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Mineral rich foods: which whole foods to eat for your daily minerals

Mineral rich foods: which whole foods to eat for your daily minerals

Team ErbologyErbology

Unlike their famous cousins, the vitamins, minerals are often overlooked when we evaluate our diets. However, we need a range of minerals to perform an enormous range of vital processes in our bodies. Luckily, you can stock up on essential minerals by making sure you're incorporating certain mineral rich foods into your diet. Here's a rundown of the minerals to look out for, and where you can find them.

July 06, 2021 3:26 pm

How are essential minerals different from vitamins?

Most of us are used to making sure we’re eating enough fresh fruit to get our daily vitamin C, or munching on a handful of almonds for. our vitamin E. It’s more unusual to hear people carefully considering whether their diet is high enough in magnesium or calcium.

So, what is the difference between vitamins and minerals, and is one more important than the other?

Vitamins are organic compounds, which means they are made by plants or animals. (We can also make a few of them synthetically.) As a result, they’re quite prone to change; heat, air or acid can change the molecular structure of a vitamin. For this reason, vitamins are quite hard for our bodies to hold onto, which means we need to keep a steady supply of them coming in from our diets.

Minerals, on the other hand, are inorganic. They come to us from soil, rocks and water. Minerals are absorbed into the food chain by plants and passed up to us. Unlike minerals, they don’t tend to change structure, so stay intact all the way from the soil to our plates. We’re better at hanging onto them, but you still need to make sure you’re eating a varied diet of whole, mineral rich foods to ensure you’re getting enough of them. → View Related Products

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Major and trace minerals

As a group, essential minerals are generally divided into major and trace minerals. Logically, your body needs a large amount of the seven major (or macro) minerals and only very small amounts of the nine trace minerals. 

This doesn’t mean that trace minerals are less important for your health; simply that you don’t need quite so much of them to get by.

The essential macro minerals are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulphur. Meanwhile, the essential micro minerals you need are: iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.

Let’s begin with the major players…

Major mineral: Calcium

Your body contains more calcium than any other mineral. It builds your bones and teeth.

Further, this dietary mineral also plays an important role in heart health and muscle functioning.

How to replenish your calcium stores, then? Many people cite dairy products as a good source of calcium, but you can also find plenty of it in plant-based mineral-rich foods.(1) Seeds are a great place to start; just one tablespoon of poppy seeds contains 13% of your recommended daily allowance of calcium. → View Related Products

Plant-based foods high in calcium

  • Sesame (989 mg) and chia seeds (631 mg)
  • Almonds (269 mg) and Brazil nuts (160 mg)
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli (47 mg) and cabbage (40 mg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

 

Italian almonds

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Major mineral: Phosphorus

Next up, phosphorus! This major mineral helps to manage energy in your body. It’s also important for your kidneys and helps them clean your body of waste.(2)

Most people don’t really need to worry about their phosphorus intake. In fact, it is more common to have too much phosphorus in your body than too little of it.

While obtaining your minerals and other nutrients from whole foods generally doesn’t lead to a potentially dangerous build-up in your body, taking supplements can. So, unless you have a clear reason to do so, you might want to think twice about taking a supplement containing phosphorus. Chances are, you have enough already, especially if you regularly eat mineral rich foods such as lentils, beans and whole grains.→ View Related Products

Plant-based sources of phosphorus

  • Soy products like tempeh (266 mg), edamame (169 mg), and soy milk (32 mg)
  • Beans like lentils (180 mg), small white beans (169 mg), great northern beans (165mg), and chickpeas (168 mg)
  • Seeds like squash and pumpkin seeds (1175 mg), hemp seeds (1650 mg), and chia seeds (860mg)
  • Whole and pseudo grains like amaranth (148 mg), quinoa (152 mg), brown rice (103mg) and whole wheat pasta (149 mg)
Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

 

mineral rich amaranth

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'Studies indicate that close to half of adults in the US do not get enough magnesium.'

Major mineral: Magnesium

At completely the opposite end of the scale is magnesium; studies indicate that almost half of adults in the US don’t get enough of it.(3)

Every cell in your body needs magnesium to perform a dizzying array of functions. It is involved in the creation of proteins, essential muscle function and supporting genes, to name but a few.

Further, magnesium also helps your cells obtain enough energy during exercise and, in turn, get rid of excess lactate. Lactate can leave you feeling unnecessarily drained post-exercise.(4) It’s interesting to note that protein – another nutrient important during exercise and for muscle health – helps your body to absorb magnesium. When it comes to keeping fit, these two are a dynamic duo.

There have been other studies into the various health benefits of this dietary mineral for exercise, but they have been inconclusive. However, it is safe to say that magnesium is essential for wellbeing in more than one way. Stock up by eating mineral rich foods like dark, leafy greens. 

