Minerals, importance for our body
Published: 30 December, 2021 - Updated: 27 October, 2022 | 4'
Nutrients are necessary for the normal functioning of the processes of our organism and the only way to obtain them is through food. A varied and balanced diet is essential to provide our body with all the nutrients it needs.
These are divided into two main classes: macronutrients and micronutrients.
- Macronutrients are those that the body needs in large quantities such as carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, 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 amounts and are indispensable for the functioning of the body.
What are minerals?
Minerals are naturally present in water and soil, so plants take up a large amount of minerals and, from these, they are passed on to animals through their diet.
Minerals, unlike some vitamins, cannot be synthesised in the body and must be supplied through the diet.
What is the role of minerals as nutrients?
Minerals are key elements in the body and are needed by accumulation, i.e. our body accumulates them for later use in metabolic or physiological processes. Although they are not a source of energy, like vitamins, they are necessary for many internal processes.
Minerals as electrolytes
Some minerals, usually those that are present in larger quantities in the body (macrominerals), have functions as electrolytes. This means that they are used by the body to help regulate muscle and nerve function and maintain water balance.
What are the minerals needed by humans?
The daily amounts of micronutrients, both vitamins and minerals, depend on the metabolism, age and gender of the person and are not predetermined, although there are some minimum amounts that the body needs for each of them under conditions of good health.
Lifestyle, such as physical exercise, specific conditions such as pregnancy, or factors such as age in stages of growth or ageing, influence the need for these micronutrients.
All minerals are needed for different internal processes, so their presence is important even in small amounts.
Kinds of minerals and foods containing them
Depending on the needs and quantities required by the body, the essential minerals in the body can be divided into macrominerals and microminerals, also called trace elements.
Macro minerals are minerals present in the body in large quantities, hence their nomenclature, as the daily needs of an average adult are more 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 plays an important role in the functioning of muscles and nerves, as well as helping to maintain the integrity of bones and the heart cycle regulation. We can get this mineral from water, fruits such as bananas, nuts and soya.
Calcium is an important mineral for bone growth and development, and is present in large quantities in bones and blood. It is found in dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, fish and seafood.
This mineral is involved in blood control. Sodium can be found in many foods, so deficiency in the diet is not common. Sodium chloride is the most common form, commonly known as table salt.
Phosphorus is involved in the formation of bones and teeth. It is also a component of DNA and RNA and is part of cell membranes. We can get this mineral from pulses, cereals, nuts, meat, fish and cheese.
This mineral is needed for numerous enzymatic reactions and the functioning of muscle fibres and the heart. Potassium can be found in milk, meat, bananas and sultanas.
Microminerals or trace elements
In contrast, minerals present in small or trace amounts are called microminerals, more commonly known as trace elements. Their daily need is less than 100 mg, so their amounts are measured in micrograms (µg).
Most of these trace elements are built into enzymes or hormones that are essential for the processes in the body (metabolism) and are therefore vital 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 found in red meat, egg yolks, legumes and nuts, mostly.
The main function of selenium is against oxidative stress, so it is an antioxidant, involved 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.
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 or nuts are foods rich in zinc.
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 necessary 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).
Some of the foods that contain copper include organ meats, seafood, nuts and fruits, as well as dark leafy greens, 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.