Everything You Need to Know About Micronutrients (Part 3)
By Alyssa Kessel, RDN, LD, Expert Dietitian
Last month, I explained micronutrients – both fat soluble and water-soluble vitamins – and how to incorporate these vital nutrients into your diet. Building on those two posts, I am going to go into the third important micronutrient category: minerals.
What are minerals?
Minerals are essential nutrients that are needed in small amounts to keep you healthy. While they don’t give your body energy or calories, they do help with other essential functions. For example, minerals help:
- Maintain blood pressure, fluid, and electrolyte balance
- Bone health
- Make new cells
- Deliver oxygen to cells
- Contribute to normal muscle and nerve functions
These inorganic compounds are absorbed by plants, which are then eaten by people and animals. By eating nutrient-dense foods from the 5 food groups, you’ll have a mineral-rich diet. There are 16 total minerals, which are divided into 2 groups: major minerals and trace.
What are the major minerals?
Below is a brief rundown of each of the 7 major minerals, as well as a chart depicting the food sources you can incorporate into your diet.
This is the most abundant mineral in the body. It’s most known for its role in building strong bones and teeth, as well as preventing osteoporosis. Calcium is also essential for:
- Muscle contraction
- Nerve transmission
- Iron utilization
- Blood coagulation
- Pain relief
- Regulates the passage of nutrients in and out of cells
Your body needs chloride to form gastric juices (hydrochloric acid) that are secreted in the stomach. This mineral also works alongside sodium to help keep your body fluid in balance.
This mineral is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including:
- Muscle contraction
- Nerve impulses
- Blood sugar control
- Regulation of blood pressure
- Immune system health
Phosphorus is important for healthy bones and teeth. It also facilitates the production of proteins, which are needed for growing, maintaining, and repairing cells.
This macronutrient is necessary for heart health. While its primary function is to keep fluids balanced in blood and tissues, it’s also required for:
- Nerve impulse function
- Muscle contraction
- Controlling blood pressure
Sodium plays an essential role in keeping the fluids and electrolytes in our bodies balanced. It also helps:
- Regulate blood pressure
- Assist with acid-base balance
- Aid in muscle contraction
- Assist with transmission of nerve signals
Sulfur is an essential part of many amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. It keeps the blood clean and healthy, as well as promotes a healthy immune system.
Good sources of major minerals
What are the trace minerals?
Below is a brief rundown of each of the 7 trace minerals, as well as a dietary source chart.
This trace mineral is needed for the normal functioning of insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels. It’s also essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
This mineral is a component of many enzymes, and assists with:
- Energy production
- Iron metabolism and transport
- Healthy connective tissue
- Making of hemoglobin
Fluoride is known for its involvement in the formation of bones and teeth, as well as preventing tooth decay.
Iodine is critical in the formation of thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). These help regulate growth, development, and metabolism. Inadequate production of T3 and T4 can cause goiters (enlargement of the thyroid gland).
Iron is a vital component of hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells and carries oxygen throughout the body. This mineral is part of many proteins and enzymes, which makes iron essential for:
- Immune function
- Synthesis of DNA
A lack of dietary iron depletes iron stores in the body and can eventually lead to iron deficiency anemia.
This trace mineral not only helps in the formation of enzymes, but it’s also necessary for their activation. IT works as an antioxidant, helps develop bones, and heals wounds by increasing collagen production.
Molybdenum functions as a cofactor, which means it aids enzymes in triggering chemical reactions. More specifically, this mineral helps your body break down amino acids.
Selenium is a main component of antioxidants, and therefore protects the body against free radicals. It’s also required for immune function and the synthesis of thyroid hormones.
The major function of zinc is as a cofactor in numerous enzymes. It’s also key for:
- Normal growth and sexual maturation
- Immune system health and wound healing
- Taste and smell perception
- Neurological functions
- Making protein and genetic material
- Fetal development
Good sources of trace minerals
Your next steps
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