You can get magnesium from these mineral rich foods

  • Seeds like flax seeds (392 mg), sesame seeds (356 mg), and sunflower seeds (325 mg)
  • Dark leafy greens like Swiss chard (81 mg), kale (33 mg) and spinach (87 mg)
  • Dark chocolate (228 mg)
  • Bananas (27 mg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

 

Rosemary Sweet Potato

Major mineral: Sulphur

While we’re more used to hearing about sulphur in hot springs and volcanoes, it’s also present in our bodies. In fact, our connective tissue (such as skin and tendons) depends on it.(5)

What’s more, sulphur is needed to synthesise glutathione, which is one of the most important antioxidants in our bodies.(6) Antioxidants help the body fight damage caused by free radicals. Otherwise known as oxidative stress, this damage is a threat to our health and is a factor in many common diseases.

Some people follow a low sulphur diet for wellbeing. However, most of the research into the benefits of lessening sulphur intake focuses on sulphites, a preservative made from sulphur. That is to say, this preservative should not be confused with sulphur as a dietary mineral for your health.

Food sources of sulphur

  • Onions and garlic
  • Broccoli

Note: These sources of sulphur are indicated in reference number 5.

Major mineral: Sodium

When it comes to the Western diet, many of us are concerned that we may be consuming too much sodium. This is partially because sodium (in the form of salt) is frequently added to processed foods as a flavouring or preservative. An excess of sodium is linked to high blood pressure.

However, consuming too little sodium can also be bad for your health – particularly if high blood pressure isn’t an issue for you.(7) This is because it is an incredibly important electrolyte. Electrolytes transmit tiny electrical impulses between our nerves.

That said, very few of us need to worry about obtaining enough sodium. Even if you keep a very careful watch on your salt intake, you will probably eat foods that contain sufficient sodium to meet your daily requirement.

Also, sodium as a dietary mineral is distinct from salt (which is a compound, sodium chloride). Sodium, not salt, does occur in very small amounts in fresh fruits and vegetables. Just in case, here are a few healthy foods that contain substantial amounts of sodium. 

Plant-based foods containing sodium

  • Sauerkraut (661mg)
  • Miso (3728mg)
  • Canned navy beans (336mg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

Major mineral: Potassium

Most of us interested in healthy diet and wellbeing are aware how important it is to drink enough water and stay hydrated. However, you may not realise that obtaining enough potassium through diet is another essential part of maintaining fluid balance throughout the body.

Like sodium, potassium is an electrolyte. However, whereas sodium helps with the fluids outside our cells, potassium helps with the fluids inside them (known as intra-cellular fluids, or ICF).

Further, a lack of potassium can lead to dehydration, which in turn puts strain on the heart and kidneys.(8)  → View Related Products

Plant-based foods that contain potassium

  • Sweet potatoes (337 mg) and potatoes (535 mg)
  • Squash like acorn squash (347 mg), hubbard squash (320 mg), butternut squash (352mg) and courgette (261 mg)
  • Guava (417 mg), kiwi fruit (312 mg) and cantaloupe (267 mg)
  • Walnuts (441 mg)
  • Bananas (358 mg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

 

banana bread ingredients

Major mineral: Chloride

We’ve already met one component of salt: sodium. Now, let’s turn to its partner in crime, chloride.

Chloride is an important ingredient in our gastric juices.(9) In other words, it helps us digest food. What’s more, much like sodium and potassium it also helps us maintain the proper balance of fluids within our bodies.

Many salt substitutes retain chloride in their mixes, and do away with sodium.

As with sodium, because of the abundance of salt in Western diets obtained through processed, canned, and preserved food and in food prepared outside the home, very few of us need to worry about a lack of chloride in our diets. For information, here are a few healthy mineral rich foods that contain chloride naturally.

Plant-based foods with chloride

  • Seaweed
  • Rye
  • Tomatoes
  • Olives
  • Lettuce and celery

Note: These sources of chloride are indicated in reference number 10.

 

Sicilian salad recipe

Trace mineral: Chromium

Now, on to the trace minerals.

Chromium is a metallic trace mineral. Research is still trying to determine exactly why we need this dietary mineral for our health.

Sometimes, seeing how a deficiency of something affects us is the best way to try and guess what a normal amount might help us with. In this case, chromium deficiency seems to lead to difficulties managing insulin. Further, normal production of proteins and energy seem to be impaired.(11)

These mineral rich foods contain chromium

  • Broccoli
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Green beans
  • Potatoes

Note: These sources of chromium are indicated in reference number 12.

Trace mineral: Copper

Another metallic trace mineral, copper plays a role in the health of our cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems. 

