Mineral supplements are more important than ever because modern farming techniques deplete the natural minerals found in the soil.
Farms used to work with Mother Nature. The land was cultivated using crop rotations which allowed the vitamin and mineral content of the soil to recover. Animal wastes were returned to the farmland, and the soil was replenished as it was used. Modern large scale agricultural operations strip the land instead of replenishing it.
The soil that our vegetables and fruits are grown in today is stripped of its minerals and vitamins. If you compare the amounts of minerals in vegetables and fruit from just 50 years ago, the overall values have dropped dramatically. For instance, broccoli grown today has 50% less calcium than broccoli grown in the 1960s, and watercress is down 88% in iron content since the 60s.
Details on the Major Minerals and Mineral Supplements
There are 7 major minerals essential for good health. If you don’t eat the foods containing these, you may want to think about mineral supplements:
- Calcium: the majority (99%) is found in bones and teeth. The other 1% aids in blood clotting, muscle contractions, nerve message transmission, heart action and it activates certain enzymes.
Sources: Milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines, salmon, collard greens, cabbage, kale, unrefined cereals, bone broths.
- Potassium: Essential for blood pressure regulation, the utilization of proteins and carbohydrates, maintenance of a normal heartbeat, nerve message transmission, digestive enzyme work, and serves as an electrolyte. It is so critical to heart function that low potassium levels can lead to sudden death.
Note: Diuretics have the side effect of flushing potassium out of the body, so if you take a diuretic that is NOT potassium-sparing, try to eat more foods containing potassium or take a potassium supplement. (Ask your doctor what type of diuretic you are taking first.)
Sources: Potatoes, avocados, raisins, sardines, bananas, oranges and orange juice, winter squash, raw tomatoes, buttermilk, whole milk, cod, sweet potato, chicken, turkey, most vegetables and fruit.
- Magnesium: Found in bones and soft tissues. It is a critical co-factor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including the processes by which your cells create energy, maintain heart and nerve tissue health, healthy blood sugar metabolism, muscle contractions, and other vital enzyme functions. A majority of Americans are deficient in magnesium and supplements are recommended for those who don’t eat the foods which are high in this mineral. Magnesium deficiency is a problem for people who ingest lots of caffeine or take diuretics. A recent study showed that magnesium supplementation significantly decreased c-peptide and fasting insulin concentrations in overweight individuals, which translates into better fat burning.
Magnesium will help if you get Charley horses in your leg muscles, and taking magnesium supplements will also cure constipation. Be careful to buy magnesium citrate, as it the most absorbable form. Mineral supplements of magnesium should provide 250- 500 mg of magnesium citrate per day.
A side note: Mary Eades wrote a book called “The Doctor’s Complete Guide to Vitamins and Minerals. She writes that magnesium absorption in the body is reduced, impaired or more is needed because of no less than 14 different interactions, including a high-fat diet, a high fiber diet, extra folic acid, consumption of foods containing oxalic acid, high sugar intakes, etc.
Sources: Nuts and pumpkin seeds, almonds, black-eyed peas, cashews, kidney and lima beans, brazil nuts, pecans, tomato paste, halibut, artichokes, whole grains, blackstrap molasses, raw leafy vegetables, peanut butter, bananas, avocados.
- Phosphorus: the majority of this mineral is found in bones and teeth. It is critical in the structural formation of DNA and RNA, plays a major role in energy production in our cells, regulates the absorption of calcium and trace minerals and plays an important part in the utilization of carbohydrates and fats. It also aids in the synthesis of protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues.
Sources: Mineral supplements can be a source, but all protein foods contain high amounts of phosphorus. Meats, fish, nuts, legumes, whole milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products are high in it. Phosphorus is found in whole grains, but it is in the form of phytin, so it not available unless the grains are soaked or sprouted to make it available for absorption. Note: Vitamin D must be present in sufficient quantity in the body for phosphorus and calcium to stay in the bones, otherwise osteoporosis can set in.
- Sulfur: Found in and essential for normal skin, fingernails and hair. Compounds containing sulfur are associated with collagen production and healthy skin, enzyme catalysts, oxygen distribution in hemoglobin, insulin regulation, and vitamin components (thiamine and biotin). Sulfur is present in four amino acids: methionine, cystine, cysteine, and taurine.
Sources: Protein foods, onions, cabbage.
- Sodium: Found throughout the body. It plays a critical role in maintaining water and electrolyte balance, osmotic pressure in body fluids, and it aids in maintaining the body acid-base balance. Sodium is also critical for kidney function.
Sources: Table and sea salt, cheese, butter, cereals.
- Chlorine: Found mostly in extracellular fluids, and as part of the hydrochloric acid in stomach. It aids in the function of the liver and helps to maintain body acid-base balance.
Sources: Eggs, butter, milk, leafy vegetables, salt tomatoes
Important Micro Minerals
These micro or trace minerals are needed by the body in much smaller amounts, but mineral supplements may be needed to get the correct amounts on a daily basis:
- Iron: Found in blood hemoglobin. Iron aids in bringing oxygen to cells, and in cellular enzyme work. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells. Heme iron is found in animal foods such as red meats, fish, and poultry. The iron in plant foods such as lentils and beans is called nonheme iron. This is the form of iron added to iron-enriched and iron-fortified foods like bread. Heme iron is absorbed better than nonheme iron.
