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Much-Needed Minerals

When we use the phrase “vitamins and minerals,” it’s usually the vitamins that take center stage. But that doesn’t mean minerals are any less important. They’re as essential as vitamins to dozens of bodily functions. Some we need in larger amounts—known as major minerals—and the others, trace minerals, we only need in small amounts. Some are relatively common in the average diet whereas others take a little more effort.


CALCIUM: We know calcium best for its bone- and teeth-strengthening properties, but it does so much more than that! Calcium is also responsible for muscle contractions (like making our heart beat), nerve function, proper blood clotting, and blood pressure regulation. Despite being so important, many groups are at risk of not getting enough. This includes vegans, lactose-intolerants, adults over 70, women over 50, and those getting insufficient vitamin D (which is required for proper calcium absorption).

Where to get it in food: Animal sources include unsweetened yogurt, kefir, grassfed dairy milk, cheese, and canned sardines. Non-animal sources include leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and mustard greens; broccoli, parsley, almonds, cashews, beans such as cannellini and kidney, fortified organic tofu, and unsweetened Ripple, a plant-based milk.

MAGNESIUM: Magnesium is one of the most versatile minerals required for many bodily functions—and the one most adults are deficient in, with an estimated 80 percent of the population not getting enough.  Magnesium is so important because it supports bone and heart health, boosts mood, aids digestion, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps all of our nerves, muscles, and tissues functioning properly. It also balances both stomach acid and nitric oxide, the latter of which widens blood vessels and increases circulation. It can help migraines, leg and foot cramps, and depression. Groups at risk for deficiency include those with type 2 diabetes, celiac or Crohn’s disease; older adults, and long-term alcohol abuse.

Where to get it in food: Salmon, beef, poultry, avocadoes, artichokes, bananas, beans and legumes, 70% unsweetened dark chocolate, cooked spinach and Swiss chard, skin-on white potatoes, raisins, nuts, seeds, oats, and rice.

PHOSPHOROUS: Following calcium, phosphorous is the second-most abundant element in the human body—one percent for adults and 0.5 percent for infants, with about 85 percent stored in the bones and teeth. It is key to healthy bones and teeth, proper nerve function, muscle contractions, proper blood pH, and is a building block of DNA, RNA, and ATP. It also helps us use the nutrients in our food and supports our body’s natural detoxification processes. Although it is commonly found in a variety of foods, the overuse of aluminum-containing antacids can increase the risk of deficiency, as can kidney health issues.

Where to get it in food: Animal proteins including beef, poultry, and fish; eggs, dairy products, lentils, asparagus, tomatoes, cauliflower, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

POTASSIUM: When you think of potassium, you probably think of bananas. But have you thought about why it’s important? An electrolyte counterpart to sodium, potassium maintains fluid balance inside of our cells (sodium maintains it outside of them). It is also responsible for muscle contractions (including the heart), nerve function, and maintaining healthy blood pressure.

Where to get it in food: Bananas, beets, dried dates, raisins, and apricots; oranges, peas, spinach, sweet potatoes, winter squash, lentils, beans, chicken, salmon, coffee, and dairy and plant-based milks.

SULFUR: Sulfur may be a mineral you haven’t heard much about, but it is key to the health of our skin, tendons, and ligaments; building and repairing DNA, and for combatting cancer-causing oxidative stress.

Where to get it in food: Animal proteins including beef, poultry, and fish; eggs, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, alliums like garlic, leeks, and onions; and cruciferous veggies including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and radishes.

SODIUM & CHLORIDE: Salt, AKA sodium chloride, is composed of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. Although sodium generally gets a bad rap, and it’s easy to get too much of it, it is necessary to our health. Sodium, an electrolyte, is responsible for fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle contractions, and we need an estimated 500 mg a day to support these functions. Chloride works in conjunction with sodium. Sodium intake should be capped around 1,500 mg a day for all adults.


Although our trace mineral needs are much smaller than for major minerals, they are still absolutely essential to our good health.

