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Dietary Minerals: The Essential Facts


Louisa Sutherland

Every one of us needs a regular supply of minerals in our diet. Minerals are essential for the healthy growth of bones, cells and tissues, and for the constant maintenance of our body.

Each mineral has a different job to do and they come from a variety of dietary sources, some we need only in very tiny amounts (trace minerals) and some we need in comparatively large amounts. The most important minerals are calcium, iron and zinc.

Calcium is vital for the formation and strengthening of bones and teeth, but also helps to calm irritability and help insomnia. Calcium is often sourced through dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt (butter and cream have minimal calcium as it is mainly found in the watery part of milk). Calcium is also found in smaller amounts in sardines, kale, almonds and sesame seeds, and is sometimes also added to tofu, bread, soy milk and even juice. Deficiency can cause osteoporosis (brittle bones).

Iron is very important for forming the red pigment in blood (hemoglobin) and is best found in red meats, liver and eggs. Iron is present in vegetables, but is not so well absorbed in this form. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, but drinking tea may reduce absorption. The deficiency of iron causes anemia (lack of energy being the main symptom).

Zinc is a trace mineral and an antioxidant. It helps the body to heal wounds and is vital for male reproduction and healthy sex organs. Zinc is found in many foods from meat and dairy to whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Other important dietary minerals are as follows:

- Magnesium, which is important for cells and muscles, and helps calcium and potassium to be used effectively.
- Phosphorus, needed for cells, bones and teeth.
- Potassium for cellular growth, blood pressure, nervous system, muscles, muscle cramp and more.
- Sodium, which regulates water in the body and helps nerve function.

And in trace amounts:

- Chromium, which balances blood sugar levels and helps to prevent heart disease.
- Copper, which assists in the conversion of food to energy and the use of iron.
- Iodine, which helps metabolic activity.
- Selenium, an antioxidant and anti-cancer mineral.

Generally if you are getting enough of the more important minerals - calcium, iron and zinc - you will absorb enough of the others through the same food sources. But as a good rule you should eat as healthily as you can, with a good variety of foods, and you will feel better for it.

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