Minerals don’t have to be a mystery. At the request of BBC GoodFood, nutritionist Jo Lewin offers an overview of the most essential and tips on how to get them naturally.
The human body uses minerals for many things, including keeping bones and blood cells healthy.
Together with vitamins, they are fundamental components of enzymes and coenzymes.
If an essential mineral is missing, your body will not be able to function at 100%.
For example, zinc is necessary for the enzyme that activates vitamin A, which is vital for good vision. Without this enzyme, vitamin A is not used properly by the body. This deficiency can result in night blindness.
Calcium is important for the activity of many enzymes in the body and is essential for the development and maintenance of bones and teeth.
Furthermore, the contraction of muscles, the release of neurotransmitters, the regulation of heartbeat and blood clotting all depend on calcium.
It is possible that during growth, pregnancy and lactation a greater demand is required.
Calcium deficiency in children can cause rickets, while in adults it can contribute to high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
Consume three servings of dairy per day: three slices of cheese, one yogurt and a large glass of milk get the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI).
The best sources of calcium are dairy products, small-boned fish such as sardines and anchovies, green vegetables, nuts such as almonds and sesame seeds, tofu, and apricots.
You can also buy calcium-fortified bread, but it’s much better to get it from natural sources.
Phosphorus is one of the most necessary minerals, as it plays a role in energy metabolism, calcium absorption, and protein conversion for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues.
It is easy to find, it is present in most foods, including those rich in protein.
Food sources are meat, milk, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Magnesium is essential for activating many enzymes, muscle, and nerve functions.
When there is a deficiency, it is possible to experience muscle cramps, headaches, loss of appetite, insomnia, and a predisposition to stress.
Magnesium is abundantly present in whole foods (unprocessed, unrefined).
The best sources are: seaweed, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables like broccoli, nuts, cabbage, whole grains, and tofu.
Chromium is vital for glucose tolerance factor (FTG), a system of enzymes that works with insulin to absorb glucose into cells, regulating blood sugar levels.
You can exhaust yourself from the excess of refined sugars or products that contain white flour, and the lack of exercise.
Its absence would cause glucose intolerance.
It is present in brewer’s yeast, whole grains, potatoes, apples, turnips, and bananas.
It is present in every cell of the body and is essential for human life.
It plays a central role in the production of hemoglobin, present in red blood cells, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs.
It is also present in several key enzymes for energy production and metabolism, including DNA synthesis. Iron deficiency – the most common in the world – can lead to anemia.
A serving of red meat or sardines served with a dark green leafy vegetable such as kale will meet the RDI requirements.
It is also present in organ meats, egg yolks, and fortified cereals.
Selenium works with vitamin E to prevent free radical damage to cell membranes.
It is key to a healthy immune system, fertility, and thyroid function.
It also helps regulate blood pressure.
A few Brazil nuts or a shrimp sandwich made on whole wheat bread would provide the daily intake.
Other good sources are organ meats, shellfish, butter, avocado, and whole grains.
It is part of the more than 200 enzymes in the body.
It plays a role in more reactions than any other mineral.
Its adequate levels are necessary for a proper functioning of the immune system.
Its deficiency results in a greater susceptibility to contracting infections.
It is essential for the maintenance of vision, taste and smell.
It is present in fish, shellfish, red and lean meats, seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains.
It helps muscles and nerves work properly, reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems and high blood pressure, relieves fatigue, irritability and confusion.
Older people can suffer from excess of this mineral, as their kidneys lose the ability to eliminate it.
Potassium is present in many foods, especially in fruits such as mangoes or bananas and vegetables such as chard, mushrooms and spinach.
Sodium is a component of salt, which is naturally present in almost all the foods we eat.
Most people eat more salt than is good for their health. Adults are recommended to consume no more than 6 grams of salt a day (the equivalent of 2.5 grams of sodium).
Three-quarters of our salt intake comes from processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, soups, sauces, and other canned foods.
More tips and recipes on BBC GoodFood (