It's assumed that we know that minerals are good for us, even when we buy bottled water their virtues are extoled. But what do they really do for us?
Minerals are micronutrients (like vitamins) which are needed by the body in tiny amounts to form our complex skeletal system, help our enzymes to break things down, and assist our nerve systems to send signals. Minerals also form essential components of our bodily fluids.
Just like vitamins, we need minerals to help the various systems in our bodies function. But where vitamins are organic, or living substances, minerals are inorganic substances, which means they aren't living compounds.
- Calcium is needed in large amounts as it's a large component in the construction of bones and teeth. It's also needed in nerve and muscle function, and blood clotting. It can be found in dairy products, some grain products, and dark leafy vegetables.
- Magnesium is needed for energy metabolism, muscle function and bone and teeth formation. Like Calcium, Magnesium can be found in dark green leafy vegetable, and also in some nuts.
- Sodium helps our bodies to regulate water content. It also balances our electrolytes, and is instrumental in nerve function. Some foods contain small amounts of sodium, which is commonly called salt, but often it's added in food preparation.
Potassium is crucial for water and electrolyte balance, and in the functioning of nerve cells. Fruit, vegetables and milk are excellent sources.
- Iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells. It's also important for the proper functioning of the immune system. Lack of iron produces a condition called anaemia, which is commonly found in women and teenage girls whose iron levels can be compromised by menstration. Iron is found in both animal and plant sources, and also in fortified breakfast cereals.
- Zinc, Iodine, Fluoride, Selenium, Copper, Chromium, and Manganese are required by the body in lesser amounts. The amount of these various substances that our bodies need varies throughout our lifetime. However, being diligent about eating a balanced diet usually ensures that our bodies are receiving all they need to mantain health.