Did you know that the body needs micronutrients called minerals to perform many day-to-day functions? These essential micronutrients are divided into two categories: minor minerals and major minerals. For all intents and purposes, there are nine minor minerals (iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, and molybdenum) and seven major minerals (sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfur) that we should be aware of. This post is going to focus on the major minerals, what they do for us, and which foods we can find them in. Let’s dive in!
First up: Potassium. Potassium is an essential major mineral and electrolyte that has very important functions for the body. Adequate levels of potassium are needed to maintain water and electrolyte balance, nerve function, and muscle contraction.
Potassium is famously found in bananas but can also be found in many other fruits and vegetables such as spinach, oranges, broccoli, potatoes, and mushrooms!
Next up: Sodium. Sodium is another major mineral that many of us are probably very familiar with! Like potassium, sodium is required for water and electrolyte balance, nerve function, and muscle contraction.
Sodium is found in table salt, otherwise known as sodium chloride or NaCl. Most of us get plenty of sodium from foods such as processed cheeses, dried meats, soy sauce, deli meats, and canned vegetables. Too much sodium can be harmful for our health (i.e. cause high blood pressure); however, these foods are totally fine in moderation and we actually need some sodium to maintain health and perform the functions listed above.
Calcium is an essential mineral with incredibly important roles in various body functions. It is a large component of teeth and bones so adequate calcium levels are required to maintain and promote their health! Having sufficient calcium levels supports the immune system and helps us fight off infections and other illnesses. Similar to sodium and potassium, calcium is necessary for nerve function and muscle contraction. Calcium also plays a role in blood health and blood pressure regulation!
Good sources of calcium include cow’s milk and canned fish – with bones! This is because, similar to human bones, fish bones contain calcium. Some examples of canned fish with bones that you can find at the grocery store are salmon and sardines. For plant-based sources of calcium, look to vegetables such as broccoli, dark leafy greens, and legumes!
Next, let’s move on to chloride! Not to be confused with chlorine, the chemical commonly found in pool water, chloride is a major mineral needed for water and electrolyte balance. Chloride also plays a role in the formation of stomach acid, and is therefore crucial in supporting digestive health. This is because stomach acid helps us to digest foods like carbohydrates and proteins once they reach the stomach. Like sodium, we obtain adequate amounts of chloride in our diets from table salt, also known as NaCl (makes sense now, right?!) as well as other foods with high salt contents.
The next major mineral we will be talking about is phosphorus! Phosphorus is found widely in plenty of different foods. Most of us consume sufficient amounts of phosphorus from red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and cow’s milk!
This essential mineral is involved in bone and teeth maintenance. This is because, like calcium, phosphorus is a major component of both. Phosphorus also plays a large role in acid-base balance.
Moving on to magnesium, this major mineral is found in our bones and needed for muscle contraction, nerve function, and immunity. There are many different forms of magnesium, one of which has been found to promote a more restful sleep.
Magnesium is found in foods like nuts, seeds, dark chocolate (yum!), artichokes, legumes, dark leafy greens, and seafood!
Lastly, let us take a look at sulfur. Found mostly in protein, it makes sense that dietary sources of sulfur are found in red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and cow’s milk. In addition to helping the body make protein, sulfur contributes to DNA formation and metabolism.
Thank you all so much for following along with this discussion of major minerals – We hope you learned something cool and interesting! Follow along on social media for more information about these major minerals. Next month, we will take a look at the trace minerals – See you then!