Why do we need to eat minerals?
What are minerals?
Minerals are inorganic substances meaning that they occur naturally
in non-living things such as water, rocks and soil. Plants
get minerals through the soil and water they absorb, animals ingest
minerals from eating plants and other animals as well as from
drinking (think mineral water) and we humans ingest minerals from
the food that we eat and from drinking fluids.
Dietary minerals covered here: Sodium | Chloride | Potassium |
Calcium | Phosphorus
| Iron | Magnesium |
Sulphur | Zinc |
Chromium | Cobalt | Copper | Fluoride | Iodine | Manganese |
What do dietary minerals
do? The minerals in our diet are essential for a variety
of bodily functions. They are important for building strong bones
and teeth, blood, skin, hair, nerve function, muscle and for
metabolic processes such as those that turn the food we eat into
energy. This means that minerals are needed for the body to work
properly, for growth and development, and overall, for maintaining
Different minerals are required in
different amounts but they are all essential. Minerals are grouped
depending on how much they are needed on a daily basis so the
minerals that are needed more in bigger amounts on a daily basis
are known as the minerals, macro-minerals or major minerals. The
minerals that are needed less and in smaller amounts are known as
micro-minerals or trace elements.
mothers and older people may need to adjust their intake depending
on the type of mineral. It is also important to note that
excessively high intakes of minerals can be toxic (harmful).
In this section, we explain the
different minerals, why we need that mineral and which foods are
good sources of them.
If you have any further questions as a
result of reading this, please feel free to send us a tweet (@eatbalanced) referring to this page.
Sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium
and magnesium are known as the "electrolytes" as they are minerals
which dissolve in water and form electrically charged particles
called "ions". Those ions are essential for transmitting electrical
impulses along nerves and for muscle contraction. So how do they
work? They create electrical impulses that let cells in our body to
send messages back and forth to one another (cell communication)
and through this, you can perform all the "bioelectrical" functions
such as thinking, moving and seeing and so a healthy body needs
Salt (sodium chloride or NaCl) is one
of the electrolytes that we all know very well. When salt is
dissolved in water, the ions become separated. They are involved in
fluid (water) balance in our body, if the balance is off, your
nerves and muscles can suffer.
As well as the salt content of your
bodily cells and surrounding fluids, calcium, magnesium and
potassium are also important in fluid balance of your
muscles. Therefore, if your balance of electrolytes is off,
you can get muscle cramps because the impulses are not firing
correctly and the muscles contract in spasms. This means that fluid
balance is important for us so we need correct amounts of
electrolytes in our body.
When the levels of sodium are too
high, the body retains more water, which also raises the blood
pressure (hypertension) as the increased water makes the heart work
harder. Think of your home central heating system - if you
topped up the water in the system too high, the pressure gauge will
Under normal circumstances, there is
more potassium than sodium and chloride in the fluid inside your
cells. That means there will be the opposite concentration in your
blood system which surrounds the cells (more sodium and chlorine
and less potassium outside your cells). The concentration of
those electrolytes affects the water content of your cells
(diluting or concentrating it). If you become dehydrated
(less water in the body cells), there will be more electrolytes in
your blood system (outside the cells), which is picked up by your
thirst receptors hence why you become thirsty. A hormone (known as
the antidiuretic hormone a.k.a. ADH) is also released to prevent
further dehydration, it works by reducing the amount of urine being
produced by the kidneys, thereby preventing further water loss from
Did you know? Salt
intake makes you thirsty as it makes your blood more concentrated
and so we drink more water/fluid so that excess salt can be
processed by your kidneys and passed out through your urine.
Did you know?
Chlorine is actually a green gas which is poisonous, but when it is
combined with sodium (a soft metal), the combined chemical is known
as sodium chloride (a.k.a. salt)?
know? Food labels which give you the sodium
content of the food are not telling the full story? Sodium
appears in food labels instead of salt itself so when reading
sodium on a food label you have to multiply it by 2.5 times to get
the actual salt content.
Why do we need
Where do we find
Sodium is essential for maintaining
blood pressure and our nervous system.
It helps ensure proper function of
nerves (involved in nerve impulse transmissions) and proper muscle
function (muscle contraction).
It also helps in digestion, bone
formation and keeps our body from becoming too acidic or too
A rich source of sodium is salt,
which has the chemical name sodium chloride. Sodium chloride is the
major source of sodium in foods.
Other sources include butter,
olives, bacon, ham and processed foods (salt is widely used as
additives, where it is added into a food).
Chloride is a crucial part of
hydrochloric acid, which you use in your stomach to break down
It is needed for the liver to
function properly and for healthy joints.
Like sodium, it helps to keep our
body from becoming too acidic or too alkaline.
As above, a rich source is salt
(sodium chloride). Processed food is also another source.
Potassium helps maintain blood
pressure and is needed for muscle contraction and nerve impulse
It also helps digestion.
Rich sources include vegetables
especially green leafy vegetables and fruits especially bananas,
apricots and melon. Other good sources include nuts, beans, milk
and whole-grain cereals.
It is needed for the formation of
teeth and bones. More than 50% of the body's magnesium is found in
It is important for nerve cell
function and muscle contraction.
Magnesium is also used in the
regulation of energy release for when we need it. It helps to
release the energy from foods that we eat.
It is also needed for the function
of many enzymes that trigger various chemical reactions in our body
and to control blood pressure.
Good sources of Magnesium include
fish (e.g. shellfish, mackerel, cod and swordfish), shrimp, dairy
products (e.g. milk), fruits (e.g. banana), green leafy vegetables,
nuts and and wholemeal bread/flour.
Calcium is explained separately below
because of it's relationship with phosphorus.
