Minerals: Their Functions and Sources

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Minerals: Their Functions and Sources Guide

many minerals; these are called essential minerals. Essential minerals are sometimes divided up into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). These two groups of minerals are equally important, but trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than major minerals. The amounts needed in the body are not an indication of their importance.

A balanced diet usually provides all of the essential minerals. The two tables below list minerals, what they do in the body (their functions), and their sources in food.

Macrominerals

Major minerals
Mineral Function Sources
Sodium Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats
Chloride Needed for proper fluid balance, stomach acid Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, meats, breads, and vegetables
Potassium Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction Meats, milk, freshfruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes
Calcium Important for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health Milk and milk products; canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines); fortified tofu and fortified soy milk; greens (broccoli, mustard greens); legumes
Phosphorus Important for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balance Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, processed foods (including soda pop)
Magnesium Found in bones; needed for making protein, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, immune system health Nuts and seeds; legumes; leafy, green vegetables; seafood;chocolate; artichokes; “hard” drinking water
Sulfur Found in protein molecules Occurs in foods as part of protein: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts

Trace minerals (microminerals)

The body needs trace minerals in very small amounts. Note that iron is considered to be a trace mineral, although the amount needed is somewhat more than for other microminerals.

Trace minerals
Mineral Function Sources
Iron Part of a molecule (hemoglobin) found in redblood cells that carries oxygen in the body; needed for energy metabolism Organ meats; red meats; fish; poultry; shellfish (especially clams); egg yolks; legumes; dried fruits; dark, leafy greens; iron-enriched breads and cereals; and fortified cereals
Zinc Part of many enzymes; needed for making proteinand genetic material; has a function in taste perception, wound healing, normal fetal development, production of sperm, normal growth and sexual maturation, immune system health Meats, fish, poultry, leavened whole grains, vegetables
Iodine Found in thyroid hormone, which helps regulate growth, development, and metabolism Seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, dairy products
Selenium Antioxidant Meats, seafood, grains
Copper Part of many enzymes; needed for iron metabolism Remove featured image Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, organ meats, drinking water
Manganese Part of many enzymes Widespread in foods, especially plant foods
Fluoride Involved in formation of bones and teeth; helps prevent tooth decay Drinking water (either fluoridated or naturally containing fluoride), fish, and most teas
Chromium Works closely with insulin to regulate blood sugar(glucose) levels Unrefined foods, especially liver, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, nuts, cheeses
Molybdenum Part of some enzymes Legumes; breads and grains; leafy greens; leafy, green vegetables; milk;liver

Other trace nutrients known to be essential in tiny amounts include nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.