Minerals are a type of micronutrient. They can be divided into 3 groups: (1) macrominerals and (2) microminerals and (3) ultra-trace elements and represent up to ~5% of body weight.
Minerals perform a lot of functions, contributing to healthy growth and development as well as general health. Minerals help you maintain strong teeth and bones, healthy hormone levels and nerve function, efficient digestion and more.
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Different Kinds of Minerals
Macrominerals are present in the body in relatively large amounts and their requirements are the greatest. Macrominerals include calcium, sodium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, chloride and sulfur and have daily requirements of >100 mg.
Microminerals include zinc, copper, iron, and fluoride and have daily requirements of <15 mg.
Ultratrace elements include iodine, selenium, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, cobalt and boron and their daily requirements are in mcg (where 1 mcg is 0.001 mg).
Mineral Use in the Body
The bioavailability of minerals is the rate at which your body absorbs them from the food you eat. It makes a big difference when planning a healthy diet because the mineral content of specific foods is not necessarily all absorbed.
For example iron, chromium and manganese generally have low bioavailability while sodium, potassium, chloride, iodide, and fluoride have a high bioavailability. All this needs to be taken into account to ensure you are getting enough of every essential mineral.
Mineral Sources, Functions and Deficiencies
|Calcium||Dairy, dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, sardines, oysters||Bone mass gains and density||Low bone density|
|Chloride||Salt, seaweed, rye||Maintenance of blood volume and pressure||Fatigue, muscle weakness|
|Chromium||Oysters, liver, yeast, potatoes||Insulin action||Insulin resistance|
|Copper||Shellfish, chocolate, meat, legumes, whole grains, dried fruit||Energy production||Anemia, neutropenia, skeletal abnormalities|
|Fluoride||Drinking water, seafood||Incorporation in tooth enamel||Dental cavities|
|Iodine||Seafood||Synthesis of thyroid hormones||Goiter|
|Iron||Liver, seafood, lean meat, poultry, dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans||Red blood cell function, immune system, cognitive performance||Anemia|
|Magnesium||Nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables||Neuromuscular transmission – relaxation of muscles||Muscle spasms, tremors, nausea|
|Manganese||Whole grains, nuts, legumes||Formation of connective and skeletal tissues, growth and reproduction, carbohydrate and fat metabolism||Impaired growth|
|Molybdenum||Whole grains, legumes, milk and dairy, dark green leafy vegetables||Cofactor of enzymes||Neurological changes|
|Phosphorus||Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, dairy, nuts, legumes, whole grains||Energy production, strong bones and teeth||Neural, muscular, skeletal, hematologic and renal abnormalities|
|Potassium||Dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, bananas, orange fruit||Fluid balance, muscle and nerve contractions||Cramps, muscle weakness, abnormal heart palpitations|
|Selenium||Seafood, meat, poultry, Brazil nuts||Antioxidant effects||Keshan disease – a form of cardiomyopathy|
|Sodium||Celery, beets, salted foods, deli meats||Maintains water balance||Hyponatremia (fatigue, confusion)|
|Sulfur||Cheese, cruciferous vegetables, onions, leek, garlic, seafood, meat||Part of connective tissues to build joints, part of certain amino acids||Joint pain|
|Zinc||Meat, fish, poultry, whole grains, beans, shellfish||Function of immune system, breakdown of macronutrients||Impaired growth, hypogonadism (boys), mild anemia, slower wound healing, alopecia, skin lesions|
Minerals in Children's Diets
During the first 6 months of age, breastmilk/formula satisfies all mineral needs. But as your child gets older and begins to eat more solids their requirements increase and it becomes more and more important to meet them with food.
This is particularly important for iron and zinc. These are crucial for growth in children while requirements are also higher due to the increased volume of blood in children over 2 years old.
|0-6 months||7-12 months||1-3 years||4-8 years||9-13 years (boys)||9-13 years (girls)||14-18 years (boys)||14-18 years (girls)|
As it's found in so many foods, and due to a lack of research, there are no specific recommendations for sulfur.
The table above may look a little overwhelming. Fortunately, you don't need to walk around with a calculator while you're shopping, preparing, or serving food. You just need to ensure that both you and your children are following a healthy, balanced meal plan. This means your diet includes all food groups with approximately the right amount of servings.
If you or your child are on a specific diet that excludes a certain food group or type of food (e.g. vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free) you should discuss this with your pediatrician/dietitian to be sure your child is getting enough of all essential minerals for optimal growth and development.
- Gallagher ML. The Nutrients and Their Metabolism. In: Mahan LK, Escott-Stump, S. Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy. International Edition, 12e. 2008. pg. 39-143.
- Beard JL (2001) Iron biology in immune function, muscle metabolism, and neuronal functioning. J Nutr. 131:568-579.
- Bhargava S, Meurer LN, Jamieson B. (2006) What is appropriate management of iron deficiency for young children? The Journal of Family Practice. 55(7):629-630.
- Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board (1997) Dietary reference intakes for calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D, and fluoride. Washington, DC. National Academies Press.
- Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board (2001) Dietary reference intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Washington, DC. National Academies Press.
- Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board (2000a) Dietary reference intakes for vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids. Washington, DC. National Academies Press.