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Minerals: Their Functions and Sources


Topic Overview

The body needs many minerals; these are called essential minerals. Essential minerals are sometimes divided up into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). These two groups of minerals are equally important, but trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than major minerals. The amounts needed in the body are not an indication of their importance.

A balanced diet usually provides all of the essential minerals. The two tables below list minerals, what they do in the body (their functions), and their sources in food.

Macrominerals

Major minerals
Mineral Function Sources

Sodium

Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction

Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats

Chloride

Needed for proper fluid balance, stomach acid

Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, meats, breads, and vegetables

Potassium

Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction

Meats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes

Calcium

Important for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health

Milk and milk products; canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines); fortified tofu and fortified soy milk; greens (broccoli, mustard greens); legumes

Phosphorus

Important for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balance

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, processed foods (including soda pop)

Magnesium

Found in bones; needed for making protein, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, immune system health

Nuts and seeds; legumes; leafy, green vegetables; seafood; chocolate; artichokes; "hard" drinking water

Sulfur

Found in protein molecules

Occurs in foods as part of protein: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts

Trace minerals (microminerals)

The body needs trace minerals in very small amounts. Note that iron is considered to be a trace mineral, although the amount needed is somewhat more than for other microminerals.

Trace minerals
Mineral Function Sources

Iron

Part of a molecule (hemoglobin) found in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the body; needed for energy metabolism

Organ meats; red meats; fish; poultry; shellfish (especially clams); egg yolks; legumes; dried fruits; dark, leafy greens; iron-enriched breads and cereals; and fortified cereals

Zinc

Part of many enzymes; needed for making protein and genetic material; has a function in taste perception, wound healing, normal fetal development, production of sperm, normal growth and sexual maturation, immune system health

Meats, fish, poultry, leavened whole grains, vegetables

Iodine

Found in thyroid hormone, which helps regulate growth, development, and metabolism

Seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, dairy products

Selenium

Antioxidant

Meats, seafood, grains

Copper

Part of many enzymes; needed for iron metabolism

Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, organ meats, drinking water

Manganese

Part of many enzymes

Widespread in foods, especially plant foods

Fluoride

Involved in formation of bones and teeth; helps prevent tooth decay

Drinking water (either fluoridated or naturally containing fluoride), fish, and most teas

Chromium

Works closely with insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels

Unrefined foods, especially liver, brewer's yeast, whole grains, nuts, cheeses

Molybdenum

Part of some enzymes

Legumes; breads and grains; leafy greens; leafy, green vegetables; milk; liver

Other trace nutrients known to be essential in tiny amounts include nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.

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