Essential minerals are as important as vitamins for your health. These essential minerals help your body to perform its functions. Your body requires essential minerals such as calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and sodium to execute tasks like contracting muscles, balancing fluids, carrying oxygen, building protein, and many others.
Without essential minerals, you risk deficiencies that can lead to anemia, brittle bones, fatigue, and weakened immune systems.
Unfortunately, obtaining essential minerals is more difficult than eating a varied, healthy diet. Minerals are in the soil, rocks, and water, where plants or animals absorb them. When you consume vegetables, fruit, and meat, you ingest these minerals. However, the availability of minerals varies. While iron is found in various vegetable sources, vegetarian-based iron sources tend to be less available for absorption. Additionally, the availability of minerals found in vegetable sources usually lacking because of depleted soil.
Due to modern farming practices, pesticides, and the focus on growing bigger, more attractive-looking produce, most produce aren’t as rich in nutrition as a century ago.
As such, knowing what to look for when it comes to dietary support of essential minerals is critical. One option is looking for products rich in essential minerals. Locally grown organic produce is free of pesticides and has the highest mineral content. (1)
What are 5 Critical Minerals?
While all essential minerals are needed to perform various tasks in our bodies, there are several minerals that tend to be the most critical for various reasons.
Calcium serves several roles in your body besides healthy teeth and bones. Calcium is also necessary for blood clotting, heartbeat regulation, nerve function, and proper muscle contraction. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body.
While most people know that you can find calcium in dairy products, various plant, legume, and nut sources are also rich in calcium. Sesame seeds, for example, contain 9% of the RDA of calcium per tablespoon, while white beans have 13%. Other good sources include cooked collard greens and kale. (2)
Iron is well-known for its role in blood production. Along with aiding in cognitive function, iron forms hemoglobin required to transport oxygen throughout your body. Iron deficiency is common, and symptoms are feeling tired due to anemia, irritability, shortness of breath, and even a condition known as pica which gives you the urge to eat clay, dirt, or paper.
Luckily, finding iron-rich food sources isn’t difficult. A variety of plants, including spinach, lentils, and quinoa, contain iron. Other sources like grass-fed beef and organ meats, particularly liver, are also high in iron.
Suppose those food sources aren’t readily available to you. In that case, high-quality iron dietary support is helpful, especially if you are at risk for iron deficiency, including pregnant women, menstruating women (due to monthly blood loss), and high-training athletes.
Knowing when to take iron can go a long way toward reversing iron deficiency. Avoid taking dietary support near mealtimes and especially when drinking coffee or tea. Additionally, consuming vitamin C simultaneously — or, for example, enjoying an orange or crunching on vitamin C-rich bell peppers — can increase absorption as non-heme iron binds to vitamin C to become more bioavailable to the body. (3)
Magnesium works similarly to calcium in many ways: building strong bones and teeth, regulating blood sugar, and helping nerves contract. Low magnesium levels are associated with several diseases, including Alzheimer’s, hypertension, and even migraine headaches.
Our bodies require roughly 300-400 mg of magnesium per day. Magnesium is in almonds, black beans, dark chocolate, spinach, and tofu, but topical magnesium—either through high-quality lotions or Epsom salts–is especially well absorbed. (4)
Most people require at least 100mg of potassium per day, and likely more for those who exercise heavily. Potassium helps to maintain fluid balance and regulate the heart’s electrical activity.
Potassium requirements are relatively high. Adults should aim for 4,700 mg per day. While these amounts seem high, potassium sources are relatively easy to find. Bananas, lentils, squash, and raisins are good sources. Apricots, in particular, are packed with potassium, providing nearly one-third of your daily intake.
Potassium deficiencies are relatively uncommon but can cause an increased risk for kidney stones and high blood pressure. (5, 6)
Zinc is another essential mineral found in poultry, red meat, and shellfish. However, you can absorb zinc from legumes, nuts, oatmeal, and tofu. While zinc deficiencies are relatively uncommon in the developed world, some people may be at higher risk for low zinc levels; these include vegans and vegetarians, those with restrictive diets or eating disorders, and those with gastrointestinal disorders. Symptoms of zinc deficiency are a shortened stature and the inability to taste flavors.
Zinc is important for the immune system, healing wounds and reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases. While food sources are a good option for those seeking more zinc, more dietary support can be helpful. Be sure not to overdose on zinc as excessive zinc can interfere with copper absorption, potentially leading to another deficiency. (7)
Other Important Daily Minerals
In addition to the essential minerals listed above, several other essential minerals are important too. These include phosphorus, sodium, and trace minerals, including chromium, copper, manganese, and selenium. Most of these are readily available with RDA (recommended daily allowances) reached within one meal. Several of these essential minerals are found in a few specific plant foods. (8)
Chromium isn’t well-known but can aid in insulin sensitivity. Since the mineral is needed in very small amounts, it’s best to get it strictly from food sources. Options for chromium-heavy foods include green beans and tomatoes. (9)
Copper supports the production of red blood cells and has a role in a healthy immune system. As noted above, overdosing on iron can lead to a copper deficiency. Along with shellfish and liver, spirulina, blue-green algae, contains high amounts. (10)
Manganese is necessary for brain and bone health and blood sugar regulation. Fortunately, you can find an abundance in whole grains, like rice and quinoa, and nuts. Additionally, leafy green vegetables, including kale, also contain the essential mineral. (11)
Phosphorus helps form bones and teeth and plays an important role in how the body uses carbohydrates and fats. It also helps the body make protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues. Phosphorus also helps the body make ATP, a molecule the body uses to store energy.
Phosphorus works with the B vitamins. It also helps with the following: (12)
- Kidney function
- Muscle contractions
- Nerve signaling
- Normal heartbeat
Selenium works to lower the risk for certain diseases, reduce oxidative stress, and is essential for thyroid health. Getting the RDA requirements for selenium can be accomplished by simply consuming 2-3 Brazil nuts a day. (13)
Sodium is an electrolyte, which is a mineral that the body needs in relatively large amounts. Sodium helps to maintain fluid levels, contracts muscles, and affects blood pressure.
The body obtains sodium through food and drink and loses it primarily in sweat and urine. Healthy kidneys maintain a consistent sodium level in the body by adjusting the amount excreted in your urine. As you age, your body is less able to maintain fluid and sodium balance for several reasons: (14, 15)
Changes in the kidneys — Aging kidneys may become less able to reclaim water and electrolytes from the urine, and, as a result, more water may be excreted in the urine.
Decreased thirst — As you age, you sense thirst less quickly or less intensely and may not drink fluids when needed.
Drugs — Many people take drugs for high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disorders that can make the body excrete excess fluid or magnify the ill effects of fluid loss.
Less fluid in the body — In older people, the body contains less fluid. Only 45% of body weight is fluid in older people, compared with 60% in younger people. This change means that a slight loss of fluid and sodium, resulting from a fever or from not eating and drinking enough, can have more serious consequences.
Daily Essential Minerals and their Function
Generally, as a society, you accept that minerals are essential for everyday bodily functions. Unfortunately, you may think you’re getting what you need from your food, but you may not. It is easy to get overwhelmed trying to memorize all the essential minerals and the best sources to get them.
To simplify, remember these two things:
First, next time you go shopping, go to the organic produce section and select a variety of organic, plant-based, whole foods.
Second, as you look for additional sources of minerals, go beyond mineral water and find essential minerals because they are the most available and absorbable.