Minerals are tiny inorganic compounds with an enormous job. They are vital to the health and function of just about your entire body, from the regulation of your heartbeat to the formation of your bones.
So where do minerals come from?
First, plants absorb minerals from surrounding soil and water. Animals eat the plants. Then, people come along and eat both the animals and the plants. As food–be it plant or animal, is broken down in your body, your bloodstream absorbs its minerals, carries them around and deposits them where they’re needed.
Minerals can be divided into two groups: macrominerals, which your body needs in large quantities, including calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, potassium and sodium; and trace minerals, of which your body needs only tiny amounts, including chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.
Calcium, magnesium and phosphorous are all essential for the formation of your bones and teeth. Calcium also supports blood clotting, and helps keep your muscles and enzymes functioning normally. Magnesium, potassium and sodium support normal nerve and muscle function. Phosphoroushelps your body produce energy, and is a building block of your DNA. Chlorideand sodiumhelp keep your electrolytes and fluids balanced so you can stay hydrated.
All trace minerals–except for chromium—are components of hormones and enzymes that are required for your body’s metabolism. Although it’s not an enzyme or hormone component, chromium does support the metabolismof fats, sugars and carbohydrates in your body.It also enables insulin to function, which keeps your blood sugar under control.
Some trace minerals have other important functions aside from metabolism. The most essential trace mineral for your body’s health may be iron. Ironis a component of hemoglobin—the part of your red blood cells that carries oxygen to all of your body’s tissues. So, no iron, no oxygen–and no life.
Copperhelps form red blood cells, bone, and connective tissue. Fluorideand manganesearerequired for the formation of your bones, and—just like your mom always told you—you need fluoride to build strong healthy teeth.
Molybdenum promotes normal cell function and helps break down the sulfites in your food. When combined with vitamin E, selenium acts as an antioxidant. And zinc is necessary for healthy skin, wound healing and growth.
With all the hype about mineral supplements, you may wonder whether they’re right for you. The truth is that, unless you have a malabsorption disorder, a serious deficiency, or a specialized diet due to allergies, illness or preference, you can get all of the minerals you need through a balanced diet rich in whole grains, dairy products, meats, colorful fruits and vegetables and nuts, seeds and oils. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you will have to be careful to get enough iron—the best source of which is meat—and calcium, which is found most prominently in dairy products.