Minerals and what they do for you

Minerals play an important role in our body and support metabolism, human growth, blood formation, or the function of nerves and muscles.

They are important for a wide range of functions in the body ranging from generalised ones, such as electrolyte balance (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium) and bone formation (calcium and phosphorous), to very specific roles, such as in the synthesis of thyroid hormones (iodine) and haemoglobin (iron). In many instances, minerals interact with each other (eg copper and iron), with vitamins (eg calcium and vitamin D, selenium and vitamin E,) and with other dietary components (eg iron with protein).

A Balanced Diet Covers The Need For Minerals 

It is important that we are kept supplied with sufficient quantities of all essential minerals, as it is not possible for one mineral to take the place of another. If you eat a balanced, varied diet,this should present no problem.

What are the types of Minerals?

Depending on the amount the body needs, minerals are classified in two subgroups:

Macro minerals:Minerals needed in the diet in amounts greater than 100mg/day. These include: Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride and Sulphur.

Micro/trace minerals: Minerals needed in the diet in amounts less than 100mg/day. These include: Iron, Zinc, Iodine, Manganese, Selenium and Copper.

The following table will give you information about the reasons we need minerals and which foods contain them.

Mineral Important for… Plentiful in…
Calcium Building bones and teeth, blood clotting, nervous system function Milk, yogurt, cheese, green vegetables, Broccoli
Phosphorus Building bones, metabolism Milk, cheese, meat, fish
Sodium Fluid balance, nerve and muscle function Table salt, processed foods like chips, bakery, pickles, meats etc.
Potassium Fluid balance, transmission of nerve and muscle signals Potatoes, vegetables, bananas, dried fruit, pulses
Magnesium Building bones, energy metabolism, enzymes, nerve and muscle function Whole-grain cereal products, milk and milk products, green vegetables, berries, oranges, bananas
Iron Blood formation, oxygen transport in the blood Meat, egg yolk, Green leafy vegetables, jaggery, dried fruits
Iodine Synthesis of thyroid hormones Seafood, iodized salt
Fluorine Resistance of teeth to cavities, for hardening tooth enamel Fish, cereals, walnuts, black tea, mineral water
Selenium Cellular protection Liver, fish, meat, nuts, legumes, cereals
Zinc The body’s defences, wound healing Meat, dairy products , fish, whole grain cereals, nuts and pulses

Our need for minerals varies with age, gender, activity level, state of health and life stage. Even the climate and environment have an impact.In the high mountains, for example, the body makes more red blood cells and for this reason, needs an extra boost of iron. This is primarily found in meat and green leafy vegetables. But you should know: to make good use of the iron in plant-based foods, our body needs Vitamin C.The combination of cereal and fruit is ideal for this purpose. Many of us consume too little iodine. Always use iodised table salt for your own cooking and baking.

The extent to which minerals are absorbed depends on several factors. Included in these is the type of food containing the mineral, the type of other foods consumed during a meal, the age of the person and the extent to which the person is deficient in the mineral.
In general:

  • Minerals found in animal foods are better absorbed than those found in plant products

  • The presence of some minerals can  interfere with the absorption of others eg a high intake of   zinc can reduce the absorption of copper

  • The amount of mineral absorbed increases if there is a deficiency in the body. This is particularly true for iron absorption

Greater Amounts Of Minerals Through Gentle Food Preparation 

There are a host of minerals contained in our foods – and of course, many other valuable nutrients. Gentle preparation is recommended to make sure that these ingredients actually reach their destination. To accomplish this, you should thoroughly but only briefly wash fruit, vegetables and salad ingredients, and only cut them after washing. Another tip: keep the cooking time short and try to use the cooking water along with the minerals dissolved in the various preparations.