Interestingly, research has suggested that copper has been steadily decreasing in the typical American diet since the 1930s. Consequently, one-fourth of adults in the States and Canada is thought to suffer from a deficiency of copper.(13) This can cause tiredness, weakness and an increased susceptibility to getting ill.

However, too much copper can also be harmful, causing gastric issues like diarrhoea and vomiting. Fortunately, this is very rare in healthy individuals.→ View Related Products

Food sources of copper

  • Cashew nuts (2.2 mg) and other nuts and seeds like sesame seeds (2.5 mg)
  • Buckwheat (1.1 mg)
  • Medjool dates (0.4 mg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

 

Cashew Cheese Crackers

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Trace mineral: Fluoride

You probably know fluoride because so many toothpastes contain it. However, you may not have realised that it’s actually a dietary mineral. Besides looking after our tooth enamel, it strengthens our bones, too.

In many areas, fluoride is added to drinking water. However, we do still get quite a bit of fluoride from our diet, through foods like those listed below.

Food sources of fluoride

  • Raisins (233.9μg)
  • Oatmeal (71.6μg)
  • Carrots (3.2μg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

Trace mineral: Iodine

Those who have never experienced issues with their thyroid may not be familiar with iodine, However, this trace mineral is key to thyroid health, which in turn regulates our metabolism.(14)

Iodine is widely available in the normal Western diet, so most of us do not need to consciously focus on making sure that we have enough of it. In fact, in all the years you live on Earth, you only need to consume less than a teaspoon of iodine to meet your needs.

However, you do still need that tiny amount, and it is always good to know a bit more about its sources.

Iodine is naturally found in the soil and in the sea, which means that many plant-based foods as well as seafoods contain it.

Many people also get their iodine from iodised salt, but for obvious reasons that may not be the healthiest course of action. Fortunately, there are other plant-based places to go looking for iodine, as listed below.

Plant-based foods that contain iodine

  • Dried seaweed
  • Potato
  • Navy beans

Note: Values are minute. Source: My Food Data.

Trace mineral: Iron

Iron deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the world. Many people have trouble getting enough iron from their diet.

If you have an iron deficiency, you will notice clear symptoms and may develop anaemia, which causes tiredness and shortness of breath.

Iron is essential because our bodies need it to build two important proteins, haemoglobin and myoglobin. Both help in the transport and storage of oxygen within the body. This is related to the fatigue that many people with iron deficiency experience.(15)

Iron attained through animal sources and via plant sources are taken in differently by your body, with iron from animal sources being absorbed much more efficiently. However, that does not mean that vegetarians and vegans cannot get enough iron via diet. It does mean, though, that veggies and vegans may need to keep a closer eye on their intake.

It’s also good to keep in mind that Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and beta-carotene help the body absorb more iron from food. Thus, it’s sensible to try and pair iron with other foods which can supply these nutrients.

For instance, a breakfast of a sea buckthorn shot served with some plant-based yoghurt and tigernut granola would supply you with vitamin C, beta-carotene, and iron.→ View Related Products

Plant-based foods with iron

  • Jerusalem artichokes (3.4 mg)
  • Tigernuts (2 mg)
  • Dried apricots (2.7 mg) and other dried fruits such as dried peaches (4.1 mg), and figs (2 mg)
  • Spinach (2.7 mg) and other dark greens such as Swiss chard (1.8 mg), kale (1.6 mg) or beet greens (2.6 mg)
  • Peas (1.5 mg) or lima beans (2.4 mg)
  • Asparagus (2.9 mg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

veggie burger with amaranth flour

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Trace mineral: Manganese

Among many other functions, manganese may improve brain health by protecting it against dangerous free radicals.(16)

As with other heavy metals, consuming too much manganese may be detrimental to health. However, most people who get manganese via whole foods do not need to be overly concerned.

Further, many mineral rich plant-based foods contain stores of manganese.

Sources of manganese

  • Wheat germ (20mg)
  • Okra (0.8mg) and collards (0.7mg)
  • Brown rice (1.1mg) and other whole grains such as oatmeal (0.6mg) and quinoa (0.6mg)
  • Blackberries (0.6mg) and other berries such as raspberries (0.7mg) and strawberries (0.4mg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

Trace mineral: Molybdenum

Molybdenum (pronounced moh-lib-de-num, if you haven’t come across it before) is a lesser known essential trace mineral. It is found in soil, and comes up to us through the food chain.

The amount of molybdenum in a plant-based food is therefore much affected by the soil quality of where it is grown.

Molybdenum helps us to ward off a number of harmful toxins and sulphites by activating key enzymes.(17) Molybdenum deficiency isn’t common, so while it’s good to know about it, you probably don’t need to worry about getting enough of it.

Although it’s very difficult to give accurate measurements of which foods contain molybdenum, we can make quite consistent, well-supported guesses backed by data. Plant-based foods rich in this trace mineral are generally beans and grains.

