Dietary Minerals

See also: Vitamins

Minerals are naturally occurring elements and are therefore found on the periodic table.  The body uses minerals for some important functions - some are necessary for a healthy body and mind.

This page provides a brief description of the most important minerals that our bodies need. 

The page also indicates foods that are known to be high in certain minerals, this is however, not always accurate.  Plants and animals get their majority of minerals from the soil on which they are grown or raised – if the soil in a particular region is rich in one type of mineral then this is more likely to be found in higher concentrations in plants and animals from that region.   

Most minerals are required in tiny quantities but they can still have a significant effect on health and well-being.

This page is for information only

If you think you may be deficient in a certain mineral then you should be properly diagnosed by a health care professional, self-diagnosis can be dangerous. 

Most people get their daily minerals from eating a well-balanced, varied diet including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Alphabetical List of Mineral Nutrients:

Boron (B)

Boron can be found in many fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Boron is needed by the body in tiny quantities.    Boron helps the body to use both calcium and magnesium effectively.  Boron is thought to be useful in bone development and maintenance, muscle development and strength and can help alleviate problems associated with Vitamin D deficiency. Boron may also help to prevent arthritis.

Calcium (Ca)

Calcium is found in milk and other dairy products including cheese and yoghurt, lower fat dairy products contain more calcium as less of their volume is taken up with fat.  Nuts, seeds, oily fish and dark green vegetables can also be rich sources of calcium.

Calcium is required for the production and upkeep of bones and teeth.  Calcium also plays key roles in nerve signalling, muscle contraction, as well as controlling levels of some hormones.  Too much calcium is dangerous and can lead to serious problems like stroke and heart attack whereas too little can cause muscle cramps, numbness in the extremities and abnormal heartbeats.

Chromium (Cr)

Chromium helps the body breakdown fat, carbohydrates and some hormones like insulin.  Chromium is also fundamental in the body’s production of some fatty acids and cholesterol – essential for brain function.   Needed in small quantities and common in many foods, we get most of our chromium through meat, fish, whole grains, fruit and vegetables.

Cobalt (Co)

Cobalt is one of the elements found in vitamin B12.  Helping with the production of red blood cells cobalt is needed in small quantities in our diet. (More about Vitamins

Copper (Cu)

Copper is needed by the body to make healthy haemoglobin (red blood cells) and bones.  Copper is also necessary for effective healing of wounds as it helps the blood to clot, for the colouring or pigmentation of hair and fertility.  There is a correlation between copper and levels of certain fat in the blood, especially cholesterol, the more copper the less cholesterol and vice-versa.   However you should only increase your copper intake if you are told by a health-care professional that you have a deficiency. 

Copper is stored in tiny amounts in the body and therefore does not need to be replenished every day. As well as from natural sources such as lamb, liver, oysters, nuts, cherries, whole grains, seeds, and many fruit and vegetables traces of copper may be found in water supplies using copper pipes or  transferred to the body via copper cooking implements and pans.

Fluorine (F)

Fluorine is good for the teeth, helping to prevent and even reverse tooth decay and is found in many toothpastes and mouthwash products. 

Fluorine is also added, sometimes controversially, to the water supply mainly in USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and parts of Europe including the UK, Ireland and Spain.  Fluorine can also be naturally present in water supplies in varying levels - sometimes water is treated to remove excess fluorine.   People have speculated that adding fluorine to water would cause health problems, cancer being a particular concern, however, apart from a discolouring of the teeth at high levels, there is no evidence that fluorine is toxic.    As fluorine is found naturally or added to fresh water it is also present in many foods.

Iodine (I)

Iodine helps in the production of thyroid hormones.  These hormones help your body to keep a healthy metabolism, digesting food thoroughly and at the right speed.  Iodine may also help prevent certain cancers.  Good sources of Iodine include sea fish other seafood, cereals and grains depending on the amount of naturally occurring iodine in the soil where they were grown.

Iron (Fe)

Iron an important nutrient helping to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.  A lack of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, a potentially serious condition, which may include some of the following symptoms: tiredness, feeling faint and being easily made breathless, heart palpitations, fragile nails, hair loss and in extreme cases heart failure.  Iron deficiency anaemia occurs most commonly in women during heavy menstruation and in pregnancy and can usually be easily corrected with iron supplements.

