Minerals in food and their powerful health benefits

Like vitamins, minerals are micronutrients that are needed to our body to function properly. Our body can not produce minerals, therefore it’s important that we learn where to find minerals in food.

Minerals are inorganic elements present in soil and water, which are absorbed by plants or consumed by animals.

How to ensure an adequate intake of minerals?

The best way to ensure an adequate intake of all minerals is to follow a nutrition plan that maximizes the variety of healthy foods that you eat. My free weekly meal planner for healthy eating can help you build an healthy eating plan that will avoid any minerals deficiencies.

If you would like to learn more about the required amounts of the various minerals, in the website of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health you can find the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Daily Adequate Intake (AI) of all minerals.

What are the main functions of minerals?

Learn more about the minerals that are needed by our body to maximize health:

Calcium

Calcium plays very important roles for our health. Given its importance, our body can obtain the calcium it needs in two ways: from what we eat, and by taking it from our bones. If calcium levels in our bloodstream drops, our body takes calcium from our bones, activates vitamin D to absorb more calcium from the intestine, and signals our kidneys to release less calcium in the urine.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Calcium is important for healthy bones, blood clotting, muscles contraction, and for normal heart rhythms and nerve functions.• Dairy milk (cow, goat, sheep)
• Cheese
• Yogurt
• Winter squash
• Edamame (young green soybeans)
• Tofu, made with calcium sulfate
• Canned sardines, salmon (with bones)
• Almonds
• Leafy greens (collard, mustard, turnip, kale, bok choy, spinach)
Calcium


Chloride

The main source of this mineral is table salt (sodium chloride). Chloride is usually bound to sodium, for this reason the amounts of chloride and sodium in the blood stream is normally the same. Given that it carries an electric charge, Chloride is considered an electrolyte, like sodium and potassium.

Effect on healthPresence in food
It’s involved in the regulation of fluid and types of nutrients exchanged the cells, i maintains proper pH levels, stimulates stomach acid for digestion and the action of nerve and muscle cells, and supports the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide within cells.• Table salt, sea salt, Kosher salt
• Seaweed
• Shrimp
• High-sodium processed foods (e.g. hot dogs, cheese, potato chips)
• High-sodium condiments (e.g. soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup)
Chloride

Chromium

Chromium is one of the most common elements in the earth’s crust and seawater, but only present in small amount in foods. Our body needs chromium in very small amounts too.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Chromium enhances the action of insulin, and plays a role in the breakdown and absorption of carbohydrate, proteins, and fats. Vitamin B3 (niacin) and vitamin C improve the absorption of chromium.• Whole grains
• High-fiber bran cereals
• Broccoli, green beans, potatoes
• Apples, bananas
• Beef
• Poultry
• Egg yolks
• Fish
• Coffee
• Brewer’s yeast
Chromium

Copper

Copper is a metal that can be normally found found in soil, water, and rocks. From a nutritional standpoint, it can be found in very small amounts in several foods.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Copper supports various enzymes that produce energy for the body, break down and absorb iron, and build red blood cells, collagen, connective tissue, and brain neurotransmitters. Copper is also needed for normal brain development, for immune functions, and is a component of superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant enzyme that combats harmful free radicals.• Beef liver
• Oysters, crab
• Salmon
• Dark chocolate
• Cashews
• Sunflower, sesame seeds
• Chickpeas
• Millet
• Whole wheat pasta
• Potatoes
• Spinach
Copper

Fluoride

Fluoride is a mineral that can be found in small amounts in a variety of foods. It is absorbed in the gut and stored in bones and teeth.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Fluoride plays a role in preventing and reversing dental caries and building strong teeth and bones.• For most people, the biggest sources of fluoride are fluoridated water and toothpastes
• Brewed black tea and coffee
• Canned shellfish like shrimp and blue crab
• Oatmeal
• Raisins
• Potatoes
Fluoride

