Usually, when you hear “vitamins”, the word “minerals” follows closely behind. That’s because they’re both necessary nutrients your body needs to function well which are tiny, and often overlooked. Minerals, like vitamins, are found in a wide variety of foods. They are even smaller than vitamins and in the world of fitness are often referred to as “electrolytes”. Minerals are inorganic – which means they are not carbon based molecules made in the body, they are mostly metal atoms or electrolytes (atoms with a positive or negative charge) that we consume in our foods. They are the elements that make up the world around us, and we have them in our bodies because we are part of the world around us.
Minerals take the form of different types of salts and our bodies need them to control fluid balance, regulate water flow and enzyme transport in and out of cells, bind to other nutrients to make them easier for our bodies to use, and lots of other nitty gritty. The major minerals (macro minerals), that we need in larger amounts are sodium, chloride (put together, sodium chloride make up table salt), potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulphur. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and best known because it is really important for healthy bones and teeth. Most children learn early that they need it to grow strong healthy bones and teeth and they can get calcium from drinking milk. It is also available in dark green vegetables such as broccoli and bok choy.
The other major minerals are also very important. Phosphorus is also needed for healthy bones and teeth. Magnesium, also for bones and teeth as well as making our muscles and nerves work properly and for immune system function. Sodium, potassium and chloride are important for fluid balance and they have other functions in the nerves, muscles and the digestive process. Sulfate is a structural component of important proteins, vitamins and the hormone insulin.
There are lots of other minerals we need as well, but they are needed in much smaller quantities and are therefore called Trace Minerals. The trace minerals include iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, molybdenum and others. The key idea here is that, though our bodies need them, we only need just a trace. Having more than what is necessary in our bodies can be toxic.
Since all these minerals are found in a wide variety of foods, the best way to be sure you’re consuming them in the right amounts is to eat a wide variety of different foods. They can also be obtained in supplements, but as I mentioned when we spoke about vitamins – moderation is key, because you don’t want to put too much of any one mineral in your body as this can get toxic. Therefore, as with the other nutrients we’ve discussed on Health Talk, moderation and variety are the key words. Our next health talk will cover the substance that falls into its own nutrient category, Water.
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