Minerals-as opposed to vitamins-are inorganic substances. They are vital for structures in our bodies like bones and teeth. They also activate many enzyme processes which control chemical reactions in the body. Let’s take a look at the most common minerals:
Calcium is vital for bones, teeth, blood clotting as well as the muscles, nerves and the heart. There is a widespread view that calcium comes solely from dairy products, and if you eat a vegan diet you often get “where do you get your calcium?” Dairy is in fact a poor source of calcium. It creates an acidic environment in the body and to neutralize this acidity and return the body to it’s natural alkaline state, the body leeches minerals like calcium from itself. So rather than being a good source of calcium, dairy products actually leach the mineral from the body, explaining why countries that eat high amounts of dairy products have very high rates of osteoporosis compared to countries that eat hardly any. The best sources of calcium are leafy green vegetables, nuts like almonds, seeds like sesame and sunflower, as well as whole-grains like quinoa and amaranth.
Magnesium tends to work synergistically with calcium helping it’s absorption-both can help to relax the body, particularly in cases of stress, and insomnia. They are also vital for bone and heart health. Magnesium is also great for muscle cramps, anxiety, kidney stones, migraines, nerves, pms and high blood pressure. It requires vitamin B6 for its delivery into cells and most peoples diets will already provide enough B6 for this process. Most people in the western world are very deficient in magnesium. I’ve used magnesium oil in the past sprayed directly onto the skin, it’s great for muscular aches/stiffness particularly if you work out a lot. Magnesium is really well absorbed through the skin, so sprays/rubs/bath salts are a great way to get it in. Good food sources of calcium are leafy greens and almonds, as well as grains like brown rice and millet, sweetcorn, seaweed and dried fruit like figs and dates.
Zinc is an antioxidant mineral. It is very important for the immune system and a deficiency can leave you feeling quite run down. It is also great for problem skin, as it helps healing and reduces scarring. It is also vital for hair/skin/nails, a deficiency is linked to baldness in males. It’s super important for male fertility, wound healing, appetite and hormonal balance in males- prostrate support. If you are taking a supplement of zinc long term you need to be taking copper alongside it. Good sources of zinc are nuts, seeds like pumpkin, peas and whole grains.
Iron is one of the most well known minerals. Most people when they feel fatigued or run down automatically assume it’s an iron deficiency-what isn’t common knowledge is that too much iron can actually cause the same symptoms as too little, this is why it is important to get your iron levels checked if you believe you are deficient rather than just up your iron intake. Too much iron can cause haemachromatosis which is all too common in older males in Ireland. Iron is important for anaemia, fatigue, restless legs, mouth ulcers, heavy periods and pregnancy. Good sources are prunes, raisins, pumpkin seeds, unhulled tahini and blackstrap molasses. Greens like spirulina are also an excellent source of well absorbed plant based iron. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron, so try to take iron rich foods or supplements alongside things like kiwis/peppers/strawberries which are rich in vitamin C.
Potassium is a natural diuretic for water retention, it is also required for healthy functioning of the nerves and muscles, especially heart muscles. Chronic stress depletes potassium and can lead to fatigue, high blood pressure and neurological and muscular damage. Good sources are bananas, potatoes, mushrooms, dandelion, oranges, avocado, parsley and apple cider vinegar.
Selenium is another antioxidant mineral. It is a component of glutathione peroxidase which is an antioxidant compound protecting the cells from free radical damage. It is vital for immune health, male fertility, eye health, healthy heart and healthy thyroid as well as inflammatory conditions like arthritis and psoriasis. Too much can be toxic so be careful when supplementing with selenium. I eat 2 Brazil nuts every morning and that gives me my full minimum recommended daily amount of the mineral. Other good sources are oats, rice and apple cider vinegar. Deficiencies have been linked to higher cancer rates and heart disease.
Chromium is extremely important for blood sugar balancing, thus having an effect on appetite and cravings. It helps to make receptor sites on cells more sensitive to the hormone insulin which carries glucose into the cells for energy production. It can also have an effect on weight loss and cholesterol through it’s blood sugar balancing properties. Good sources are almonds/almond butter, sunflower seeds and soya beans.
Manganese is a lesser known mineral, but also a vital as part of the bone matrix. It should help to prevent conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis. It is found in whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds and spinach.
Copper is extremely important for the absorption and utilisation of iron and the formation of collagen which is so important for the skin and the joints. Low levels are linked to heart disease, poor immune system functioning, and arthritis. Good sources are nuts, seeds, peas and dried fruit.
Silica is vital for healthy hair, skin and nails as it is essential for the synthesis of collagen. It is a mineral that the body loses it’s ability to store as well after the age of about 25, so it can be one that people need to increase in their diet or supplement with. It is also important for bone support and digestion. Good sources are alfalfa, cabbage, nettle, onions, cucumbers and horsetail.
Boron is very important for bone support, it is often found in complexes alongside calcium, and vitamins d and k for bone support and is particularly important for those with osteoporosis or those going through the menopause. It has an oestrogenic effect in the body which helps to prevent calcium levels in the bone matrix from falling. Good sources again include dark leafy greens, nuts, whole grains and fruit.
Molybdenum is a trace mineral which plays a role in enzyme systems that deal with detox on a cellular level, it helps convert iron into it’s active form and makes up tooth enamel. Good sources are whole-grains, peas, lentils, green leafy veg and garlic.
Minerals as supplements are very difficult to absorb, as such there are many different forms like citrate or malate which are bound to an acid, those bound to a food source and chelate bound to an amino acid which all claim to help with the absorption of the mineral.
Tea, coffee, sugar phosphates, oxalates, antacids, alcohol, heavy metals, white flour and bran can all inhibit the absorption of minerals. Modern lifestyles, high stress, medication, pollution and food processing can all destroy nutrients, increase our requirements, prevent absorption and clear out nutrients from the body to neutralize these chemicals. Modern farming methods also deplete minerals from the soil meaning most of the food we are getting is lacking in minerals that would have been abundant in them in the past. All of these reasons mean that although we may believe we are getting enough vitamins and minerals from our diets, sometimes it can be important to supplement to top up our levels and ensure we are getting adequate amounts, particularly if we live very active lifestyles as we have much higher requirements than the average human being.