Minerals are inorganic elements (such as iron or zinc) that come from the earth, soil, and water and are absorbed by plants.  Animals and humans absorb these minerals from the plants they eat.   Like vitamins, these naturally occurring micronutrients are essential for a healthy life.  Over twenty dietary elements are necessary for mammals and several more for various other types of life.  Seven are major dietary elements:  calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium.  Other "trace" or minor dietary elements are also necessary for human and animal life including iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, molybdenum, iodine, and selenium.  Ultra-trace amounts of some elements (e.g., boron and chromium) are also known to have a role in health.

Chelated minerals are minerals that have been combined chemically with amino acids to form “complexes.” You will see products labeled as chelated boron, chelated calcium, chelated chromium, etc.  Chelated minerals are used for supporting normal growth, building strong muscles and bones, and improving immune system function and overall health.  Sometimes chelated minerals are marketed as superior to other mineral supplements, with claims that chelated minerals are used more easily by the body (more bioavailable) than non-chelated minerals

The table below shows the key minerals that have government-defined RDAs.  

Why this matters:

The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences also establishes RDAs and RDIs for mineral intake which can be found, along with RDAs for vitamins, at the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine.   Minerals also carry the same risks for interactions with prescription drugs or depletions from consuming prescription drugs

Name

Effects

Source

Useful Info

Boron

Boric Acid

Boron is used for bone health and the prevention of osteoarthritis.  Women sometimes use boric acid in a suppository form to treat yeast infections and some people also use boric acid as an astringent on the skin to prevent infection.

Plant:  Raisins, prunes, peanuts, honey, bananas, red apples, and broccoli.

« Boric acid is toxic if it is taken orally.

Calcium

The body needs calcium to maintain strong bones and prevent osteoporosis, for muscles to move, and for nerves to carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body.  Calcium is used to help blood vessels move blood throughout the body and to help release hormones and enzymes that affect almost every function in the human body.  Almost all calcium is stored in bones and teeth, where it supports their structure and hardness.

Plant:  Kale & other green leafy vegetables, broccoli and Chinese cabbage, nuts, seeds, thyme, oregano, dill, and cinnamon.  Most grains (such as bread, pasta, and unfortified cereals), while not rich in calcium, add significant amounts of calcium to the diet because people eat them often or in large amounts.

Animal:  Milk, yogurt, and cheese, fish with soft bones such as canned sardines and salmon

NOTE:  Calcium is added to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy and rice beverages, and tofu. To find out whether these foods have calcium, check the product labels.

« Calcium absorption is best when a person consumes no more than 500 mg at one time.  For example, a person who takes 1,000 mg/day of calcium from supplements should split the dose rather than take it all at once.

« The two main forms of calcium dietary supplements are carbonate and citrateCalcium carbonate is inexpensive but is absorbed best when taken with food. More expensive calcium citrate is absorbed well on either an empty or a full stomach.  People with low levels of stomach acid (common in people older than 50) absorb calcium citrate more easily than calcium carbonate.

Chloride / Chlorine

Chlorine and chloride are the same elements, but each exists in different states or in different combinations with different elements.   Chlorine is present in food and when found in the human body, it is almost entirely in the form of chloride. Chloride is used in maintaining water balance and is an essential component of gastric juice.   

Plant:  Chloride is found in many vegetables.   Foods with higher amounts of chloride include seaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and olives.

NOTE:  Most diets supply chloride in the form of salts (sodium chloride, NaCl).

 

« Persons on a severe no-sodium diet may find it necessary to obtain chlorine (chloride) from other sources.

Chromium

Chromium Picolinate

Chromium is a mineral that humans require in trace amounts.  The primary form biologically active and found in food is trivalent (chromium 3+).   Chromium is known to enhance the action of insulin, a hormone critical to the metabolism and storage of carbohydrate, fat, and protein in the body. 

Plant:  Whole grain products, some vegetables, and fruits such as broccoli, potatoes, garlic, basil, apples, bananas, green beans, grape juice, spices, and red wine.

Animal:  Beef, turkey breast.

NOTE:  Most foods provide only small amounts (less than 2 micrograms [mcg] per serving).

« Chromium picolinate is a nutritional supplement that works to increase the efficiency of insulin to optimal levels.  The most common usage for chromium picolinate is as a weight loss aid.

Certain medications may interact with chromium, especially when it is taken on a regular basis.

Copper

Copper is an essential trace mineral present in all body tissues, which plays a role in the formation of connective tissue, and in the growth and normal functioning of muscles and the immune and nervous systems. 

Along with iron, it is a critical component in the formation of red blood cells and influences the functioning of the heart and arteries, helps prevent bone defects such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, and promotes healthy connective tissues (hair, skin, nails, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels).

Plants:  Beans, whole grains, soy flour, wheat bran, almonds, avocados, garlic, oats, blackstrap molasses, beets and lentils, mushrooms, spinach, greens, seeds, raw cashews, raw walnuts, tempeh & barley.

Animal:  Liver and other organ meats, seafood.  Oysters are the richest sources of copper in nature.

