Discover 6 powerful mineral supplements for good health
What are minerals?
Minerals are natural elements or compounds from the earth. Our bodies need them, alongside vitamins, for good health. They are part of all our body tissues and fluids, and are essential for nerve responses, muscle contraction, maintaining fluid balance and processing the nutrients from food. In fact, almost all bodily processes rely on minerals to make them happen! In this blog, I’ll take a look at the difference between macro-minerals and micro-minerals, the six most important minerals for health, and when mineral supplements can be helpful.
Can we find minerals in food sources?
Yes, absolutely! We consume minerals through the foodstuffs we eat. Foodstuffs have either concentrated these nutrients from the ground in which they grew (in the case of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and pulses) or the food they have themselves eaten (in the case of animal-based products).
There are lots of mineral rich foods, which can include fruit and vegetables, meat and fish.
Unfortunately however, it can be hard to get our optimal daily intake of all the important vitamins and minerals from our food. This is especially true if your diet isn’t as varied or balanced as it could be. Therefore, mineral supplements can be beneficial for many people.
What is the difference between macro-minerals and micro-minerals?
We can divide minerals into two groups: macro-minerals and micro-minerals.
- Macro-minerals are required in higher levels in the body. They include Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus (as phosphate), Sulphur (as sulphate) and Chlorine (as chloride).
- Micro-minerals are also called trace minerals. They are present in our bodies at lower levels, but still have very important roles to play in good health. Examples include Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Copper, Chromium, Molybdenum, Selenium, Iodine, Fluorine, Cobalt, Silicon, Vanadium, Tin, Arsenic and Nickel.
6 Important Minerals for Everyday Health
Iron is an essential trace mineral in nutrition. The body needs it for haemoglobin production and red blood cell oxygenation. This means that Iron is essential for preventing anaemia, supporting stamina and a healthy immune system.
Unfortunately, Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 4 people worldwide are iron deficient.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails
There are many foods high in iron, however some of the best iron rich foods are: dark leafy green vegetables, red meat, organ meats, oysters, clams, poultry, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and apricots.
It’s important to understand the difference between ‘haem’ and ‘non-haem’ iron:
- Haem iron is only found in meats, poultry and fish, and is the best absorbed form.
- Non-haem iron is found in both meats and plant-based foods, and is unfortunately quite poorly absorbed by the human body.
For this reason, people following a plant-based diet are at higher risk of iron deficiency and therefore may benefit from an iron supplement.
Iron tablets come in many different forms, however one of the best iron supplements is iron bisglycinate. Iron Bisglycinate is well tolerated and gentle on the stomach. This means that it doesn’t cause the constipation and bowel symptoms often associated with taking iron supplements.
It’s common to see iron supplements with other nutrients added. For example, ‘iron with vitamin c’. This is because your body needs good supplies of other nutrients to effectively utilise iron. The key additional nutrients to look out for are: folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin C.
Your body uses magnesium for pretty much every important biological process. It is involved in over 300 metabolic reactions.
Unfortunately, most British people have a poor intake of dietary magnesium. This is often because some of the best magnesium rich foods, like wholegrains, nuts and dark green vegetables, are not eaten enough. In addition, magnesium content tends to be lost from processed foods.
This lack of magnesium in the diet can lead to a loss of many of the benefits magnesium gives the body. Deficiency can contribute to a large range of common problems such as:
- Muscle tightness in the back and shoulders
- Poor sleep
- High blood pressure
- Blood sugar problem
People who are suffering with these symptoms should consider increasing their magnesium intake. Adding more foods high in magnesium to the diet is a great first step. A good quality magnesium supplement may also be helpful.
It can be difficult to know which magnesium to take, as there are many forms. However, I always recommend magnesium citrate. This is one of few biologically ‘organic’ forms of magnesium: this means it is easily digested, absorbed and utilised by the body. By contrast, ‘inorganic’ forms (such as oxides, chlorides and hydrochloride) are poorly absorbed. The best magnesium supplements also include a small amount of vitamin B6, which can further increase the magnesium levels within cells.