Iodine

Iodine is found in small amounts in some foods and it can be added to some salt seasonings.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Iodine is needed to make the thyroid hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine, which play a role in the creation of proteins and enzyme activity, and regulate normal metabolism. An insufficient intake of iodine can cause hypothyroidism, a medical condition that causes these thyroid hormones do not work properly, leading to an under-active or overactive thyroid gland.• Seaweed (nori, kelp, kombu, wakame)
• Fish, shellfish (cod, canned tuna, oysters, shrimp)
• Table salts labeled “iodized”
• Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
• Eggs
• Beef liver
• Chicken
Iodine

Iron

Iron plays a very important role for our health. It can be found in foods in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme is present only in animal flesh like meat, poultry, and seafood. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods and in animal flesh, because animals consume plant foods with non-heme iron.

Iron is stored in the body as ferritin (in the liver, spleen, muscle tissue, and bone marrow) and is delivered throughout the body by transferrin (a protein in blood that binds to iron).

Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron. Vitamin C and heme iron eaten in the same meal can improve absorption of non-heme iron. Bran fiber, large amounts of calcium (in particular from supplements), and some substances like phytates and tannins (found in plants) can inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Iron deficiency is called iron-deficiency anemia. It causes extreme fatigue and lightheadedness, and is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, affecting people of all ages.
Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to all parts of the body. When iron lacking, there aren’t enough red blood cells to transport oxygen, which causes fatigue.
Iron is also part of myoglobin, a protein that carries and stores oxygen in muscle tissues.
Iron is also important for healthy brain development and growth in children, and for the normal production and function of various cells and hormones.
Sources of heme iron:
• Oysters, clams, mussels
• Beef or chicken liver
• Organ meats
• Canned sardines
• Beef
• Poultry
• Canned light tuna
Sources of non-heme iron: 
• Beans
• Dark chocolate (at least 45%)
• Lentils
• Spinach
• Potato with skin
• Nuts, seeds
Iron

Magnesium

Magnesium is can be found in a variety of foods, and more than half of the magnesium in our body can be found in our bones.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Magnesium is needed in our body by more than 300 enzymes that help building proteins and strong bones, regulating blood sugar, blood pressure, and muscle and nerve functions. Magnesium is also needed as an electrical conductor that contracts muscles and makes our heart beat steadily.
• Legumes
• Dark green leafy vegetables
• Nuts, seeds
• Whole grains, brown rice
• Almonds, peanuts, cashews
• Pumpkin seeds
• Peanut butter
• Soybeans, soymilk
• Cooked spinach, Swiss chard
• White potato with skin
• Oatmeal (instant, whole oats)
• Salmon
• Beef
• Poultry
• Banana
• Raisins
• Dark chocolate (at least 70%)
• Milk, yogurt
Magnesium

Manganese

Manganese is needed by our body in small amounts. It is mostly stored in bones, with smaller amounts in the liver, brain, kidneys, and pancreas.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Manganese supports many enzymes involved in breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and cholesterol, in building bones and keeping the immune and reproductive systems healthy. In combination with vitamin K, it assists in wound healing by clotting the blood.• Shellfish: mussels, oysters, clams
• Nuts, especially hazelnuts and pecans
• Brown rice
• Oatmeal
• Legumes: soybeans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils
• Peanuts
• Black tea
• Black pepper
• Spinach
• Pineapple
• Drinking water
Manganese

Molybdenum

Molybdenum can be found in certain foods, and its amount in food varies depending on how much is present in the soil and water in which the food was grown.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Molybdenum is a component of four different enzymes in the body that help break down proteins, alcohol, drugs, toxins, purines and sulfites.• Legumes: black-eyed peas, lima beans, peanuts
• Beef liver
• Dairy: plain yogurt, milk
• Potato with skin
• Whole-wheat bread
• Bananas
Molybdenum

Nickel

Nickel is commonly found in soil, water, and air, and in plant foods that absorb nickel through soil and water.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Nickel is a component of certain enzymes that may assist with iron absorption.• Legumes
• Nuts, seeds
• Chocolate (milk powder, candy)
• Oats
• Soybeans
Nickel