NOTE:  Copper also enters the human body through drinking water distributed in copper pipes and by using copper cookware.  The copper content in food is often lost because of prolonged storage in tin cans and in foods that are high in acid content.

« Boron, vitamin C, selenium, manganese, and molybdenum can affect levels of copper in the body. Zinc can lower copper stores.  

Fluoride

Fluoride occurs naturally in the body as calcium fluoride, which is mostly found in bones and teeth.  Small amounts of fluoride help reduce tooth decay, especially in children, and may be used to treat conditions (such as menopause) that cause faster-than-normal bone loss.

Natural sodium fluoride is found in the ocean, so most seafood contains fluoride. Tea and gelatin also contain fluoride.

NOTE:  Almost all water contains some naturally occurring fluoride, but usually at levels too low to prevent tooth decay.  Many communities choose to adjust the fluoride concentration in the water supply to a level beneficial to reduce tooth decay and promote good oral health. This practice is known as community water fluoridation.

« Sources of fluoride have increased since the early 1960s when drinking water, food, and beverages prepared with fluoridated water accounted for nearly all fluoride intake.   Today, other sources include tooth-paste and mouth rinses, prescription fluoride supplements, and professionally applied fluoride products such as varnish and gels.

Iodine

Iodine is a mineral needed in the body to make thyroid hormones.  Hormones control the body's metabolism, contributes to proper bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy, and many other important functions.  Getting enough iodine is important for everyone, especially infants and women who are pregnant.  Iodine deficiency is uncommon in the United States and Canada.

Plant:  Some fruits and vegetables contain iodine; however, the amount depends on the iodine in the soil and in any fertilizer that was used.  Products made from grains (like bread and cereals) are major sources of iodine in American diets.  Iodine is also found in seaweed especially laminaria kelp.

Animal:  Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, along with fish, such as cod and tuna, seaweed, shrimp, and other seafood are generally rich in iodine.

NOTE:   Iodine is added to salt that is labeled as "iodized".  However, processed foods, such as canned soups, almost never contain iodized salt.

« Iodine supplements can interact or interfere with medicines including anti-thyroid medications such as methimazole (Tapazole®), which is used to treat hyperthyroidism, and ACE inhibitors used to control high blood pressure.

Iron

Iron is essential in hemoglobin, a type of protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body.  Doing so supports metabolism and is necessary for growth, development, normal cellular functioning, and synthesis of some hormones.    Because iron deficiency is associated with poor diet, poor absorption disorders, and blood loss, people with iron deficiency usually have a variety of nutrient deficiencies in addition to iron.

Plant:  Nuts, beans, vegetables, and fortified grain products.  In the United States, Canada, and many other countries, wheat and other flours and infant formulas are fortified with iron.

Animal:  Lean meat and seafood.

NOTE:  Dietary iron has two main forms: heme and nonheme.   Plants and iron-fortified foods contain nonheme iron only, whereas meat, fish, and poultry contain both heme and nonheme iron.

« Frequently used forms of iron in supplements include ferrous and ferric iron salts, such as ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, ferric citrate, and ferric sulfate. Because of its higher solubility, ferrous iron in dietary supplements is more bioavailable than ferric iron.

« Calcium might interfere with the absorption of iron, although this effect has not been definitively established. For this reason, some experts suggest that people take individual calcium and iron supplements at different times of the day.

Magnesium

Magnesium is important for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure and making protein, bone, and DNA.   Magnesium helps keep blood pressure normal, bones strong, and the heart rhythm steady. 

Plant:  Legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), fortified breakfast cereals, and other fortified foods.

Animal:  Milk, yogurt, and some other milk products

NOTE:  Whole food source of magnesium is best.  Magnesium can be lost during refinement and processing.

« Adults who consume less than the recommended amount of magnesium are more likely to have elevated inflammation markers.  Inflammation, in turn, has been associated with major health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Also, low magnesium appears to be a risk factor for osteoporosis.

Manganese

Manganese is an essential mineral involved in processing cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein, among other functions.  It may also be involved in bone formation.  Manganese is often used for weak bones (osteoporosis), a type of “tired blood” (anemia), and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Plant:  Nuts, legumes, seeds, tea, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables.

« Manganese is sometimes included with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride in multi-ingredient products promoted for osteoarthritis.

Molybdenum

Molybdenum is an essential mineral in trace amounts for human, animal, and plant health.  In humans and animals, it serves mainly as an essential cofactor of enzymes and aids in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.  Humans need only very small amounts of molybdenum.  Deficiency is very rare in humans.

Plant:  Legumes such as beans, lentils and peas as well as cereals and leafy vegetables

Animal:  Liver

NOTE:  The amount of molybdenum found in foods depends on both the food type and upon the soil in which the food grows.   In general, the typical American diet contains molybdenum levels well above the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA).

« Although molybdenum does not have a known toxicity level in humans, taking high concentrations of molybdenum in supplements may have adverse effects on copper levels by interfering with its absorption.

« Molybdenum is abundant in human tooth enamel and may have a role in lowering the risk of tooth decay.