The other minerals
Calcium and phosphorus in our bodies
tend to balance each other out. If you have too much
phosphorus, you will lower your bodily stores of calcium. An
ideal calcium:phosphorus ratio is 2:1, twice as much calcium as
Did you know? Because phosphorus is
found in relatively high amounts in high-protein animal products
(meat and fish), high protein diets such as the Atkins Diet could
build up phosphorus levels if sustained for a long time.
Why do we need
Where do we find
Calcium is important for the
formation of teeth and bone. About 99% of the calcium in our bodies
is in our bones and teeth.
Calcium is also needed for muscles
to contract properly, heart function and for blood to clot
It also helps control blood pressure
and is important in controlling high blood pressure.
Rich sources of calcium are dairy
products (milk and milk products, cheese and yoghurt). Other good
sources are green vegetables, fortified cereals, juice and flour,
tofu and brazil nuts. It is also present in small-boned fish (e.g.
sardines where we eat the bones).
Phosphorus and calcium work
hand-in-hand with each other. It is required for teeth and
bone formation. 85% of our phosphorus is in our bones and
It is used to make chemicals that
help us break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats so that energy
can be released from them.
Phosphorus is found in almost
everything we eat. Rich sources are dairy products (e.g. cheese and
eggs), red meat (e.g. beef and pork), legumes, seeds, nuts and
whole grain products.
It is needed for the formation of
cartilage, tissue, hair and nails.
It is also needed for metabolic
processes and for a healthy nervous system.
Good sources of sulphur include
fish, meat, milk, garlic and eggs.Sulphuris an essential part of
all proteins as well as being found in fats. Any diet with adequate
protein will also have adequate sulphur, so deficiency is very
As you might guess, these are minerals
that you only require very small amounts of.
Why do we need
Where do we find
Iron is needed for the transfer of
oxygen between tissues in our body.
The majority of the iron in our body
is within the haemoglobin or myoglobin- two proteins that carry
oxygen. Haemoglobin carries oxygen in our blood and transfers it to
our cells and myoglobin transports oxygen in muscle tissues. Red
blood cells are red because of the iron content (haemoglobin).
Iron is also essential for a healthy
immune system and is part of some enzymes in our body.
Iron in the diet can be found in two
forms known as haem and non-haem.
The type of iron found in meat and
meat products are haem iron. Good sources include red meats, liver,
kidney and heart. This form of iron is more easily absorbed.
Non-haem iron is the main form of
iron found in foods. Good sources include green leafy vegetables,
seaweed, beans, eggs and oily fish (e.g. salmon). This form of iron
is more difficult to be absorbed, if taken with vitamin C, it could
improve its absorption.
Zinc is needed for the functioning
of many enzymes in our body.
It helps to boost our immune system,
blood clotting (healing of wounds), growth and repair of
It also regulates cholesterol
levels, sugar levels in our blood and blood pressure.
It is also required for normal
thyroid hormone activity.
Good sources of zinc include red
meat, liver, dairy products, whole grain products, eggs, fish,
shellfish (e.g. oysters), beans, nuts and seeds.
Similar to iron, zinc from animal
sources is absorbed easier than from plant sources.
It is involved in blood glucose
regulation by enhancing the action of insulin (a hormone that helps
cells absorb glucose from the blood), this would prevent glucose
levels in blood from getting too high which can result in a
condition called hyperglycaemia.
Rich sources of chromium are meat,
whole-grain products, molasses, brewer's yeast and nuts.
Required for the formation of red
blood cells and for the proper functioning of some enzymes.
Sources include liver, kidney,
meats, and dairy products.
It can act as an
Along with iron, it helps with the
formation of red blood cells.
It is a component of many
Necessary for keeping nerves, blood
vessels, immune system and bones healthy.
Rich sources are liver, kidney,
shellfish, nuts and whole-grain cereals.
Helps to maintain our teeth, make
them stronger and prevent tooth decay.
Also helps with new bone formation
and maintaining healthy bones.
Good sources of fluoride are
drinking water although it can contain varying amounts of fluoride
depending on if it is naturally or chemically fluoridated (where
fluoride is added to drinking water), tea and seafood.
Essential for the formation of
thyroid hormones which regulate your metabolism, as well as growth
and development, protein synthesis (to maintain healthy skin, hair
Rich sources of iodine are shellfish
and sea salt. Other sources include milk (because iodine is used to
sterilise milking machines on the farm and cow food), seafood (e.g.
lobsters), seaweed and iodised salt.
Essential component of some enzymes,
including those that break down carbohydrates and cholesterol.
Also necessary for a healthy
It is needed for bone formation,
proper function of the nervous system and muscles.
Sources of manganese include
wholegrain cereals, nuts, pulses, berries, beans, vegetables and
Essential component of some enzymes
including those that breaks down proteins.
It helps with normal growth and
Good sources of molybdenum include
cereals, tinned vegetables and nuts. Other good sources include
kidney, peas and dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. broccoli and
Required for healthy heart
Boosts our immunity (our immune
system helps protect our body by fighting against bad bacteria and
Believed to be a powerful
antioxidant and is also associated with vitamin E activity.
Essential component of some enzymes
(proteins that take part in our body's chemical
Rich sources are cereals, meat,
fish, dairy products (e.g. eggs) and brazil nuts. Other good
sources are legumes (e.g. soy beans and black eye peas), vegetables
and fruits where selenium is present in the soil (increasingly
UK Food Standards Agency;
Human Nutrition: A Health
Perspective, Mary E. Barasi;
US Department of Agriculture and UK
Food Standards Agency food databases.
Dietary Reference values for Food
Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom;
Human Nutrition, Geissler and