Nutrients are very essential for the normal functioning of our body and the only way to get them is through food. A varied and balanced diet is very necessary to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs. Minerals can be divided into two main categories: macronutrients and micronutrients.
- Macronutrients are those that are needed in large quantities by the body, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, which are necessary for the structural and metabolic activities of the body.
- On the other hand, micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are present in much smaller quantities and are necessary for the functioning of the body.
What are the minerals?
Minerals are naturally present in water and soil, so plants absorb a large amount of minerals, and these minerals are passed on to animals through their diet. Minerals, unlike some vitamins, cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained through the diet.
What role do minerals have as nutrients?
Minerals are essential elements that our bodies store for later use in metabolic or physiological processes. Although it is not a source of energy, like vitamins, it is essential for many internal processes.
Minerals as electrolytes
Some minerals, generally those present in larger amounts in the body (macrominerals), act as electrons. This means that the body uses it to help regulate nerve and muscle function, as well as maintain water balance.
What minerals does the human body need?
Daily requirements of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, vary with metabolism, age and gender for each person and are not fixed, although there are the minimum required quantities that the body needs for each under stable health conditions.
Lifestyle such as physical exercise, certain conditions such as pregnancy, or factors such as age in developmental stages or aging affect the need for these micronutrients. All minerals are necessary for different internal processes, so their presence is important even in trace amounts.
Types of minerals and foods that contain them
According to the needs of the body and the amount needed by the body, the essential minerals in the body can be classified into macro and micro minerals, also called trace elements.
Macrominerals are minerals that are present in the body in large quantities, hence the name, because the daily requirement of an adult is greater than 100 mg/day. The function of bones, muscles, heart and brain depends on these minerals. These are magnesium, calcium, sodium, phosphorus and potassium.
- Magnesium. Magnesium plays a major role in muscle and nerve function, in addition to helping to maintain bone integrity and regulate the heart’s circulation. We can get this mineral from water and fruits such as bananas, nuts or soybeans.
- Calcium. It is an essential mineral for bone growth and development, and it is found in large quantities in the bones and blood. It is obtained from dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, fish and shellfish.
- Sodium. This mineral has a role in controlling the blood. Sodium can be found in many foods, so a deficiency in the diet is not uncommon. Sodium chloride is the most common form, and is popularly marketed as table salt.
- Phosphorous. It participates in the formation of bones and teeth. In addition, it is a component of ARN and ADN is part of cell membranes. We can get this mineral from legumes, grains, nuts, meat, fish and cheese.
- Potassium. This mineral is necessary for many reactions and the functioning of the muscle fibers and the heart. Potassium can be found in milk, meat, bananas and raisins.
Microminerals or trace elements
In contrast, minerals present in small or trace amounts are called microminerals, more commonly known as trace elements. Their daily requirement is less than 100 mg, so their amounts are measured in micrograms (µg).
Most of these trace elements are incorporated into enzymes or hormones that are essential for the body’s processes (metabolism) and are therefore essential in the body. These are iron, selenium, zinc, copper, iodine, sulphur, chlorine, cobalt, and molybdenum.
- Iron helps in the formation of proteins necessary for the transport of oxygen to red blood cells, flavoproteins and other enzymes. Iron can be obtained from red meat, egg yolk, legumes and nuts, mostly.
- Selenium. The main activity of selenium is against oxidative stress, so it is an antioxidant, participating in the functions of the immune system, among other biological processes. Vegetables and cereals are a great source of selenium, along with meat and fish.
- Zinc. The mineral zinc is involved in cellular immunity along with other nutrients such as vitamin C, as well as in bone and tissue formation. Meat, fish and nuts are foods rich in zinc.
- Copper. This mineral is found in the liver, bones and muscles, but traces of copper are found in all tissues of the body. It is part of many enzymes, including those required for the following functions: energy production, formation of red blood cells, bone or connective tissue (that which binds tissues and organs together), antioxidant action (protects cells from damage by free radicals, which are by-products of normal cellular activity). Copper-containing foods include organ meats, seafood, nuts and fruits, as well as dark leafy vegetables, dried fruits such as plums, cocoa, black pepper and yeast.
- Akram, M. et al. Vitamins and Minerals: Types, Sources and their Functions.
- Centers for Desease Control and Prevention. Micronutrient Facts.
- Minerales en la dieta.
- Merk Manual. Overview of Minerals. Jun, 2020.
- Welch, RM. et Graham, RD. Breeding for micronutrients in staple food crops from a human nutrition perspective. J Exp Bot 55(396):353–364, 2004.