Minerals: Their Functions and Sources

Overview

Some minerals are essential to your health. Essential minerals are sometimes divided into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). Trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than major minerals.

Essential minerals

Major minerals

Mineral

What it does

Where it's found

Sodium

Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction.

Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats.

Calcium

Important for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important for nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure.

Milk and milk products; canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines); fortified tofu and fortified soy milk; greens (broccoli, mustard greens); legumes.

Chloride

Needed for proper fluid balance, stomach acid.

Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, meats, breads, and vegetables.

Magnesium

Found in bones; needed for making protein, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, immune system health.

Nuts and seeds, legumes, leafy green vegetables, seafood, chocolate, artichokes, "hard" drinking water.

Phosphorus

Important for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balance.

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk.

Potassium

Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction.

Meats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes.

Sulfur

Found in protein molecules.

Occurs in foods as part of protein: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts.

Trace minerals

Mineral

What it does

Where it's found

Iron

Part of a molecule (hemoglobin) found in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the body; needed for energy metabolism.

Organ meats, red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish (especially clams), egg yolks, legumes, dried fruits, dark leafy greens, iron-enriched breads and cereals, and fortified cereals.

Zinc

Part of many enzymes; needed for making protein and genetic material; has a function in taste perception, wound healing, normal fetal development, production of sperm, normal growth and sexual maturation, immune system health.

Meats, fish, poultry, leavened whole grains, vegetables.

Chromium

Works closely with insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels.

Liver, brewer's yeast, whole grains, nuts, cheeses.

Copper

Part of many enzymes; needed for iron metabolism.

Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, organ meats, drinking water.

Fluoride

Involved in formation of bones and teeth; helps prevent tooth decay.

Drinking water (either fluoridated or naturally containing fluoride), fish, and most teas.

Iodine

Found in thyroid hormone, which helps regulate growth, development, and metabolism.

Seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, dairy products.

Manganese

Part of many enzymes.

Widespread in foods, especially plant foods.

Molybdenum

Part of some enzymes.

Legumes, breads and grains, leafy greens, leafy green vegetables, milk, liver.

Selenium

Antioxidant.

Meats, seafood, grains.

Other trace minerals known to be essential in tiny amounts include nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator

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