COPPER: Although we don’t need a lot of copper, we do need some. It supports the work of enzymes in our body that produce energy, absorb iron, and create red blood cells, collagen, connective tissue, and neurotransmitters. It also supports our immune functions.

Where to get it in food: Oysters, crab, salmon, spinach, spirulina, cashews, sunflower and sesame seeds, and unsweetened dark chocolate. Small amounts of copper can be found in some multivitamins.

IODINE: Iodine may be a “lesser known” mineral, but that doesn’t make it any less important! Iodine is an essential trace mineral, meaning it must be obtained from the food we eat. It is particularly important for a healthy thyroid, as it is required to produce the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, which are responsible for a healthy metabolism. Without enough iodine our thyroid can become either under- or overactive. It is also important for pregnant women, or those who wish to be, as it plays a key role in fetal brain development.

Where to get it in food: Iodized salt, seafood including cod, tuna, shrimp, and oysters; seaweed including nori, kelp, and wakame; eggs, dairy, and chicken. It is also found in multivitamins.

IRON: Iron is integral to oxygenating our blood (through hemoglobin) and muscle tissues (through myoglobin). It also plays a vital role in the function of different cells and hormones. Approximately 4-5 million Americans are affected by iron-deficiency anemia which is characterized by extreme fatigue and lightheadedness. Iron deficiency can affect anyone, but menstruating women, those undergoing dialysis, and children are the most commonly affected. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, iron deficiency can present with poor concentration, cold sensitivity, rapid heartbeat, hair loss, brittle nails, and pale skin.

Where to get it in food: Oysters, clams, mussels, canned sardines and light tuna; beef and poultry, beans, lentils, spinach, skin-on potatoes, nuts, seeds, and unsweetened dark chocolate. If additional iron is needed, it must be taken as a standalone supplement.

MANGANESE: Manganese plays many roles in the body, assisting with proper nutrient absorption and the synthesis of cholesterol, carbs, and protein; digestive enzyme production, supporting healthy immune and reproductive systems, and healthy bone development. It also works with vitamin K to clot blood during wound healing.

Where to get it in food: Shellfish including clams, mussels, and oysters; whole grains, legumes, brown rice, hazelnuts, pecans, spinach, coffee, tea, and black pepper.

MOLYBDENUM: Of all the minerals we’ve discussed in this blog, molybdenum is the one you’ve probably never heard of. However, it plays a vital role in keeping us alive, as it’s responsible for breaking down sulfites, waste products, and other toxins and preventing their deadly build-up in our bodies.

Where to get it in food: Bananas, skin-on potatoes, legumes such as black-eyed peas, lima beans, and peanuts; dairy milk, and yogurt. You’ll also find it in your multivitamin.

SELENIUM: Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that also maintains thyroid hormone production, supports immune health, aids in metabolism and DNA synthesis, and promotes healthy sperm in men. It may also boost cognitive function and help you live longer.

Where to get it in food: Beef, poultry, shellfish, eggs, Brazil nuts, cashews, oats, beans, lentils, oats and other whole grains, and yogurt. You’ll also find it in your multivitamin.

ZINC: After iron, zinc is the second-most common trace metal found in the human body and is required for a variety of bodily functions, including healthy cell division, DNA synthesis, healthy skin, and of course, a healthy immune response. People most at risk for zinc deficiency include vegetarians, vegans, and women who are pregnant or nursing. The former is due to the highest zinc concentrations being found in animal proteins and for pregnant or lactating women, zinc needs are higher as it’s required for times of rapid growth. Signs of deficiency include depression, poor appetite, lowered immunity, slow wound healing, and hair loss.

Where to get it in food: Animal sources are richest in zinc and include beef, pork, poultry, and shellfish including oysters, crab, and lobster. Plant foods, such as legumes and whole grains, are rich in zinc but its bioavailability is hindered by phytates which lower absorption. Zinc is also found in multivitamins.  

If you are concerned about your mineral intake, please contact me. Together, we can review your unique health and dietary needs to make sure you’re getting enough through the food you eat, as well as determine whether supplementation is necessary.


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