Minerals in Food

Minerals in food can vary based on where the food is grown and in what kind of soil. For instance vegetables grown near the ocean may have more iodine due to the salt breezes that blow over the land, depositing more iodine in the soil and in the plants.  In addition, food grown in poor or depleted soil may have fewer minerals than if it had been grown in soil that has been enriched or allowed to replenish itself. 

Minerals in food can also be affected by the mineral content of the fertilizer used before planting and during the growth of the plants.   This means that although you can get a general idea of which minerals are in which foods, the exact amount available in the food will vary.

This diagram shows you the chemical difference between vitamins and minerals, which some people find confusing. A vitamin is an organic compound of several elements including Carbon and Hydrogen, while minerals are single elements that exist on their own in nature.

Another way of saying this is that minerals are found on the Periodic Table of Elements, while vitamins are made up of several elements (that are found on the Periodic Table of Elements) bonded together.  This means vitamins are far more fragile than minerals and can be destroyed by heat and light, while minerals will survive those same conditions.

Minerals in food fall into two categories.

Nutritionists generally divide minerals into two types—trace minerals and major minerals. This classification is not based on importance, since they are all necessary for good health, but rather on the amount present in your body, as well as the amount you need for good health. 

In other words, the major minerals, like calcium, are found in greater amounts in your body and you need to obtain more from your diet than you do the trace minerals, such as selenium.

For more detailed information on each nutrient mineral, please click on the links below.

Majors:  Calcium   Chloride   Magnesium    Phosphorus    Potassium   Sulfate    Sodium

Trace:   Chromium    Copper   Fluoride    Iodine   Iron   Manganese    Molybdenum    Selenium   Zinc 

Minerals are found in varying degrees in most foods, including Grains, Dairy, Veggies, Fruits, Meat and other protein foods.

Some foods are fortified with extra minerals.

Many flour and cereal products, as well as some milk products, have extra minerals added to them.  Fruit juices, such as orange juice may also be fortified with calcium.

Interesting Fact: Although minerals cannot be destroyed by cooking,  you can lose them by cooking vegetables in water and then dumping out the water. The nutrients that dissolved in the water during cooking will go down the drain.  For this reason, it is better to eat vegetables raw, steamed, baked or lightly cooked in a minimum of water.

Healthy foods

How much do I need?

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for nutrients will vary based on age and gender, with a separate recommendation for pregnant and nursing moms. It is difficult to say precisely how much of any nutrient is needed by any individual, due to the fact that there are so many variables besides the obvious ones of age and gender.

Each of us is unique, and the availability of nutrients from the foods we eat, or even from a pill will vary based on individual factors. The quantity of nutrients we can absorb is affected by our overall health and nutritional status. It can also be affected by the source of the nutrient and by foods we consume at the same time. The RDA tries to take all of these factors into account, but it is still, at best, a general guideline.

Where it is not possible to establish an RDA, due to insufficient  evidence, an Adequate Intake (AI) has been established. This is the average amount of the nutrient that a healthy group of people consumes. Like the RDA, it is only a guideline, so that you have an idea of how much of the nutrient you will need.  

For the specific RDA or AI, please click on the link for that mineral above.

While the RDA/AI for nutrients is useful in a scientific sense, or if you are comparing labels on the foods or supplements you purchase, the best way to insure that you are getting enough mineral foods, is to eat a variety of nutritious whole foods. Including foods from all of the food groups will help ensure that you have covered all the bases with regard to minerals.

Having said that, some health authorities recommend that you take a daily vitamin/mineral supplement as a guarantee against deficiency. 

Caveat:  Don’t overuse supplements. Your body can handle surplus minerals to a point, but beyond that, supplements can become toxic. It is good to remember that toxicity is less likely if you are getting your nutrients from food rather than supplements.

Why do I need minerals in food?

Just like all nutrients, minerals are necessary for good health. Each one has its own role to play in your good health. A deficiency of any of them, will result in a variety of health problems.

What if I don’t get enough minerals?

-If you don’t get sufficient iron and/or copper in your diet you could end up feeling tired.

-Absent enough calcium, your bones will be fragile and your muscles could cramp.

-Without the necessary amount of chloride, you could experience indigestion.

-If you are low in potassium, you could feel weak or dizzy and your heart may flutter.

-Not getting enough zinc, may make you vulnerable to illness.

-Without adequate iodine, you may gain weight easily.

Can I eat too many minerals in food?

All nutrients, even water, can be toxic if overdone. In the case of minerals, because of the popularity of supplementation with pills, there is a greater possibility for getting too much. 

However, if you rely on food to get your minerals, toxicity is very rare. If you supplement with pills, pay attention to the dose and realize that any nutrient can become toxic if too much is taken.  

For specific problems with overdose and toxicity, please click on the mineral links above.

The bottom line about minerals in food

The best way to guarantee that you are eating enough mineral foods is to eat a variety of fresh, whole foods. Cook vegetables in a way that insures the nutrients are not leached out and poured down the drain. Eat foods from all of the food groups daily. If necessary, supplement with an appropriate to fill in the nutritional gaps.

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