Just like every other essential nutrient taken in our body, minerals also play an important role in a healthy individual. They are essential for the growth of the human body even though they are required in few quantities. In the context of nutrition, a mineral can be defined as a chemical element required as an essential nutrient by organisms to perform functions necessary for life.
Keeping aside the external mineral input in our body, the four major structural elements present in the human body by weight are oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. These are also considered to be major minerals. These four elements compose about 96% of the weight of the human body.
Minerals being mostly elements, cannot be synthesized biochemically by living organisms. Plants acquire minerals from the soil. Most of the minerals humans consume are from plants, animals, and water. Water is an exponential source of minerals. The five major, much-required minerals are said to be calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
The chemical minerals ingested by organisms are mostly simple compounds. Plants absorb minerals that are dissolved in the soil, which are in turn ingested by herbivores and omnivores that consume them, and in such a way that this hierarchy keeps moving up in the food chain.
In our food chain, bacteria and fungi play an important role in the weathering of essential minerals for their nutrition as well as for other species. For example, minerals like cobalt are absorbed by organisms for their subsequent nutrition only after processing them into complex molecules by bacteria. Such a process involves minerals that are used by animals and microorganisms for creating mineralizing structures such as bone, seashells, eggshells, exoskeletons, and mollusk shells, and this is called biomineralization.
Most human beings acquire their essential amount of minerals through a variety of healthy foods. In certain cases alone, doctors might recommend a mineral supplement or even ask them to reduce the intake of certain minerals. For example, people with chronic kidney disease need to limit foods that are high in potassium. There are usually 2 types of minerals required by the body i.e., Macrominerals and Trace Minerals.
Macrominerals are required by our body in larger quantities. Hence most of the healthy diet criteria will involve foods rich in these minerals as they need to be taken externally. Some of them could also be consumed through drinking water. The essential macrominerals required by our body are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur.
Trace minerals are required by the body in fewer quantities or trace quantities. Hence they are also present in foods in very few quantities. They include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, and selenium.
Common Macrominerals For Our Body
Being one of the most common and essential minerals, calcium is found in almost every healthy food. Milk and other dairy products, nuts, dates, broccoli, parsley, canned fish with bones, mustard, and all sorts of greens are good sources of dietary calcium. It helps in the strong build of bones and teeth.
Additionally, calcium is essential for the contraction of our muscles, blood clotting, nerve transmission, cell signaling, and regulation of metabolism. Almost all calcium in the body is stored in bones and teeth, giving them structure and hardness. They also contribute to hormone regulation and in keeping up a steady heartbeat.
The primary source of dietary sodium is table salt. However, overconsumption of this could lead to diseases which is why table salt is taken in moderate amounts. It is required for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction.
Sodium also works as a healthy electrolyte and most of the sodium in our body is found in blood and lymph fluid. Other than table salt, soy sauce, milk, bread, vegetables, and unprocessed meat are good sources of sodium. Unhealthy processed foods can have large amounts of sodium.
Phosphorus is one of the very few minerals that are found in every cell of our body. It is required for building and repairing functions of teeth and bones, maintaining acid-base balance in our body, and muscle contraction. It can be obtained from diets including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and processed foods like soda.
Magnesium acts as a co-factor in several enzymatic reactions and is required for the synthesis of DNA, it is also an essential antioxidant for our body in the form of glutathione. It is found in our bones and supports the life system of bones, teeth, immunity, and muscle contraction as well. Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, seafood, good dark chocolates, and hard water are rich sources of dietary magnesium.
Again potassium along with other minerals supports the fluid balance system and muscle contraction along with nerve impulse conduction. It majorly supports brain health and its functioning. Meats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are good sources of dietary potassium.
Chloride mainly helps in the formation of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, for digestion and to sustain neutrality in the body. Chloride in association with sodium maintains the fluid balance of the body. It can be acquired from consuming table salt in moderate amounts, tomatoes, celery, and leafy vegetables like lettuce.
It is mainly found in protein molecules. Sulfur has antibacterial properties which help fight acnecausing bacteria in the skin. Being a part of protein also helps in repairing DNA damage. Seafood, legumes, soya beans, black beans, kidney beans, milk, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and all such protein-rich foods are also vital sources of sulfur.
Common Traceminerals For Our Body
Despite being a trace mineral, iron is extremely important for the overall working of the human body. Starting with its major function, it helps in the formation of hemoglobin, the red pigment in red blood cells which helps in the transportation of oxygen across the body via the bloodstream.
Iron is a part of the hemoglobin molecule forming ferriprotoporphyrin molecule. Iron supports leukocytes(WBC) as well in providing immunity to our bodies. It also supports the neural transmission process.
Every kind of red meat, fish, shellfish (especially clams), poultry, egg yolks, red vegetables like beetroot, leafy greens, dried fruits mainly dates, fortified cereals, and iron-enriched bread are the best sources of required dietary iron intake.
Manganese always pairs up with protein and carbohydrates and it helps in the breakdown of cholesterol and cell division. It supports and enhances the function of vitamin K in promoting blood clotting. It also helps sufficiently in the production of enzymes. All kinds of plant-based foods contain manganese, soybeans, rice, nuts and whole grains are the richest ones among them.
Copper supports highly in energy production and the synthesis of ATP in the mitochondria. It also facilitates iron uptake from the gut through metabolism and supports the production of enzymes. It can be acquired from pure dark chocolates, legumes, nuts, drinking water, and organ meats.
Regulating the most crucial thyroid levels of the human body, iodine can be found in thyroid hormone. It helps in the overall growth and development of our body and enhances metabolism. Iodine is also a major component of a healthy mental state as well as menstrual health. Seafood is the major source of iodine, iodized salts can also be found for the same. Other than these two foods grown in iodine-rich soil, bread and dairy products are good sources of iodine.
This mineral aids in cell division, immunity, and wound healing. It is also a part of many enzymes needed for making protein and genetic material and has a function in taste perception. Oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains provide major quantities of zinc.
Cobalt forms part of the structure of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 has several important functions including making red blood cells and releasing energy from the food we eat. Fish, nuts, green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach, cereals, such as oats are all rich in cobalt
It is involved in the formation of bones and teeth and helps prevent tooth decay. Can be obtained from fluoridated or naturally containing fluorine drinking water, fish, and tea.
It acts as a beneficiary antioxidant. Selenium helps prevent oxidative damage to the cells. It is also very important for the metabolism of the thyroid hormone. Brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats are good sources of selenium.
Multivitamin/ Mineral Supplements
Multivitamin/mineral supplements contain a combination of vitamins and minerals. They sometimes have other ingredients, such as herbs. They are also called multis, multiples, or simply vitamins. Multis help people get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals when they cannot or do not get enough of these nutrients from food.
Functions And Deficiency of Minerals
Both macro and trace minerals are extremely important for the functioning of the body. They support human core functioning which includes bone and tooth health, energy production, nerve, and muscle function, and immune health.
The deficiency of any one of them could fail the human system. A calcium deficiency makes bone fragile and easy to fracture. Potassium deficiency on the other hand can directly lead to stroke, cause irregular heartbeats, swelling of blood vessels – edema, or even brain damage.
Phosphorus deficiency can cause bone diseases and growth restriction in children, whereas iodine deficiency can cause goiter and menstrual health issues such as PCOS or pregnancy-related problems. Iron deficiency can cause anemia and fatigue. Hence consuming a balanced diet consisting of all the minerals is important for a healthy life.