What are minerals and what do they do?
Essential minerals are a class of nutrients that are vital for maintaining the body’s health. They are inorganic components that play a multitude of functional roles in human cells both physiologically and biochemically. The minerals are utilized by the body’s organ systems for growth, development, movement, energy production, utilization and maintenance of internal homeostasis. Essential minerals are divided into two main groups based on the concentration required for normal body function: macrominerals and trace minerals. A balanced diet provides all the essential minerals needed to maintain good health. In case of dietary inadequacy to meet mineral requirements, supplements may also be taken.
The 13 essential minerals
- Calcium: Calcium builds strong bones and teeth and helps in muscle contraction, blood clotting, nerve transmission, cell signaling and regulation of metabolism. The deficiency of calcium makes bone fragile and easy to fracture. Milk and dairy products, cashew, dates, broccoli, parsley and greens are good sources of dietary calcium.
- Sodium: Sodium helps in muscle contraction, conducts nerve impulses and controls the fluid balance in the body. The primary source of dietary sodium is table salt. However, salt should be taken in moderation.
- Potassium: Potassium plays a crucial role in maintaining fluid balance, muscle contraction and nerve impulse conduction. It supports brain health and reduces the risk of stroke. Low potassium causes irregular heartbeats, edema (swelling), brain damage, etc. Bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, beets and dates are rich sources of potassium.
- Chloride: Chloride in association with sodium maintains the normal fluid balance in the body. It is used in the formation of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) for digestion and to sustain electrical neutrality in the body. Table salt, tomatoes, celery and lettuce are rich sources of chloride.
- Magnesium: Magnesium acts as a cofactor in several enzymatic reactions and is required for the synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and an antioxidant, glutathione. Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains replenish dietary magnesium.
- Phosphorous: Phosphorus helps build and repair bones and teeth, helps nerves function and makes muscles contract. Phosphorus deficiency leads to bone diseases and growth restriction in children. Meats, poultry, beans, nuts, seeds and dairy products are rich sources of phosphorus.
- Iodine: It is the mineral used to produce thyroid hormones. It is necessary for the body’s metabolism and physical and mental development. Phosphorus deficiency leads to impaired growth in children and metabolic disorders such as goiter and mental problems and affects menstrual health and pregnancy-related issues. Iodized table salt is the main source and is easily available.
- Iron: It is used in hemoglobin formation, which carries oxygen in the blood. Iron deficiency can lead to cellular hypoxia (decreased oxygen) and cell death. Green leafy vegetables and meats such as beef, chicken and pork are rich sources of iron.
- Zinc: This mineral aids in cell division, immunity and wound healing. Low zinc levels impair the immune system. Oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains provide major quantities of zinc.
- Copper: Copper helps in energy production and facilitates iron uptake from the gut. Chocolate, liver, shellfish and wheat bran cereals are rich sources.
- Manganese: Manganese plays an important role in protein, carbohydrate and cholesterol breakdown and cell division. Along with vitamin K, it helps in blood clotting. Whole grains, nuts, soybeans and rice are rich in manganese.
- Sulfur: Sulfur has antibacterial properties and helps fight acne-causing bacteria in the skin. It also repairs DNA damage. Seafood and legumes, especially soybeans, black beans and kidney beans are rich sources of sulfur.
- Selenium: Selenium helps prevent oxidative damage to the cells. It is also very important for the metabolism of the thyroid hormone. Brazil nuts, seafood and organ meats are good sources of selenium.
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