Main content

    Health Information

    Minerals: Their Functions and Sources

    Minerals: Their Functions and Sources

    Topic Overview

    The body needs many minerals; these are called essential minerals. Essential minerals are sometimes divided up into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). These two groups of minerals are equally important, but trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than major minerals. The amounts needed in the body are not an indication of their importance.

    A balanced diet usually provides all of the essential minerals. The two tables below list minerals, what they do in the body (their functions), and their sources in food.

    Macrominerals

    Major minerals
    Mineral Function Sources

    Sodium

    Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction

    Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats

    Chloride

    Needed for proper fluid balance, stomach acid

    Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, meats, breads, and vegetables

    Potassium

    Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction

    Meats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes

    Calcium

    Important for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health

    Milk and milk products; canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines); fortified tofu and fortified soy milk; greens (broccoli, mustard greens); legumes

    Phosphorus

    Important for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balance

    Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, processed foods (including soda pop)

    Magnesium

    Found in bones; needed for making protein, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, immune system health

    Nuts and seeds; legumes; leafy, green vegetables; seafood; chocolate; artichokes; "hard" drinking water

    Sulfur

    Found in protein molecules

    Occurs in foods as part of protein: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts

    Trace minerals (microminerals)

    The body needs trace minerals in very small amounts. Note that iron is considered to be a trace mineral, although the amount needed is somewhat more than for other microminerals.

    Trace minerals
    Mineral Function Sources

    Iron

    Part of a molecule (hemoglobin) found in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the body; needed for energy metabolism

    Organ meats; red meats; fish; poultry; shellfish (especially clams); egg yolks; legumes; dried fruits; dark, leafy greens; iron-enriched breads and cereals; and fortified cereals

    Zinc

    Part of many enzymes ; needed for making protein and genetic material; has a function in taste perception, wound healing, normal fetal development, production of sperm, normal growth and sexual maturation, immune system health

    Meats, fish, poultry, leavened whole grains, vegetables

    Iodine

    Found in thyroid hormone, which helps regulate growth, development, and metabolism

    Seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, dairy products

    Selenium

    Antioxidant

    Meats, seafood, grains

    Copper

    Part of many enzymes; needed for iron metabolism

    Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, organ meats, drinking water

    Manganese

    Part of many enzymes

    Widespread in foods, especially plant foods

    Fluoride

    Involved in formation of bones and teeth; helps prevent tooth decay

    Drinking water (either fluoridated or naturally containing fluoride), fish, and most teas

    Chromium

    Works closely with insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels

    Unrefined foods, especially liver, brewer's yeast, whole grains, nuts, cheeses

    Molybdenum

    Part of some enzymes

    Legumes; breads and grains; leafy greens; leafy, green vegetables; milk; liver

    Other trace nutrients known to be essential in tiny amounts include nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.

    Credits

    By Healthwise Staff
    Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
    Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
    Last Revised January 25, 2013

    This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

    © 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.