Calcium is the most plentiful mineral in the body. It accounts for roughly 1.5% of total body weight. The majority of our calcium (99%) is found in the bones and teeth. There is also a little found in our soft tissues and blood.
A child’s body’s calcium is completely renewed every year. This is every ten years in adults. As a result, regular calcium intake is essential. Dairy and fortified plant-based milks (such as almond, soy, rice), cheese, canned sardines, fruits, leafy greens, beans, nuts, and some starchy vegetables are all good sources of calcium.
If you think you might not have enough calcium rich foods in your diet, or may need a top up, you should consider calcium supplements. The best calcium supplements combine calcium and magnesium, specifically in the ratio 2:1. Calcium and magnesium work together to support bone health: and this 2:1 ratio is the ideal level to allow both minerals to be utilised properly by the body.
If calcium is present in excess in the body and not balanced with magnesium, then it may end up being ‘dumped’ in the joints blood vessels. This leads to joint pain and circulatory issues.
Zinc is one of the most important nutrients for a healthy life. Yet, it is one of the most likely nutrients to be missing from the diet.
Zinc levels in the soil have decreased by ~70% in the past seventy years. As a result, the food we eat is now severely depleted in this vital mineral.
Zinc is highly productive in the body. For example, it helps to produce new skin and sperm cells, boosts the immune system and helps produce the cells we need to keep us healthy. It has been estimated that zinc is a key component of around 300 enzymes, controlling virtually every process from the senses of smell, taste and vision through to the healing process and sexual health.
The symptoms of zinc deficiency are varied. They include:
- Impaired immunity
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Rashes and other skin changes
- Hair loss
- Depression, anxiety and low mood
Oysters are the best food source of zinc. Other zinc food sources include red meat and poultry, beans, nuts, crab, lobster, whole grains, breakfast cereals and dairy products.
For those struggling to include zinc rich foods in the diet, zinc supplements are widely available. The best zinc tablets, in my opinion, will be made from zinc picolinate with added copper. It’s recommended that you take copper and zinc together: this is because zinc can reduce copper absorption in the body, so it’s important to top up to ensure you retain adequate levels.
The main role of selenium in the body is as part of an enzyme called ‘glutathione peroxidise’. This enzyme is an antioxidant; it protects the body from the effects of substances called free radicals. Left unchecked, free radicals build up in the cells and cause damage to DNA, lipids and proteins. This can in turn increase the risk of developing certain diseases.
Selenium is also part of another enzyme, ‘iodothyronine deiodinase’. This one plays an important role in maintaining healthy thyroid function.
Good sources of selenium include pork, beef, turkey, chicken, fish, shellfish, and eggs. Some beans and nuts, especially Brazil nuts, are also selenium rich.
For those looking to add a supplement to their routine, the best forms of selenium are either selenomethionine or selenium-enriched yeast. You can often buy these as part of a multi-nutrient with other ‘antioxidants’, such as vitamins A, C and E, for optimum support.
Chromium is present in many foods and drinks. Meats, grain products, fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, brewer’s yeast, beer and wine are all good sources.
We’ve only recently understood the importance of Chromium in nutrition, compared to other minerals. In 1957, scientists identified a compound called the ‘glucose tolerance factor’ (GTF), which can restore the body’s ability to utilise glucose where it was previously impaired. Two years later, it was revealed that chromium is the active component of GTF. This and further research has helped scientists understand the important role chromium plays in maintaining normal blood glucose levels.
For this reason, chromium supplements are an ideal choice for those who frequently eat high levels of processed foods and sugars. The best chromium tablets are made from chromium picolinate, which is the most easily absorbed form.
Tim Gaunt BSc (Hons) CBiol MSB D.N. gained his degree in Biochemistry from the University of Lancaster in 1988. Tim has over 30 years’ experience in the field of nutrition and holds the position of chartered biologist, granted by the Institute of Biology.