Minerals are natural compounds found in the diet. At least 15 minerals are currently considered essential for health, though it’s likely there are more you require*.
Minerals are usually divided into two areas:
We usually require more of these, or our bodies use them faster, or store them less well, meaning we need to consume them more regularly. These include:
- Iron (Fe) – found in meat/poultry, beans, watercress, lentils, and chickpeas. It is essential for the formation of red blood cells. Very important for menstruating women.
- Sodium (Na) – found in salt (no more than 6g per day) and is important for nerve transmission and cell integrity.
- Phosphorus (P) – found in meats, milk, and soya products and is important for the formation of DNA and cell function.
- Magnesium (Mg) – found in spinach, pumpkin seeds, mackerel, soya beans, and avocado. Is vitally important for energy production/metabolism.
- Calcium (Ca) – found in dairy products, almonds, sesame, quinoa, beans, broccoli and kale, and is vital for cell signalling and bone/tooth formation
- Potassium (K) – found in parsley, almonds, dried apricots, bananas, avocado, and soya beans. Is important for normal cell function.
No less important, but our bodies require less of them to function well. You don’t need to go out of your way to try and get more, but it is good to know what they are. These include:
- Zinc (Zn) – found in oysters, lobster, crab, meat, beans, seeds, and nuts. Is essential for enzyme function (affecting dozens of body processes).
- Copper (Cu) – found in shitake mushrooms, oysters, kale, sesame seeds, cashew nuts and chickpeas, and is essential for respiratory enzyme function.
- Selenium (Se) – found in brazil nuts, tuna, wholewheat, sunflower seeds, and meats, and is essential for thyroid function
- Molybdenum (Mo) – found in green beans, eggs, sunflower seeds, and lentils, and is important for biochemical reactions in the body and tooth enamel maintenance.
- Chromium (Cr) – found in black pepper, broccoli, oats, green beans, and tomatoes, and may be essential for metabolism
- Manganese (Mn) – found in mussels, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, wholewheat bread and butter beans, and is essential for wound healing, nutrient absorption and bone formation.
- Iodine (I) – found in seaweed (nori in sushi), cod, potato skin, prawns and tuna, and is essential for the production of thyroid hormones which control growth and metabolism
- Fluorine (F) – found in toothpastes, mouthwashes etc. It helps in bone formation, and prevents tooth decay
- Cobalt (Co) – found in wholegrains, seeds and nuts, and is essential for enzyme function and is an important component of B vitamins.
A note on farming…
The concentration of minerals in your food depends on how much was in the soil it grew from. As less intensive farming methods leave more minerals in the soil, cheaper products sometimes have less nutritional value. So it’s worth investing in good quality produce, if you want to be super healthy.
*As with any science, our knowledge of how the body works is constantly expanding. There may well be minerals that we consume that are essential for various functions, we just don’t know it yet.