While they may only constitute approximately 4% of total body weight, the importance of minerals in maintaining health and wellbeing cannot be underestimated. Here are some healthy tips to help you to maximise your absorption of minerals, and some helpful food sources where you can find these important nutrients.
What are minerals?
Minerals are materials found in our environment; in soil, fruits and vegetables and other foods, and are essential to the functioning of many bodily processes. Based on their requirements in the body, minerals may be classed as macrominerals or microminerals. The macrominerals that have daily requirements typically greater than 100mg per day include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride. Microminerals, also known as trace minerals, include iron, zinc, copper, selenium, chromium, iodine, manganese, molybdenum and boron, and have daily requirements ranging from less than 1mg to 100mg per day.
Importance of minerals to human health
In the body, minerals are vital for many processes including:
- muscle contraction
- blood clotting
- enzyme activation
- protein and collagen synthesis
- nerve transmission, pH regulation
- electrolyte and water regulation
- insulin signalling, immune function
- hormone synthesis, oxygen transportation
- cellular growth
- cofactors in enzyme systems
- structural components of bone and teeth.
Factors that effect the absorption of minerals
Many Australians are deficient in minerals, in particular iron and calcium. This may be due to poor dietary intake, as well as farming and agricultural methods, including the use of fertilisers, which affect the mineral balance of the soil, and in turn the food we consume.[2,3] Minerals cannot be endogenously synthesised by the body; they must be consumed through the diet, and some individuals may experience mineral malabsorption.
As minerals are needed for growth and development, as well as other processes, some individuals have an increased need for minerals. These can include iron, calcium and zinc. For example:
- infants and young children
- pregnant and breastfeeding women
- vegans, vegetarians or those on restrictive diets
- some people with digestive problems e.g. coeliac disease
- the elderly, who often experience difficulties absorbing nutrients and a poor diet.3
Ways to maximise your absorption of minerals
- Eat a wide variety of mineral-rich foods.
- Try to eat local fruit and vegetables produced on a smaller scale, than those produced en masse, as this produce may have had excessive fertiliser used for its production.
- Some vitamins help the absorption of minerals, for example, vitamin C helps the absorption of iron-rich foods. Use ‘food combining’ to help this process along e.g. eat a vitamin-C rich tomato or capsicum alongside that steak!
- Try to maintain a healthy digestive tract to maximise your absorption of minerals from your foods e.g. eat fermented or probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, yoghurt and kombucha. Ask your healthcare professional for more tips.
Food sources of minerals
- Iron: almonds, apricots, avocado, oysters, parsley, pine nuts, soybeans, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, poultry and red meat, organ meats, yeast.
- Calcium: almonds, broccoli, buckwheat, fair products, egg yolk, green leafy vegetables, molasses, sardines, soybeans, turnips.
- Zinc: beef, brewer’s yeast, capsicum, egg yolks, ginger, herrings, liver, dairy milk, lamb, oysters, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, seafood, wholegrains, yeast.
- Magnesium: almonds, barley, brewer’s yeast, cashews, cocoa, cod, lima beans, figs, mineral water, molasses, parsnips, soy beans, wholegrain cereals, kelp, eggs, seeds.
- Phosphorous: almonds, beef, cashews, cheese, chicken, chickpeas, eggs, garlic, milk, nuts, offal, salmon, sardines, seed grains, sesame, soy beans, tuna.
- Potassium: all vegetables, apricots, avocado, banana, citrus fruit, dates, herring, milk, nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans), parsley, potato, raisins, sardines, sunflower seeds.
- Copper: almonds, avocado, beans, broccoli, buckwheat, crab, lamb, mushrooms, oysters, pecans, perch, pork, prunes, sunflower seeds, wholegrain cereals.
- Selenium: alfalfa, barley, broccoli, brazil nuts, butter, cashews, celery, eggs, fish, garlic, mackerel, oysters, peanuts, selene-yeasts, tuna, wholegrain cereals, yeast, organ meats, onion, turnip.
- Iodine: asparagus, cod, dairy products, garlic, iodised salt, lima beans, mushrooms, oysters, sunflower seeds.
- Chromium: asparagus, apples. brewer’s yeast, cheese, egg yolk, liver, lobster, molasses, mushrooms, nuts, oysters, peanuts. potato, prunes, shrimp, wheat, yeast.
- Gropper SS, Smith JL. Advanced nutrition and human metabolism, 6th ed. Australia: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2013.
- National Health Survey 2014-2015, Australian Bureau of Statistics. Viewed 31 Oct 2016, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4364.0.55.001
- Hechtman L. Clinical naturopathic medicine. Chatswood: Elsevier, 2012.
- Osiecki H. The nutrient bible, 7th ed. Eagle Farm: Bio concepts publishing, 2000.