What are they?
Minerals are inorganic elements found in your body that must be supplied by your diet for good health. They cannot be manufactured by your body and therefore must be obtained from the food you eat.
Plants obtain nutrients from the soil in which they grow, and subsequently, you can get them from the plant foods you eat. You can also get nutrients indirectly from animal foods, because the animal has eaten the plants and stored the nutrients in its body. Another source of is the water you drink, with the type and amount depending on your particular water supply.
Nutrient minerals are usually divided into two groups—major and trace. This categorization is not based on importance, since they are all important, but rather on the amount present in your body, as well as the amount you need for good health. In other words, the majors, like calcium, are found in larger amounts in your body and you need to obtain a greater amount from your diet than you do with trace minerals, such as copper.
For more specific information, please click on the links below.
My husband once asked me about the difference between vitamins and minerals. I think this is a common question, since we so often lump them together in our thinking (and in our “vitamin” pills!) The major difference is, while vitamins are organic compounds, minerals are single, inorganic elements that come from the earth.
If you took chemistry in school, you will remember the “Periodic Table of the Elements” which shows all of the elements, that is those substance which exist as single atoms that have so far been discovered. Each of these elements can bind with other atoms to become molecules of various compounds, including vitamins.
Vitamin molecules are made up of atoms of Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, sometimes with the addition of another element, such as Nitrogen, as shown in this example.
On the other hand, nutrients such as Calcium, are basic elements. Because of this, vitamins can be easily destroyed by heat or light, but if you burn a plant to ashes, the ashes will still contain the same basic elements that were in the living plant.
Now for the Scoop
Okay, you can take off your safety goggles and put away your Bunsen burner, beakers and test tubes! What you need to know about minerals is that they are important to your overall good health.
While calcium is probably the one that is most discussed in the news, and it is an important one, you can see that there are at least 15 others that are important too.
Minerals are found in varying degrees in most of the food groups.
Fruits… Vegetables… Cereals… Grains… Meat and other Protein foods… Dairy products…
Some foods are fortified
In addition, you will find that flour and cereal products as well as some milk products are fortified with nutrients. Many orange juices are now being fortified with calcium.
--Caveat: Minerals cannot be destroyed by cooking, but you can lose them by cooking vegetables in water and then dumping out the water. The nutrients will go down the drain. Consider eating vegetables raw, steaming, or lightly cooking them.
How much do I need?
The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for nutrients varies based on age and gender, with a separate recommendation for pregnant and lactating women. It is difficult to say exactly how much of any nutrient is needed because there are so many variables besides the obvious ones of age and gender.
Each of us is a unique individual, and the availability of nutrients from the foods we eat, or even from a pill will vary based on individual factors. The amount we absorb can be affected by our overall health and nutritional status. It can also be affected by the source of the nutrient and by foods we eat 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 scientific 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 may need.
For the specific RDA or AI, please click on the link (or button) for that mineral.
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 nutrients, is to eat a variety of nutritious whole foods. Selecting foods from all of the food groups will help ensure that you have all of your bases covered.
Having said that, many health experts recommend that you take a daily vitamin/mineral supplement just to be sure that you are getting enough of these nutrients.
--Caveat: As with anything, you can get too much of a good thing. Don’t overdue on supplements. Your body can handle excess to a point, but beyond that, they can become toxic. Toxicity is not likely to occur if you get your nutrients from food.
Why do I need them?
You need minerals to be healthy and to feel good. Together with the other nutrients, Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats, Vitamins and Water, they help keep your body working properly. Each nutrient has a significant role to play in the your total good health.
What if I don’t get enough?
-Without enough calcium, your bones will be frail and your muscles may cramp.
-Without sufficient amounts of chloride, you could experience indigestion.
-If you are missing potassium, you could feel weak and your heart may flutter.
-A lack of iron and/or copper could make you feel tired.
-If you don’t get enough zinc, you may be susceptible to illness.
-Without sufficient amounts of iodine, you may gain weight easily.
-These are some of the things we know, but there are probably other important roles that we have yet to discover.
Can I get too much?
All nutrients, even water, can be toxic if you overdo. In the case of minerals, because of the propensity for supplementation with pills, there is a greater potential for getting too much. If you get your nutrients from food, toxicity is very rare. If you supplement with pills, be aware of the dose and realize that any nutrient can become toxic if taken in mega doses.
For specific problems with overdose and toxicity, please click on the links above.
Eat a variety of fresh, whole foods. Cook vegetables lightly by methods where the nutrients are not leached out and poured down the drain. Eat foods from all of the food groups daily. Supplement with an appropriate dose if you feel you need to fill in the gaps.
Simple, isn’t it?