Demystifying Minerals: Which Ones are Truly Essential and Where to Find Them
Americans are devoid of essential nutrients – and this is why we have one of the highest incidences of disease in all of the industrialized world – even though we spend billions on healthcare every year. Much of this void is created by a lack of essential minerals.
Essential, inorganic, organic, chelated, elemental, ionic, colloidal, trace. Which of these terms to describe minerals do you really understand? While 96% of the body is created of just 4 essential elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, what makes up the rest? In part – minerals.
Here’s how to understand which ones you need and how to get them.
Along with fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and clean water, we need minerals to enjoy good health. Minerals can be divided into two groups – macro-nutrient minerals, and trace minerals.
|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|
|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|
|Potassium||Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction||Meats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes|
|Calcium||Important for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health||Milk and milk products; canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines); fortified tofu and fortified soy milk; greens (broccoli, mustard greens); legumes|
|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, processed foods (including soda pop)|
|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|
|Sulfur||Found in protein molecules||Occurs in foods as part of protein: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts|
|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|
|Iodine||Found in thyroid hormone, which helps regulate growth, development, and metabolism||Seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, dairy products|
|Selenium||Antioxidant||Meats, seafood, grains|
|Copper||Part of many enzymes; needed for iron metabolism||Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, organ meats, drinking water|
|Manganese||Part of many enzymes||Widespread in foods, especially plant foods|
|Fluoride||Involved in formation of bones and teeth. Note – this is not the fluoride they put in municipal water – that is a different chemical makeup than natural fluoride.||Drinking water (naturally containing fluoride), fish, and most teas|
|Chromium||Works closely with insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels||Unrefined foods, especially liver, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, nuts, cheeses|
|Molybdenum||Part of some enzymes||Legumes; breads and grains; leafy greens; leafy, green vegetables; milk; liver|
(Charts courtesy of emedicine.health.com)
Other trace nutrients known to be essential in tiny amounts include nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.
There are many reasons that we don’t get the minerals we need, whether they are macro or trace, organic, or ‘non-essential.’ Some of us don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables grown in soil that is packed with sufficient minerals that then become part of the plant’s structure. This is partly due to modern agricultural methods of farming. Needless to say, we desperately need to repair the soil.
GMOs are also a culprit. It has now been proven that GMO seed varieties yield plants, which chelate important nutrients, including minerals, from our bodies. Dr. Don Huber has studied plant pathology for more than 35 years, and is considered an expert on GMOs. He explains that glyphosate is like an antibiotic; it kills important healthy bacteria in soil that allow our bodies to assimilate nutrients:
“Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus faecalis—these are organisms that keep you healthy either by providing accessibility to the minerals in your food or producing many of the vitamins that you need for life. They’re also the natural biological defenses to keep Clostridium, Salmonella, and E.coli from developing in your system.
When you take the good bacteria out, then the bad bacteria fill that void, because there aren’t any voids in nature. We have all of these gut-related problems, whether it’s autism, leaky gut, C. difficile diarrhea, gluten intolerance, or any of the other problems. All of these diseases are an expression of disruption of that intestinal microflora that keeps you healthy.”
Chelation of minerals can also be a confusing topic. In this case, chelation of minerals by GMOs is unwanted. It means they take what we need out of the food we consume, but chelated minerals themselves can be very beneficial. Allow me to explain.
Many minerals in their unaltered form can impede the absorption of other nutrients and vitamins we need. Chelated minerals are already in a form the body can more readily absorb. They are bound or ‘chelated’ to an amino acid so your body can metabolize them better.
Here are some examples of minerals interfering with the absorption of other nutrients:
- Zinc can block iron absorption
- Calcium can block zinc
- Iron can block calcium and vitamin C
- Many macrominerals block Vitamins C, B, and A, or downgrade their efficiency
When we eat sufficient amounts of healthful foods, we get all the vitamins and nutrients we need, but most of us don’t. (There is a chart of foods that provide each of these minerals here.)
The US Senate discovered in a study conducted in 1936 that our food was largely depleted of its nutrients:
“…most of us are suffering from certain diet deficiencies which cannot be remedied until deplete soils from which our food comes are brought into proper mineral balance. The alarming fact is that food…now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough…minerals are starving us, no matter how much of them we eat.”
The report even stated that without enough minerals, vitamins were useless.
Here is how our mineral deficiencies stack up.
Deficiencies – % of U.S. Population
- Magnesium – 75%
- Iron – 58%
- Copper – 81%
- Manganese – 50%
- Chromium – 90%
- Zinc – 67%
- Selenium – 60%
There is also an important distinction between nutrient-dense and nutrient-rich. Nutrient-dense refers to the overall value of nutrition when compared with a different food. For example, broccoli is more dense nutritionally than other vegetables. In contrast, nutrient-rich means that one broccoli plant has a higher level of nutrients than another.
Aside from taking numerous supplements to get the minerals we need, there are also rare earth minerals in substances like Shilajit. Not only is it full of vital minerals, it also helps to remove pesticides from the body. Porous fulvic and humic acids in Shilajit carry herbal compounds deep into the tissues of the body.
You can also eat foods that are known to have higher mineral density, but certainly steer clear of GMOs whenever you can. And of course the better solution is to buy produce and legumes from gardeners who have replaced minerals to their soil, such as with sea minerals, and other natural additives.
The very best way get the utmost nutrition is to grow your own nutrient and mineral-dense food in a healthy soil ecosystem.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.