Dietary Minerals

See also: Vitamins

Minerals are naturally occurring elements and are therefore found on the periodic table. The body uses minerals for several important functions, and some minerals are essential 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. However, this is not always consistent. 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, 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 healthcare professional. Self-diagnosis can be dangerous.

Most people get their all the daily minerals they need from eating a well-balanced, varied diet including lots plenty 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. It helps the body to use both calcium and magnesium effectively. Boron is thought to be useful in bone development and maintenance, and muscle development and strength. It can also help alleviate problems associated with Vitamin D deficiency, and may have a role in preventing and mitigating the symptoms of arthritis.

Calcium (Ca)

Calcium is found in milk and other dairy products including cheese and yoghurt. 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, and controlling levels of some hormones. Too much calcium is dangerous and can lead to serious problems like stroke and heart attack. However, too little can cause muscle cramps, numbness in the extremities and abnormal heartbeats.

Chloride (Cl)

Chloride is important for regulating the amount of fluid and nutrients entering and leaving cells. This is no surprise, because it is usually found bound to sodium—which also has a role in fluid balance. Chloride also helps to maintain appropriate levels of acidity in the body, stimulates nerves and muscles, and facilitates the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide within cells.

Most people’s main source of chloride is salt, which is of course sodium chloride. Deficiencies of chloride are very rare, because of the amount of salt in most people’s diet. However, a deficiency can happen if you have a condition that results in excess loss of fluid, such as prolonged diarrhoea and vomiting.

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, and is therefore essential for brain function. It is needed in very small quantities and common in many foods. However, 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. 

It helps with the production of red blood cells, and is only needed in small quantities in our diet. (More about Vitamins)

Copper (Cu)

Copper is needed by the body to make haemoglobin (found in red blood cells) and bones. Copper is also necessary for effective healing of wounds because it helps the blood to clot, for the colouring or pigmentation of hair, and fertility. There is a correlation between copper and the levels of certain fats in the blood, especially cholesterol: higher copper levels are associated with lower cholesterol and vice versa. However, you should only increase your copper intake if you are told to do so by a healthcare professional.

Copper is stored in tiny amounts in the body and therefore does not need to be replenished every day. It is obtained from natural sources such as lamb, liver, oysters, nuts, cherries, whole grains, seeds, and many fruit and vegetables. Traces of copper may also be found where water is supplied through copper pipes and can also be 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 therefore added to many toothpastes and mouthwash products.

Fluorine is also added, sometimes controversially, to the water supply in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and parts of Europe including the UK, Ireland and Spain. Fluorine can be naturally present in water supplies in varying levels, meaning that paradoxically water is sometimes treated to remove excess fluorine. People have speculated that adding fluorine to water would cause health problems. However, apart from a discolouring of the teeth that occurs with a high intake of fluorine, there is no evidence that fluorine causes any problems. Fluorine is also found naturally 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, although the evidence for this is unclear. 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 in making haemoglobin, which is essential to carry oxygen around the body. A lack of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, a potentially serious condition. Symptoms of this include tiredness, feeling faint and becoming breathless easily, 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.

Thanks to ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’, many people believe that spinach is a good source of iron. This is true, but 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.

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 helps to break down carbohydrates, cholesterol and amino acids in the body. Manganese is found in whole grains, many fruits, 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 is thought to 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 can be associated with 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.

Phosphorus (P)

Phosphorus is the second-most abundant mineral in the body, after calcium—and the two work closely together. Both are important for strong bones and teeth: around 85% of phosphorus in the body is found in bones and teeth, with the rest in cells and other tissues. Phosphorus also plays a role in kidney function, and how the body uses and stores energy and some vitamins and minerals. It is also important in the growth, maintenance and repair of cells.

Phosphorus is found in milk, whole grains and protein-rich foods. A phosphorus deficiency may occur in people with certain conditions, such as diabetes and alcoholism, or conditions that make it hard to absorb nutrients, such as Crohn’s Disease. Symptoms of a phosphorus deficiency include anxiety, bone pain, fragile bones, stiff joints, fatigue, loss of appetite, weakness and weight change. Children with a deficiency often show slower growth and poor development of bones and teeth.

Potassium (K)

Potassium is necessary for the functioning of cells. It is involved in the regulation of heartbeat, ensures the correct functioning of muscles and nerves, and is also important for making protein and metabolising carbohydrate. It is also needed for the regulation of blood pressure, and higher dietary potassium intake is associated with a lower risk of stroke.

Potassium and sodium have complementary roles in the body. Potassium regulates the levels of fluid inside our cells, and sodium regulates the levels outside the cells.

Interestingly, it seems likely that the diets of our long-ago ancestors were considerably higher in potassium, and lower in sodium, than our diets today. Most Americans currently consume less than half the recommended daily amount of potassium. Potassium is found in many fruits and vegetables, including bananas, apricots, oranges, prunes, squashes and potatoes.

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. However, the levels in each food vary by geographic location because they depend on the naturally occurring selenium levels in soil. Brazil nuts are particularly high in selenium. 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)

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

Silicon is the most abundant element in the soil, and is therefore present in many foods, especially whole grains, sugar, fresh herbs, salad greens and cucumbers. 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 because of the amount of sodium chloride (salt) in processed and manufactured foods. Salt is made up of approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride by weight. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average American consumes around 3,400 mg of sodium per day, even though the body needs only around 1,500 mg of sodium (less than a teaspoon of salt) a day. Sodium helps to 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 and reducing sodium intake may 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 not usually recommended because high levels can be toxic. Vanadium is essential for proper growth and development of bones.

Zinc (Zn)

Zinc is an essential mineral for 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. Possible symptoms of zinc deficiency 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 meat, 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.