You should NOT take mineral supplements which include iron unless you have tested positively for anemia (or an iron deficiency), or you are a woman experiencing very heavy menstrual bleeding each month. Too much iron in the body can be detrimental, causing both inflammation and infections. Bacteria LOVE iron; I’ve found that if I feel a cold coming on, I stop eating any iron-containing foods. I get better much faster.
Sources: Beef liver, red meat, poultry, lima beans, sunflower seeds, cod, haddock, spinach, broccoli, egg yolks, molasses, raisins, apricots, berries, onions, whole grains.
- Manganese: Essential for bone formation, body growth, normal metabolism; activates many essential enzymes.
Sources: Whole grains, beans, beet tops, pineapple, bananas, blueberries, saltwater fish.
- Copper: Aids in the utilization of iron, and is essential for the enzymes that control collagen formation. Collagen is needed to heal wounds. Copper also activates many other essential enzymes and aids in the formation of key neurotransmitters that allow brain cells to “talk” to one another. Zinc is an antagonist to copper, so if you eat a lot of meat (which contains lots of zinc), or take mineral supplements which contain zinc, make sure you also take a multivitamin with copper or also eat liver, and nuts and seeds to get enough copper to balance your zinc intake. See this post for more information.
Sources: Liver, kidney, shellfish, legumes, nuts, raisins, mushrooms, unrefined cereals.
- Iodine: Found mostly in the thyroid gland. It controls the metabolism rate, aids in forming thyroid hormone, prevents goiter. There is some research showing iodine plays a role in preventing atherosclerosis and diseases of the breast.
Sources: Seafood (animal and vegetable), mushrooms, crops are grown near oceans, iodized salt.
- Zinc: Found mostly in the sex organs and thyroid. It plays a vital role in the enzyme functions needed for proper growth and sexual maturity. Even a mild zinc deficiency can cause sperm counts to drop below the point of technical sterility. Zinc also plays an important role in insulin regulation, immune system function, and it improves the body’s ability to fight off infection. It is a critical co-factor in the production of gustin, a substance that regulates your perception of taste. Zinc also helps with a wide range of conditions including night vision, prostate health, wound care, acne, body odor and the reduction of joint inflammation. Zinc and copper should be kept in balance with each other. Too much copper will diminish the efficacy of zinc and vice versa.
Sources: Seafood, especially oysters and crab, beef and lamb, giblet meats from poultry, dark meat chicken, pork, beef and calf liver, beef tenderloin, swiss cheese, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cheddar cheese, lentils, chickpeas, cashews, shrimp, crimini mushrooms.
- Molybdenum: Essential for bone formation, normal metabolism, and body growth. It aids in fighting off certain types of cancer, reduces cavities, and helps in the metabolization of fat, iron, and carbs.
Sources: Beans, whole grains, dark leafy greens, organ meats.
- Cobalt: Found in the pancreas, liver, and spleen. It aids in the formation of blood and is a vital part of vitamin B-12.
Sources: Beef liver, beans, whole grains.
- Chromium: stimulates insulin activity, and aids in the metabolism of sugar. It also helps to control fat and cholesterol levels in the blood.
Sources: Egg yolks, molasses, beef, hard cheeses, beef liver, whole wheat bread.
- Nickel: Present in all tissues and the blood. It aids enzyme activity, especially in the breakdown of glucose and may be a factor in hormone, lipid and membrane metabolism and cell membrane integrity. Significant amounts are found in DNA and RNA.
Sources: Unrefined whole grains, nuts, oysters, tea, herring, buckwheat seed, peas, beans, soybeans, lentils.
- Selenium: Selenium is an important antioxidant which in conjunction with Vitamin E, helps prevent cellular damage from free radicals. Free radicals are natural by-products of oxygen metabolism that may contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. It also helps regulate thyroid function and plays a role in the immune system functions. Other selenium compounds aid in regulating nitric oxide levels in the arteries and other tasks which make it important in cardiovascular health. It also has potent cancer-fighting properties. One study showed that supplementation lowered cancer mortality rates by 50% in a group of skin cancer patients. Mineral supplements of selenium should provide 100-200 micrograms (mcg) per day.
Sources: Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, cod, turkey, eggs, cottage cheese, oatmeal, rice.
Mineral supplements are an important part of a healthy eating plan. I believe potassium, magnesium, and selenium are especially important, and calcium too if you don’t eat many dairy products.
Mineral supplements are not as popular as vitamin supplements in the media, so you don’t hear much about the important minerals needed in human nutrition.
I’ve learned most of what I know about mineral supplements in a few highly recommended books which talk about mineral supplements in detail.
For details about magnesium and potassium mineral supplements, check out The Protein Power Lifeplan by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades. Anthony Colpo writes in detail on Selenium, Iron and Copper in The Great Cholesterol Con.