Note: These sources are indicated in reference number 18.

Buddha bowl recipe

Trace mineral: Selenium

Although just a trace mineral, selenium looks to be incredibly important for our health. Several studies have seemed to indicate a relationship between selenium deficiency and the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Further, another study showed an association between getting selenium through whole foods and increased cognitive fluidity in people with mild cognitive disorders.(19)(20) These are just a few of the ways that this powerful dietary mineral boosts overall health.

On the other hand, too much selenium can cause adverse reactions including dizziness, vomiting, soreness, and more. In severe cases, selenium toxicity can result in organ failure including heart attack or death.

Selenium toxicity is more likely to result from selenium ingested via supplements, but it is still possible via whole foods. Thus, foods rich in selenium such as Brazil nuts should be eaten in moderation.(21)

These foods contain selenium

  • Brazil nuts (1917μg) and other nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds (53μg) and chia seeds (55.2μg)
  • Kamut (31.9μg) and other whole grains such as whole wheat pasta (36.3μg)
  • Shiitake mushrooms (5.7μg) and other mushrooms such as portobellos (18.6μg) and white button mushrooms (9.3μg)
  • Tofu (17.4μg) and other beans such as pinto beans (6.2μg) and navy beans (5.3μg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

Trace mineral: Zinc

Many of us know zinc for its immunity-boosting properties. These effects were pinpointed when researchers found that a deficiency of zinc led to very serious problems with immunity.(21)

However, zinc is also involved in many other functions within the human body, including normal development; digestion; and more. Zinc is also often used externally on the skin when it needs healing. You may not know, though, that making sure that you have sufficient zinc from whole food sources also assists these healing processes. → View Related Products

Plant-based foods containing zinc

  • Hemp seeds (10mg) and other seeds and nuts such as pumpkin and squash seeds (7.6mg) and pine nuts (4.3mg)
  • Tofu (1.6mg) and other soy products such as natto (3mg) and edamame (1.2mg)
  • Lentils (1.3mg) and other beans such as chickpeas (1.5mg) and white beans (2.5mg)
  • Green peas (1.2mg) and spinach (0.5mg)

 

Ingredients for red lentil dahl

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  • References

    (1) Yang et al, “Plant Calcium Content: Ready to Remodel”, Nutrients, 2012. 

    (2) Tian et al, “Phosphates as Energy Sources to Expand Metabolic Networks”, Life (Basel), 2019.

    (3) Rosanoff et al, “Suboptimal Magnesium Status in the United States: Are the Health Consequences Underestimated?”, Nutrition Reviews, 2012.

    (4) Chen et al, “Magnesium Enhances Exercise Performance via Increasing Glucose Availability in the Blood, Muscle, and Brain During Exercise”, PLOs One, 2014. 

    (5) Nimni et al, “Are we getting enough sulfur in our diet?” Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 2007. 

    (6) Ingenbleek, Yves and KImura, Hideo, “Nutritional Essentiality of Sulfur in Health and Disease”, Nutrition Reviews, 2013.

    (7) O’Donnell et al,  “Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion, Mortality, and Cardiovascular Events”, New England Journal of Medicine, 2014.

    (8) Roumelioti et al, “Fluid balance concepts in medicine: Principles and practice”, World Journal of Nephrology, 2018. 

    (9) Hollander, Franklin, “VARIATIONS IN THE CHLORINE CONTENT OF GASTRIC JUICE AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE* Studies in Gastric Secretions, 1932. 

    (10) US National Library of Medicine, “Chloride in diet”. 

    Further references

    (11) Vincent, John B., “The Nutritional Biochemistry of Chromium(III)”, Elsiever Science, 2019. 

    (12) “The benefits and risks of chromium”, Medical News Today.

    (13) Klevay, Leslie M., “Is the Western diet adequate in copper?”, Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, 2011.

    (14) Chung, Hye Rim, “Iodine and thyroid function”, Annals of Pediatric Endrocrinology and Metabolism, 2014. 

    (15) Abbaspour et al, “Review on Iron and Its Importance for Human Health”, Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 2014.

    (16) Takeda, Atsushi, “Manganese Action in Brain Function”, Brain Research Reviews, 2003. 

    (17) Higdon, Jane, “”Molybdenum”, Oregon State University Micronutrient Information Center, 2001. 

    (18) Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic…, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine

     (19) Gonzalez-Dominguez et al, “Homeostasis of Metals in the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease”, Biometals, 2014. 

    (20) Cardoso et al, “Effects of Brazil nut consumption on selenium status and cognitive performance in older adults with mild cognitive impairment…”, European Journal of Nutrition, 2015.

    (21) Prasad, Ananda S, “Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells”, Molecular Medicine, 2008. 

    Photo credits: Mike Kenneally

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