Minerals are what remain when plant or animal matter burns or decomposes. They cannot be broken down any further to a simpler substance. They are naturally occurring, solid and inorganic. They are also the basic building blocks of life.
For example, carbon, a mineral, is a key element for all naturally occurring life on our planet. We are a carbon based life form.
Macro-minerals are in the largest amounts.
Micro-minerals are in smaller amounts.
What Do Minerals Do?
Minerals contain no calories or energy of themselves. Their main function is to assist the body in energy production.
Minerals are part of
- blood and tissue formation
- nerve cells and nerve transmission
- muscle cells and muscle contraction
- bones and teeth
- soft tissues
- enzymes – without enzymes creating reactions life would cease
We make no minerals in our body. All of our minerals MUST come from our food. The mineral will ONLY be present in the food if it is present in the soil. Industrial agriculture today tends to focus on nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to the exclusion of other important minerals. This makes the soil mineral content unbalanced as well as interfering with the plant’s ability to take up other important minerals. Our food has been declining in mineral content in the last 50 years.
Additionally, refined and processed foods lose most of their mineral content in the processing so diets high in refined foods will be low in mineral content. Sugar depletes minerals from the body.
Minerals are absolutely essential to both our physical and mental health. We make no minerals in the body and the minerals we get from food are harder to absorb and they compete with each for uptake. Add to this modern farming practices causing mineral depletion in the soil and diets high in refined and processed food and you can see why mineral deficiencies are far more common than vitamin deficiencies.
So your optimum approach is to
- obtain minerals from whole foods grown in healthy soils such as organic, local produce
- keep refined foods to a minimum in the diet
- avoid high sugar foods which deplete minerals from the body and provide empty calories
Supplementation of Minerals
All the minerals work in a complex dance together and also compete with each other for uptake. So it is important not to over-supplement with one mineral as this can cause imbalance in others. If you must supplement use a good quality, multi-mineral complex rather than focussing on single minerals.
Most people will think of bones and teeth when you say calcium to them. Calcium is crucial for development of bones and teeth but it also has important roles in regulating heartbeat, stimulating muscle contraction and activating some enzymes.
Despite what the dairy industry would have you believe there are lots of plant based sources of calcium such as:
- green, leafy vegetables
- pinto beans, soybeans
- almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts
- sunflower and sesame seeds
- blackstrap molasses
Milk and dairy products are sources of calcium suitable for those who are not lactose intolerant but they may also be high in saturated fats.
Calcium must be balanced with vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus to work efficiently.
Chloride is an electrolyte. It helps to
- generate correct pressure of body fluids
- component of stomach acid
- helps body maintain correct acid-alkaline balance which is essential to life
Chloride is obtained primarily from salt – table salt and sea salt. However, vegetables, sea vegetables and seaweeds like dulse and kelp are also useful sources.
Magnesium is also an electrolyte. Its roles are to
- relax muscles
- prevent coronary artery spasm
- activate enzymes needed for protein and carbohydrate metabolism
- needed in DNA production and function
- needed for communication between cells
- dark green vegetables
- nuts, seeds, legumes
- whole grains, millet, brown rice
- seafood also contains magnesium
- hard water may be a source of magnesium which is why it is important to keep an eye on your magnesium levels if you live in a soft water area or use a water softener
Phosphorus is probably not as well known to people as things like calcium and magnesium but it has some pretty important jobs to do.
- helps to form bones and teeth
- vital to energy production
- essential for building cell membranes
- helps in kidney function
- aids muscle contraction including regular heartbeat
- supports nerve conduction
- forms the backbone of the DNA structure
Phosphorus has an intricate relationship with calcium and it must be balanced in the diet with calcium at a 1:1 ratio. If the diet is too high in phosphorus we excrete calcium in our urine which causes the body to pull more calcium from the bones to refill its stores.
Diets high in animal products can be too high in phosphorus and lead to calcium loss – hence the paradox that many countries with high dairy intake also have higher levels of osteoporosis even though we are told “we need dairy” to prevent this condition. Fish is a more balanced option.
Soda drinks are extremely high in phosphorus. A single soda drink can contain up to 500mg of phosphorus and no calcium.
Potassium is another one of our electrolytes.
- regulates water balance in body
- works with sodium to create conduction of nerve impulses
- generates muscle contractions
- regulates blood pressure
- helps synthesise proteins from amino acids
Most of the potassium content of food is lost when the food is processed or canned. Less in lost when food is frozen.
Sodium is an electrolyte. People think of salt when you say sodium which is not strictly true as sodium is only part of the structure of salt along with chloride. Although it is true that some people need to reduce their salt intake and refined and processed foods can be very high in salt, it is also important to remember that sodium has some important jobs in the body.
- regulates fluid balances in the body
- maintains blood fluid volume
- helps production of stomach acid
- transports amino acids
Nearly all foods contain some sodium. High amounts are found in seafood, beef, poultry and sea vegetables. No whole food has a particularly high sodium content but processed and refined foods can be very high in sodium, especially things like processed and cured meats such as bacon and hot dogs. Whole, natural foods tend to contain more potassium than sodium and the sodium to potassium ratio is important in controlling high blood pressure.
Sulphur is another mineral that we tend to think of less but it is vital for healthy skin, hair and nails. Its main roles are:
- protein synthesis
- formation of collagen in connective tissue
- maintenance of skin, hair, nails
- component of many important body chemicals like insulin
- helps cells utilise oxygen
- transport carrier for many other vital substances like hormones
Sulphur is found in protein foods like meats, fish, eggs, milk and legumes. It is also obtained from the allium family like onions and garlic and in vegetables like cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, chard, broccoli and lettuce. Some is found in kelp and other seaweeds and nuts contain some sulphur.