Minerals are an essential part of a healthy diet.
Your body uses them to keep your bones, muscles and major organs working correctly.They also help your body to make enzymes, hormones and other chemicals that keep your key body systems functioning as they should.
There are two types of minerals – macrominerals and trace minerals.
While both types are essential, your body needs more significant amounts of macrominerals – including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulphur – to stay healthy.
Your body needs only smaller amounts of trace minerals, such as iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.
Most fresh foods, especially wholegrains, nuts, fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products, are rich in minerals. You can get most of the minerals you need by eating a healthy and varied diet.
Some health conditions can be caused or exacerbated by mineral deficiencies. Similarly, certain health conditions can be triggered by getting too much of a specific mineral – for example, people with kidney problems should avoid foods that are high in potassium.
However, if you’re worried you are not getting the minerals you need through your diet, natural supplementation can help top up any shortfall.
In this simple explainer, we take a closer look at the main dietary minerals, why they are important and how you can get your recommended daily allowance.
SODIUMSodium is one of the macrominerals. It’s responsible for regulating your body’s electrolyte balance and water content, while supporting nerve transmission and muscle contraction. It is also required to help your body absorb certain nutrients and water from the gut.
Sodium is found in table salt, soy sauce and many processed foods. Too much sodium is a risk factor for high blood pressure (hypertension), which can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke. A low salt diet may be recommended to treat hypertension.
CALCIUMCalcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It plays an essential role in several vital functions. Your body uses calcium to develop and maintain healthy bones and teeth. It helps to regulate your metabolism, control muscle contraction and aid proper blood clotting. It can also help lower blood pressure and boost your intestinal health.
Foods rich in calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products, fortified wholegrain cereals and dark, leafy greens such as kale and broccoli.
PHOSPORUSPhosphorus works alongside calcium to aid the healthy formation and development of bones and teeth. Around 80% of phosphorus in the body is stored in calcium salts in the skeleton. It is essential for maintaining healthy cell membranes and boosting energy metabolism.
Red meat, dairy products, fish, poultry, bread, rice and oats are all rich in phosphorus.
MAGNESIUMMagnesium is an essential mineral that supports the healthy development of all human tissues, especially bones and teeth. It works alongside calcium, phosphorus and sodium to support a host of key body systems, including nerve and muscle function, hormone secretion, DNA synthesis and enzyme activation.
Magnesium is present in plant-based and animal food sources, including green leafy vegetables, nuts, bread, fish, meat and dairy products.
POTASSIUMLike sodium, potassium is essential for fluid and electrolyte balance and supports normal cell and nervous system function. It can also help decrease blood pressure and offset the impact of excess sodium intake by flushing it through the urinary system.
Low blood potassium levels can lead to digestive issues, fatigue, impaired mental function and heart problems. However, high levels of potassium can be harmful to people who suffer from kidney problems.
Potassium is present in almost all foods, especially bananas, shellfish, nuts, seeds, pulses and milk.
IRONIron supports haemoglobin formation in red blood cells, which bind oxygen and transport it around the body. It also plays an essential role in supporting the immune system and is required for energy metabolism and removing foreign substances from the body.
Without dietary iron, your body’s iron stores can become depleted, leading to iron deficiency anaemia.
Iron is abundant in lean red meat but can also be found in cereals, vegetables, pulses, beans, nuts and fruit.
ZINCZinc plays a significant role in your metabolism and acts as a catalyst in a wide range of reactions in your body. It is essential for cell division, growth and tissue repair and reproductive health.
It also supports the immune system and plays a vital role in skin formation and wound healing.
If you’re a meat-eater, you’ll get around a third of your zinc intake from lean red meat.
However, it is also present in a wide range of other food sources, including milk, cheese, eggs, shellfish, wholegrain cereals, nuts and pulses.
IODINEIodine is an essential component of thyroxine and triiodothyronine, hormones that support the thyroid, regulate your metabolism and promote normal physical and mental development.
Iodine deficiency can cause a swollen thyroid gland and lead to fatigue, impaired mental function and weight management issues.
Sea fish, shellfish and seaweed are all rich in iodine, but the amount found in vegetables and cereal grains tends to depend on iodine levels in the soil where they were grown, which can vary wildly.
FLUORIDEFluoride plays a vital role in the mineralisation of bones and teeth. It also helps to protect the teeth from dental cavities and decay.
However, excess fluoride intake over the long-term can lead to brittle or crumbling teeth and the calcification of tendons and ligaments, which can cause bone, joint and muscle problems.
Fluoride is found in fluoridated water, which is usually sufficient to ensure you get the right amount without exceeding your recommended daily allowance. It is also added to toothpaste to help keep your teeth healthy.
SELENIUMSelenium is found in many antioxidants. It helps fight the damage done by harmful free radicals and protect the body from the effects of oxidative stress. Selenium also helps promote healthy thyroid, immune system and reproductive function.
It can be found in a wide range of foods but is particularly abundant in Brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.
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