Manganese (Mn)

Manganese is an essential element useful in the formation of bone and performing functions in the pituitary gland, liver, pancreas, kidney.  Manganese also aids the breaking down of carbohydrates, cholesterol and amino acids in the body.   Manganese is found in whole grains, many fruits and vegetables and tea.

Molybdenum (Mo)

Pronounced mol-ib-de-num, molybdenum is found in many foods, including liver, eggs, green beans, sunflower seeds, lentils, cucumbers and whole grains – the amount of molybdenum found in foods is dependent upon the area in which they were grown.   Molybdenum plays some key roles in the body, including enabling enzymes to function.  Enzymes are large molecules that increase the speed of chemical reactions within the body without being changed themselves in the process.

Molybdenum can help protect against certain cancers, but in high doses can also interfere with the body’s ability to process copper. 

Nickel (Ni)

Nickel is needed in very small quantities in the body and its exact purpose is unclear.  However having too much or too little nickel can cause problems.  A deficiency can lead to depression, hypotension, liver disease and anaemia.  People with nickel deficiency can also have high blood sugar.   Too much nickel on the other hand can mean low blood sugar levels and increased risk of chest pains (angina) and asthma.  Nickel is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, cocoa powder and dark chocolate as well as many other foods.

Selenium (Se)

Selenium is needed, in very small amounts, as part of our daily diet.  Selenium protects your body’s cells from damage caused by oxidisation it helps to strengthen the immune system and supports thyroid function for a healthy metabolism.  Selenium can also help keep your hair and nails looking good.

Selenium occurs naturally in many foods – selenium levels in foods are dependent on the naturally occurring selenium levels in soil and therefore vary by geographic location.  Brazil Nuts are particularly high in Selenium but the element can also be found in some cereals, meat, fish – especially shrimp, tuna and salmon, mushrooms, and eggs.  Eating one Brazil nut a day as part of a healthy balanced diet will keep your selenium levels topped up.

Silicon (Si)

Although rarely written about as an essential mineral, silicon plays some important roles in the body.  Silicon helps to make bone, blood vessels, cartilage, tendons and strong nails.  Silicon also helps the skin to remain flexible and avoid premature ageing.

Being the most abundant element in the soil, silicon is present in many foods especially whole grains, sugar, fresh herbs, salad greens and cucumbers.  Areas of hard drinking water may also be a good source.

Sodium (Na)

Most modern diets provide sodium in levels far higher than needed by the body due to the amount of sodium chloride (salt) contained in processed and manufactured foods.  Salt is made up of approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the average daily American diet contains around 3,400 mg of sodium.  The body needs only around 1,500 mg of sodium (less than a teaspoon of salt) a day.  The sodium helps regulate the amount of water in cells, control the overall fluid balances in the body and help keep nerves and muscles working correctly. 

Sodium chloride or salt intake has an effect of blood pressure; high salt diets increase blood pressure whereas reduced sodium intake can help lower blood pressure.  High blood pressure can result in serious health problems including heart and kidney disease.

Vanadium (V)

Vanadium is needed in only tiny amounts in the body.  Most people get enough vanadium from the food they eat and vanadium deficiency is very rare. Vanadium supplements are usually not recommended as high levels can be toxic.  Vanadium is essential for proper growth and development of bones.

With the help of ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’ many people believe that spinach is a good source of iron – it is, however spinach also contains iron absorption-inhibiting substances  that render most of the iron in spinach unusable by the human body.  Tea and coffee also contain substances that can make it harder for the body to absorb iron.   Good sources of iron include: liver (and liver pâté), fortified breakfast cereals, kale, nuts, beans and whole grains.

Zinc (Zn)

Zinc is an essential mineral and of paramount importance to health.  Zinc deficiency is a huge problem in developing nations and it is estimated that zinc deficiency affects around two billion people.  In children, lack of zinc can hinder natural growth and sexual maturity, increase the likelihood of developing infections and can cause diarrhoea.   In adults, Zinc deficiency is usually due to inadequate diet.  There are many symptoms of zinc deficiency, these can include: depressed growth, diarrhoea, impotence, hair loss, eye and skin lesions, reduced appetite, reduced concentration and other brain functions and a weaker immune system.

Zinc is present in many foods, including meat – especially red meats, seeds and nuts, seafood, cocoa powder and dark chocolate.  Zinc supplements are widely available and are sometimes recommended for people on vegetarian and vegan diets.