What are minerals?
Minerals are chemical elements that play an important role across many different areas in the body.
Unlike vitamins, which are organic substances that are made by plants or animals, minerals are inorganic substances that come from soil and water, and are instead absorbed by plants or eaten by animals .
The functions of minerals
Minerals serve the body in many ways, in order to help it carry out daily tasks and develop. Some assist in nerve and muscle function, others in energy production and immune system function.
To begin, there are two types of minerals – major minerals and trace minerals. Your body needs relatively large amounts of major minerals, but only requires small amounts of trace minerals.
The major minerals
Calcium is involved in building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It’s also involved in healthy muscle function, helping to regulate how your heart functions and the transmission of nerve impulses.
Milk and other dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese are the richest sources of calcium in the Australian diet.
Sardines, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds also contain calcium, while other products, including breakfast cereals, bread and fruit juices are sometimes fortified with calcium
Magnesium might be best known for its capacity to help relieve aching muscles, in part thanks to its role in nerve function and muscle contraction, but in reality, this mineral does a lot more than that. It’s needed for more than 300 chemical reactions in the body and plays a role in everything from energy production to maintaining strong teeth and bones. It also helps regulate levels of other important nutrients, like calcium, vitamin D and zinc .
The richest sources of magnesium are plant products such as whole grains, broccoli, squash, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds
Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body (calcium takes out the top spot), and as such, is present in every single one of your cells . Its main function is to help form and protect bones and teeth, but it’s also necessary for normal energy metabolism, nerve signalling and muscle contractions .
Phosphorus is found in a variety of foods including milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat, fish and eggs
Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte, which means it plays a significant role in metabolism, muscle contractions, nerve impulses and regulating your heartbeat.
It also helps balance fluid in the body, and eating a potassium-rich diet helps to support normal blood pressure, perhaps thanks to the way it helps to offset the impact of sodium.
Fresh fruit, particularly bananas and pomegranates, and vegetables, especially avocado and spinach, are the most nutrient-dense sources of potassium, but milk, whole grains, dried beans and meat also contain potassium
Sodium is one of the two components in table salt (which is a combination of sodium and chloride ). Like potassium, it helps to balance fluid levels in the body. While it is an important mineral and electrolyte that’s needed for a range of body functions, most Australians consume around three times more sodium than they need for good health .
Over consumption bumps up the risk of raised blood pressure as well as a range of other health problems .
A small amount of sodium is found naturally in a range of foods, including whole grains, meat and dairy products. Table salt is added to many processed foods like bread, processed meats and cereal products
The trace minerals
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids and protein.
A wide variety of foods contain small amounts of chromium, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and cheese
Copper is the third most abundant trace mineral in the body (after iron and zinc) and it is found in multiple enzyme systems in the body, including the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase.
Food sources of copper include organ meats like liver, shellfish, cocoa, nuts, seeds, beans, prunes and whole grains
Iodine is an essential nutrient required for normal thyroid function, growth and development. Iodine is involved in the metabolic energy flow of most of the cells of the body
The biggest dietary sources of iodine in Australia include iodine-fortified bread, iodised salt and milk. Seafood also contains iodine
Iron is involved in a number of bodily functions, including the formation of haemoglobin which transports oxygen to the tissues. It also plays a role in immune function. Low levels of iron can lead to fatigue and irritability.
There are two types of iron: haem iron, found in meat, and non-haem iron, found in vegetables and cereals. Of the two, haem iron is more easily absorbed
Manganese contributes to the formation of your body’s bones and connective tissue. It also works as an antioxidant, protecting cells from free radical damage.
Most people’s diets deliver enough manganese, because it’s found in a range of foods, including nuts, oats, legumes, leafy vegetables and even tea
Molybdenum helps your body metabolise protein by acting as a catalyst for several enzymes that are involved in the breakdown of amino acids – the building blocks of protein.
It’s found in foods like milk, cheese, cereal grains, legumes and nuts, as well as leafy vegetables, but the amount of molybdenum that’s present in plant-based foods does depend on the content of the soil they’re grown in. Still, molybdenum deficiency is rare
Selenium acts as an antioxidant, helping to neutralise unstable molecules that can cause cell damage. Selenium also helps to regulate the activity of your thyroid hormones, is necessary for normal immune system function and for maintaining healthy hair and nails.
Fish, liver, eggs, milk and walnuts are all rich in selenium
Zinc plays a lot of important roles, including the support of a healthy immune system. It also helps maintain healthy skin and is beneficial for skin repair and wound healing.
The main food sources of zinc in the Australian diet include meat, cereals and dairy products. Oysters are also a rich source of zinc