Minerals are inorganic substances that are typically found in food. They’re mainly used by the body as cofactors and as electrolytes. Some have an important role in maintaining our bones and teeth, while others are essential in carrying vital substances throughout the body. Iron, for instance, is the central atom of haemoglobin that carries oxygen.
Minerals are classified as micronutrients, along with vitamins. They’re called micronutrients because they’re only needed in small amounts, unlike macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Some are only needed in trace amounts, and some are completely non-essential.
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What is the Function of Minerals in the Body?
Compared to macronutrients, minerals are only needed in small amounts. They’re classified either as macrominerals or as trace minerals. Their daily recommended value or reference nutrient intake (RNI) is measured in milligrams and micrograms per kilogram of bodyweight.
Minerals such as calcium are important in maintaining the healthy structure of the bones and teeth. Muscle movements, including the normal beating of the heart, are made possible by the electrochemical signals that are carried by the minerals throughout the nervous system. The synthesis of enzymes and hormones simply wouldn’t be possible without minerals.
Here are the ways in which minerals function in the body:
- Cofactors: Minerals function as cofactors for the synthesis of enzymes and hormones. Iodine, for example, is central in the synthesis of two important thyroid hormones, which are important for regulating our metabolic rate as well as heart and muscle function.
- Electrolytes: Crucially, minerals function as electrolytes, maintaining osmotic balance. The osmotic balance inside the cells is important in maintaining the structural integrity of cells through water tension and flow. It’s also important in maintaining the balanced flow of nutrients and waste materials to and from the cells. The minerals conduct electrical signals that allow the cells and larger systems of the body to communicate.
- Immune boosters: Our immune system would not be able to function properly without the right amount of minerals. Copper, zinc, and selenium are particularly important trace minerals that support our immune systems.
- Bone and teeth health: Both bones and teeth are heterogeneous composite materials with various layers and structures. Calcium and phosphorus are important mineral components of bones and teeth.
- Blood health: Haemoglobin is the molecule that facilitates the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood and body cells. Central to this molecule is iron. Any iron deficiency will have a direct impact on the health of the blood.
What Minerals Do You Need?
Both macrominerals and trace minerals are considered essential to the human body because we cannot properly function if they’re deficient. Although several are found in food, not all of them are essential. Seven macrominerals and nine trace minerals are considered essentials. These are as follows
- Sodium: Very important as an electrolyte, facilitating muscle contraction and fluid balance. Good sources: table salt, soy sauce, milk, cheese, processed foods
- Chloride: Essential for fluid balance and stomach acidity. Its sources are the same as sodium’s
- Potassium: Needed for fluid balance and nerve transmission. Good sources: meats, milk, fruits, legumes
- Calcium: Essential for healthy bones and teeth, regulation of blood pressure and muscle contraction. Good sources: milk and other dairy products, meats, broccoli, legumes
- Phosphorus: Needed for healthy teeth and bones. Maintains acid-base balance in cells. Good sources: meats, eggs, poultry, processed foods
- Magnesium: Needed for healthy bones and for protein synthesis. Maintains a healthy immune system. Good sources: green leafy vegetables, seafood, chocolate (hooray!)
- Sulphur: Essential in protein synthesis. Good sources: eggs, poultry, fish, legumes
- Iron: Central atom of haemoglobin. Good sources: organ meats, dried foods, red meats, green leafy vegetables
- Zinc: Important in making proteins and genetic materials, as well as in immune system health. Good sources: meats, fish, poultry
- Iodine: Essential for thyroid hormone synthesis. Good sources: seafoods, meats, iodised salt
- Selenium: Acts as an antioxidant. Good sources: seafoods, meats, grains
- Copper: An important enzyme cofactor and has a role in immunity. Good sources: legumes, organ meats, whole grains
- Manganese: A component of many enzymes. Good sources: fruits and vegetables
- Fluoride: Involved in the formation of bones and teeth. Good sources: fluoridated water, fish
- Chromium: Helps regulate blood sugar. Good sources: brewer’s yeast, liver, cheeses, whole grains
- Molybdenum: A component of some enzymes. Good sources: legumes, green leafy vegetables, liver
How Are Minerals Absorbed in the Body?
Minerals are mostly soluble in water. They’re also easily absorbed in the bloodstream during the digestion process as food is broken down and metabolised. Some stay in the cytoplasm to maintain osmotic pressure balance. Others are incorporated into the synthesis of various biological substances, such as hormones and enzymes.
Some act as cofactors and coenzymes that facilitate various metabolic processes. Others, such as calcium, become integrated into body tissues that require continuous maintenance, like bones. Others are excreted by the body to maintain homeostasis.
What Minerals Are Found in the Body?
The two types of minerals found in the body are macro and trace minerals. Others are considered toxic in excess amounts, such as the heavy metals. While the macrominerals and trace minerals have nutritional value, they are only needed in small amounts. Some are integrated with the body tissues while others are excreted.
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