Phosphorus

Next to calcium, phosphorus is the most abundant mineral, found in every cell of the body.  Calcium and phosphorus work closely together to build strong bones and teeth.  Phosphorus also helps filter out waste in the kidneys, plays an essential role in how the body stores and uses energy, and helps reduce muscle pain after a hard workout.   Phosphorus is needed for the growth, maintenance, and repair of all tissues and cells, and for the production of the genetic building blocks, DNA and RNA. Phosphorus is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, and zinc.

Plant:  Nuts, legumes, whole grains, hard potatoes, dried fruit, and garlic cloves.  Fruits & vegetables contain only small amounts of phosphorus

Animal:  Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, and other animal protein products are the best sources.

 

« Having too much phosphorus in the body is actually more common and more worrisome than having too little. Too much phosphorus is generally caused by kidney disease or by consuming too much dietary phosphorus and not enough dietary calcium.  Too much can cause diarrhea and calcification (hardening) of organs and soft tissue and can interfere with the body's ability to use iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

Potassium

Potassium helps build proteins, break down, and use carbohydrates, build muscle, maintain normal body growth, control the electrical activity of the heart and control the body's acid-base balance.  Low potassium is associated with a risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, and infertility.

Plant:  Swiss chard, lima beans, sweet & white potatoes, soybeans, spinach, pinto beans, lentils, avocado, kidney beans, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, winter squashes, nuts; citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bananas, kiwi, prunes, and apricots.

Animal:  All red meats and chicken, milk & yogurt; fish such as salmon, cod, flounder, and sardines

NOTE:  Dried apricots contain more potassium than fresh apricots.

« People with kidney problems, especially those on dialysis, should not eat too many potassium-rich foods and follow special diets provided by their clinicians.

Selenium

Selenium is a trace element and antioxidant important for reproduction, thyroid gland function, DNA production, and protecting the body from damage caused by free radicals and from infection.

Plant:  Whole grains, nuts especially Brazil nuts and walnuts

Animal:  Fresh and saltwater fish such as tuna cod, red snapper, herring; beef and poultry

NOTE:  The amount of selenium in plant foods depends on the amount of selenium in the soil where they were grown. The amount of selenium in animal products depends on the selenium content of the foods that the animals ate.  Also, selenium can be destroyed in food processing, so whole, unprocessed foods are the best sources.

« Selenium may interact with medicines and supplements, such as antacids, chemotherapy drugs, corticosteroids, niacin, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, and birth control pills.

In addition, Selenium supplements are associated with a risk of skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma), so people at high risk of skin cancer should not take these supplements.

Sodium

Sodium is needed for the body to work properly. The body uses sodium to control blood pressure and blood volume. Sodium is also needed for muscles and nerves to work properly.  Too much sodium has the potential to cause or exacerbate high blood pressure in some people or a build-up of fluid in people with congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, or kidney disease.

Plant:  Most plants, particularly beets and celery.

Animal:  Milk

NOTE:  Sodium occurs naturally in most foods. The most common form of sodium is sodium chloride, which is table salt.  Drinking water may also contain sodium, although the amount varies depending on the source.

« It is recommended that healthy adults limit their sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. Adults with high blood pressure should have no more than 1,500 mg per day. Those with congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and kidney disease may need much lower amounts.

Sulfur

Sulfur is a naturally occurring mineral that is the third most abundant mineral in the body after calcium and phosphorus.   It has numerous health benefits from maintaining healthy joints to boosting the immune system, including support for normal structure and function of proteins. Many amino acids (protein building blocks), vitamins, and mineral compounds also contain sulfur. 

 

Plant:  Legumes, garlic, onion, Brussel sprouts, asparagus, kale, wheat germ.

Animal:  eggs, meat, poultry, and fish.

Sulfur is typically available in two forms: dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), which can be applied to the skin for arthritis, shingles, and some skin disorders*; and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), which is taken internally as a supplement for arthritis and, in conjunction with other nutrients, may aid immunity and help with relief of nerve pain and numbness, and joint pain.

« DMSO should not be taken internally except under a doctor's supervision.   Side effects of taking DMSO internally include headache, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral found in cells throughout the body.   It helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses, helps wounds heal, and is important for proper senses of taste and smell. The body also needs zinc to make proteins and DNA, the genetic material in all cells. During pregnancy, infancy, and childhood, the body needs zinc to grow and develop properly.

Plant:  Fortified breakfast cereals, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

Animal: Red meat, poultry, seafood such as crab and lobsters.  Oysters are the best source of zinc.  Dairy products provide some zinc.

« Research shows that zinc absorption in humans can be improved by combining (chelated) zinc with picolinic acid.

 

Words to Remember

BIOAVAILABLE

The degree and rate at which the active ingredients in a nutritional supplement are absorbed into the body in combination with the extent to which the nutrients can be used by the body.

 

CHELATED

Chelation is the way that molecules bind together, in particular the way that minerals are combined with amino acids to form complexes, e.g., chelated calcium, chelated chromium, etc. Some manufacturers claim that chelated minerals are more bioavailable to the body.

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