What are the essential minerals and which foods to get them from?

What are the essential minerals and which foods to get them from?

Team ErbologyErbology

Minerals are magical. Just think about gold dust and crystals... And the minerals you take in through diet are no less magical. Case in point: phosphorus is a major dietary mineral essential for your health, and phosphorescence glows... just otherworldly.

June 30, 2020 5:26 pm

How are essential minerals different from vitamins?

You hear a lot about vitamins. However, dietary minerals are just as essential for health. And there are more of them! Altogether, there are 16 essential minerals. The real difference between vitamins and minerals? Vitamins are organic. That is to say, they’re more alive and dynamic. Therefore, also more fragile. Heat, air, or acid can change the structure of a vitamin. Which means that you need to keep yourself supplied with vitamins. Minerals, on the other hand, are inorganic. They are static. To clarify, their structure doesn’t change. Therefore, essential minerals are easier for your body to hold onto once they enter your body through food or fluids.

That doesn’t mean that you can stop thinking about making sure you are supplied with adequate essential minerals. As with vitamins, mineral intake through diet depends on a balanced, varied diet of fresh and whole foods. The amount you need varies depending on the mineral. → View Related Products



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As a group, essential minerals are generally divided into major and trace minerals. As it says on the tin, the 7 essential major minerals (or macro minerals) are ones that your body needs major amounts of. You only need… wait for it!… traces of the 9 trace minerals (or micro minerals).

However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the trace minerals are less important. They are just as necessary for wellbeing. Remember, less is more – but more’s more too!

The essential macro minerals include: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. The essential micro minerals are: iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.

That said, let’s start with the majors…

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? Well, calcium is not only found in dairy products. Many plant-based foods are rich in calcium.(1) Some of our favourites are seeds. Certainly it’s so easy to sprinkle these onto your breakfast bowl, salad, soup, frozen treat, you name it…  For instance, just one tablespoon of poppy seeds contains 13% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium, giving you a major leg up. → 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.


organic almonds

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Major mineral: Phosphorus

As phosphorus is second on our list, guess which mineral your body contains the most of, after calcium? Yeah, you got it! Among other things, phosphorus helps to manage energy in your body. Moreover, it’s also important for your kidneys and helps them clean your body of waste.(2) It is more common to have too much phosphorus in your body than too little of it. To clarify, this may be another good reason not to take phosphorus in supplement form. In other words, obtaining nutrients through whole foods generally does not lead to a possibly dangerous buildup within your body. → 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.


Amaranth burger recipe

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

Major mineral: Magnesium

Studies indicate that close to half of adults in the US do not get enough magnesium.(3) So much attention is paid to calcium that many people make sure that they get enough of it. However, every cell in your body needs magnesium. Moreover, it is needed for a dizzying array of functions. For instance, the creation of proteins; essential muscle functions; supporting genes; and many more! 

Further, magnesium also helps your body obtain enough blood sugar during exercise and, in turn, get rid of excess lactate. Lactate can leave you feeling unnecessarily drained post-exercise.(4) 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. Lastly, it’s good to note that protein helps with magnesium absorption.

You can get magnesium from these whole 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.

plum herb crackers

Major mineral: Sulphur

Sulphur abounds in the air we breathe and the soil we walk on. Consequently, it finds its way into much of our food through the soil. Our connective tissue, which includes skin and tendons, depends on sulphur.(5) In addition, sulphur is necessary to the life of gluthiaone, which is one of the most important antioxidants in our bodies.(6) To clarify, antioxidants help us fight oxidative stress, which is a major threat to health on many levels. 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

You hear so much about excess sodium and its ties to high blood pressure in Western diets. As a result, it’s easy to forget how important this dietary mineral is to our health. Recent studies have shown that consuming too little sodium may also be quite harmful to your health, especially if you do not suffer from high blood pressure.(7) Above all, sodium is one of the most important electrolytes for us. 

Electrolytes transmit tiny electrical impulses between our nerves. That said, much of the reason that sodium is such a concern to the Western world is due to salt in processed foods. These foods are not optimal to wellbeing for many, many reasons. 

