as “at least” as in some cases more or less may be required depending on an individual’s overall health situation. Further, children, especially babies and toddlers would require far less than the daily allowances outlined.
Let’s Sum It Up!
Minerals are categorized as Micro and Macro due to the roles they play in the body as well as the amount or quantities that is needed for the proper and optimal functioning of the body. As such, Micro-minerals are those that are needed in small quantities and include chromium, copper, iodine, iron, zinc, selenium, molybdenum and manganese. On the other hand, Macro-minerals are those that are required by the body in higher quantities and include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride and sulfur. Therefore, like vitamins, minerals are equally vital for overall health and well-being. Without minerals, many of our crucial vitamins would not be able to perform optimally, if at all. As such, minerals works in concert with vitamins in performing many roles in the body which includes but not limited to strengthening the bones, healing wounds, regulation hormones, bolstering the immune system as well as converting our food to energy and cellular repair.
It is important that we take vitamins and minerals in their correct balance so as to create the right synergy for effectiveness. As such, the optimal functioning of one nutrient is sometimes drastically enhanced with the presence of another. In the same breath, a deficiency in
one particular nutrient can lead to an under-performance of another as well as to nutritional deficiency which can ultimately lead to the development of chronic diseases. Therefore, balance is the key! Further, if you do decide to take a multivitamin to help you on your quest for optimal health, it is recommended that you seek those that are of food grade quality and has the proper balance of all the necessary nutrients that your body requires.
So, why minerals? Simple, they are crucial for physical, mental and emotional well-being.
- Combs, G.G. (2012). The vitamins, 4th edn. Academic Press.
- National Library of Medicine (U.S.). (2018, July 7). Minerals: What they do, where to get them. Retrieved from ttps://www.texasheart.org/heart-health/heart-information-center/topics/minerals-what-they-do-where-to-get-them/.
- Thompson, J. Manore, M. & Vaughn, L.A. (2011). The science of nutrition, 2nd edn. Pearson.