Essential minerals may not get as much attention as macronutrients like carbs and protein, but they’re just as important in the long run. Even though they come from food, they perform certain vital functions in our bodies.
Essential Minerals: What are they?
When we talk about a balanced diet, we always hear about the essential minerals that our bodies need. But what is it that’s so special about these substances?
Also known as micronutrients, they play a vital role in our bodies along with proteins, carbs, fat, and vitamins. Our bodies need all of these things to function properly and regulate metabolic processes. And each one has a different function and role to play in the body.
What’s special about micronutrients is that our bodies don’t produce them on their own. A varied and balanced diet is the only way to get what you need. Everything you need can be found in a variety of foods, both animal- and plant-based.
Micronutrients and trace minerals: What’s the difference?
If you’ve ever analyzed the nutrition info on a product, then you’ve probably noticed that both micronutrients and trace minerals are usually listed. But what’s the difference?
Trace minerals are minerals that our bodies only need in small amounts. That doesn’t mean they’re less important, though. For example, iodine is a trace element and it’s essential to the formation of thyroid hormones.
On the other hand, micronutrients are present in high concentrations in the body (at least 50 milligrams per kilogram). That means our bodies need larger quantities of them to be able to function properly.
What are the micronutrients and what are their functions?
The essential minerals or micronutrients are calcium, potassium, magnesium, chlorine, phosphorus, sodium and sulfur.
The trace elements are chromium, iron, iodine, copper, manganese, selenium and zinc. If they are missing from your diet, you may experience deficiency symptoms, metabolic disorders, or even physiological damage. However, an overdose of trace elements is also not recommended because it could poison you.
There are also some trace elements whose biological function has not yet been proven. Basically, there’s not yet any solid proof that we need them.
As for how they function, here’s the first thing you need to know: Micronutrients are vital to the body and are pillars of our good health. They all have specific functions to fulfill, but they also have certain functions in common. In the table below, we break down the different functions of each nutrient:
Daily recommended dose (for adults)
Important for: Healthy blood vessels, blood pressure, clotting and heart function, blood cells, stabilization of the skeletal system, bones and teeth formation, hormone release.
Important for: water balance, acid-base balance, gastric acid production and maintenance of osmosis.
Important for: hormone release, protein and glycogen formation, maintenance of membrane potential and regulation of water balance and blood pressure.
Important for: bones and teeth, enzymes and energy-rich phosphate compounds, storage and release of hormones and blood clotting
300 to 400 milligrams
Important for: absorption and transport of nutrients, regulation of water balance and acid-base balance
Important for: energy metabolism and acid-base balance. It is a component of bone molecules and DNA.
Important for: metabolic processes (especially bone metabolism) and cell structure. Studies outside the body indicate an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect.
Sulfur requirements are covered by an adequate supply of sulfur-containing amino acids (cystine, cysteine, methionine).
Note: These are reference values that may vary depending on body weight. Also note that the recommended daily intake of minerals may vary for children, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly.
Micronutrients and vitamins: a symbiosis
There’s a symbiosis happening between micronutrients and vitamins that every human being relies on. Their union is our strength.
Vitamins and minerals, both of which belong to a group of micronutrients, are involved in important body processes and are indispensable for our health. We’re better able to function when they are present in sufficient quantities and in a balanced relationship with each other.
Some tasks are impossible for our bodies to complete without cooperation between vitamins and minerals. For example, the two need to be together to produce neurotransmitters, which act as messengers for the nervous system. Without this cooperation, vitamins, minerals, and other vital substances would have a harder time disseminating into our bodies.
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The good news is that anyone who eats “normally” or follows a so-called “balanced” diet probably won’t need to be concerned about having a mineral deficiency. The foods that we are used to eating already contain all the nutrients that a healthy person needs.
In order to give you an idea of which minerals come from which foods, we’ve compiled a short overview of the main sources of different minerals below:
Calcium: Milk and dairy products are ideal sources of calcium. The same goes for certain green vegetables: broccoli, kale, spinach, arugula, chard and leek are all calcium-rich greens. It’s also found in hazelnuts and Brazil nuts, and even in mineral water.
Chloride: The main sources of chloride are processed foods with a high table salt content. Examples include bread, canned fish, and deli meats.
Potassium: There’s no shortage of potassium-rich food. This important nutrient is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables such as carrots, kohlrabi, tomatoes, avocados, peaches, apricots and bananas. Dried fruit, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, cashews, and dark chocolate are also high in potassium.
Magnesium: If you want to be sure you’re getting enough magnesium, eating veggies is never a bad way to go. Vegetables like beans and peas are high in magnesium as well as whole grain products.
Sodium: The body gets it from table salt and salty or processed foods.
Phosphorus: Eating legumes, milk, and milk products will ensure you meet your phosphorus demands.
Sulfur: Fish, eggs, dairy products and nuts are all foods that will help you reach your daily sulfur requirements.
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Micronutrients and Their Functions: our conclusion
As micronutrients, essential minerals are partly responsible for the proper functioning of our body.
Micronutrients are vital to our health.
Our bodies need micronutrients in large concentrations and must therefore be consumed on a daily basis. We only need small amounts of trace minerals, though.
We get micronutrients from food because the human body cannot produce them itself.
Generally speaking, a balanced diet is more than enough to cover our daily mineral requirement.
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Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (2020): Mineralstoffe