Phosphorus

Effect on healthPresence in food
Phosphorus is an important constituent of bones, teeth, and cell membranes. It contributes to activate enzymes, and keeps blood pH within a normal range. Phosphorus plays a role in regulating the function of nerves and muscles, including the heart, and it’s a building block of our genes, as it makes up DNA, RNA, and ATP, which is the body’s main source of energy. • Dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese
• Salmon
• Beef
• Poultry
• Pork
• Legumes
• Nuts, seeds
• Whole wheat breads and cereals
• Some vegetables: asparagus, tomatoes, cauliflower
• Processed foods (as inorganic phosphorus, i.e. phosphorus that is added to foods to preserve color, moisture, and texture), especially cold cuts, bacon, sausage, sodas, sports drinks, and other bottled beverages
Phosphorus

Potassium

Potassium is sometimes called an electrolyte, as it carries a small electrical charge that activates various cells and nerve functions. It is found in many foods.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Potassium is an essential mineral that is needed by all tissues in the body. It’s main function is to help maintain normal levels of fluid inside body cells, whilst Sodium maintains normal fluid levels outside of cells. Potassium also plays a role in muscles contraction and in maintaining normal blood pressure.• Dried fruits (raisins, apricots)
• Beans, lentils
• Potatoes
• Winter squash (acorn, butternut)
• Spinach, broccoli
• Beet greens
• Avocado
• Bananas
• Cantaloupe
• Oranges, orange juice
• Coconut water
• Tomatoes
• Dairy and plant milks (soy, almond)
• Yogurt
• Cashews, almonds
• Chicken
• Salmon
Potassium

Selenium

Selenium is found naturally in foods. In the body, most selenium is stored in the muscles. The thyroid gland, however, holds the highest concentration of selenium which is bound to selenoproteins that assist with thyroid function.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Selenium is an essential component of various enzymes and proteins, called selenoproteins, that help to make DNA and protect against cell damage and infections; these proteins are also involved in reproduction and the metabolism of thyroid hormones.• Brazil nuts
• Fin fish and shellfish
• Beef
• Turkey
• Chicken
• Whole-wheat bread
• Beans, lentils
Selenium

Sodium

Table salt (sodium chloride), is made of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. In addition to adding flavor to foods, salt is used as a food preservative, as bacteria can not proliferate in the presence of a high amount of salt.

Effect on healthPresence in food
Sodium is needed by the body to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals. About 500 mg of sodium is needed daily for these purposes. Assuming more than the needed amount, can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Eating too much salt can also cause calcium losses, also from the bones, and is linked to an increase in stomach cancer.Nearly all unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, meats, and dairy foods are low in sodium. Most of the salt we eat comes from commercially prepared foods, not from salt added while cooking at home or from salt added at the table before eating. Examples of sodium sources are: breads/rolls, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts/cured meats, soups, burritos, tacos, savory snacks (chips, popcorn, pretzels, crackers), cheese.
Sodium

Zinc

Effect on healthPresence in food
Zinc is needed for almost 100 enzymes to carry out important chemical reactions in our body. It plays an important role in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue, and supporting a healthy immune system. Zinc helps helps cells to grow and multiply, therefore it is particularly important during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy. Zinc also supports the senses of taste and smell.• Shellfish: oysters, crab, lobster
• Beef
• Poultry
• Pork
• Legumes
• Nuts, seeds
• Whole grains
Zinc

The interconnection of potassium and sodium

Potassium and sodium have opposite effects in the body and both play an important role in maintaining physiological balance. At the same time, both potassium and sodium excess is linked to the risk of chronic diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease. High salt intake increases blood pressure, which can cause heart disease, while high potassium intake can help relax blood vessels and excrete sodium while decreasing blood pressure. Our body needs much more potassium than sodium each day, but the typical western diet does exactly the opposite. For that reason, it makes sense to actively try to reduce the sodium rich foods and improve consumptions of foods that are rich in potassium.

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Minerals are micronutrients that are needed to our body to function properly