However, it remains to be said that very few of us need to worry about obtaining enough sodium. Even if you are very, very healthy, you will probably eat foods that contain sufficient sodium to meet your daily requirement. Also, sodium as a dietary mineral is distinct from salt. We will say more on this later. That is to say, sodium, and 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 (in a good way!) amounts of 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 realize that obtaining enough potassium through diet is another essential part of maintaining fluid balance throughout the body. To clarify, like sodium, potassium is an electrolyte. However, whereas sodium helps to maintain fluids outside our cells, potassium helps with intra-cellular fluids, or ICF. Further, a lack of potassium can lead to dehydration, which in turn is hard 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.



Major mineral: Chloride

As mentioned, we tend to think of sodium as meaning salt. However, sodium is one of the two major dietary minerals which make up table salt. The second is chloride. This is an important ingredient in our gastric juices.(9) In other words, it helps us digest food. Further, 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 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.

Trace mineral: Chromium

Chromium is a metallic trace mineral. Research is still trying to determine exactly why we need this dietary mineral for our health. That is to say, 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. To clarify, chromium deficiency seems to lead to difficulties managing insulin. Further, normal production of proteins and energy seem to be impaired.(11)

These 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 into the health of our cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems. In other words, heart, bone, and sense! 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) However, too much copper can also be harmful. How to correct this? Fortunately, many plant-based foods contain healthy amounts of copper. → 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.


raita recipe

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Trace mineral: Fluoride

You probably know fluoride because so many toothpastes have it. However, you may not have realized that it’s actually a dietary mineral. Further, fluoride also strengthens our bones. To clarify, fluoride is important for our tooth enamel. Certainly, enamel is a shield that protects our teeth from decay. Meanwhile, in many areas, fluoride is added to drinking water. Therefore, you probably don’t need to worry about fluoride in diet. Just in case though…

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

You know these thyroid problems you hear about people having? Well, an adequate – not overly abundant – supply of iodine 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. However, it is of course a good thing to know a bit more about iodine and its sources. Certainly, 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. This doesn’t mean this is the best option. In all of the years you live on Earth, you only need to consume less than a teaspoon of iodine to meet your requirement. That’s how much of a trace mineral it is – but you still need that teaspoon. Preferably not all at once, though. Little by little, day by day…

Plant-based foods that contain iodine

  • Dried seaweed
  • Potato
  • Navy beans

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

Trace mineral: Iron

Iron is a trace mineral. You will probably know something about getting enough of it. This is probably because many people have difficulty doing this. Further, iron deficiency often exhibits itself via clear physical symptoms. Iron is essential because our bodies need it to build two important proteins, hemeglobin 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 deficiencies and / or anaemia (not necessarily the same thing) 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 that more iron may need to be taken in by these groups of people. Further, it’s good to keep in mind (and on plate!) that Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and beta-carotene help the body absorb more iron from food. For instance, a breakfast of bergamot shot and some plant-based yoghurt topped with fresh mango and sea buckthorn powder (good sources of vitamin A) would work well. → View Related Products

Plant-based foods with iron

  • Jerusalem Artichoke (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.

Oriental no-meat balls

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Trace mineral: Manganese

Among many other functions, manganese mineral may improve brain health. Manganese helps to protect this sensitive, unique organ 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 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

This one may be new to many, but it’s no less essential for it. One reason molybdenum isn’t more discussed may be because it lives in the soil and is transmitted to plant-based foods through it, and then to animals who feed on these plants. Thus, the molybdenum content of foods depends on where these foods have been grown – or, rather, in which soils they have been born in. This trace mineral helps us ward off a number of harmful toxins and sulphites by activating key enzymes, which is a quite noble purpose.(17) Molybdenum deficiency isn’t common, so this may be one to appreciate but not worry about. A nice thing!

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.

Trace mineral: Selenium

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.

However, too much selenium can cause quite 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

It makes sense to finish the list with a Z! Many of us will 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. However, you may not know 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)


hemp seed powder

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  • (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”. 

    (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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