An Introduction To Minerals

Avatar for Hadyn Luke Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 14th of November 2023 Hadyn Luke 14/11/2023


An Introduction To Minerals


The essential minerals in food go to make up around 4% of your body tissues. Most of this is composed of the macro-minerals: CALCIUM, MAGNESIUM, SULPHER, PHOSPHOROUS, SODIUM, CHLORIDE, and POTASSIUM.

These are largely involved with the structural part of the skeleton and the teeth, and as electrolytic salts in the blood and tissue fluids. Correct nutrition is vital to obtain sufficient amounts of these within the body because they are not as abundant as the macronutrients.

There are also the micro-minerals; these are commonly called the TRACE ELEMENTS, because they are only needed in trace amounts in the body and are found in tiny amounts in food. Trace elements include boron, iron, iodine, molybdenum, silicon, nickel, zinc, chromium, fluorine, cobalt, selenium, manganese, copper and vanadium. It is even more essential to ensure that these micro-minerals are supplied in the diet to avoid deficiency.

Minerals, like vitamins are essential for virtually every process in the body. However, unlike vitamins some.—.. minerals become incorporated into body structures such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorous which are found in the bones. Others are similar to vitamins in taking an essential role in metabolism, acting as co-enzymes, for example, magnesium, zinc and copper.

However other minerals have very specific roles to play within the body, such as IRON, which is an important part of the structure of haemoglobin molecules.

As with vitamins, many minerals are co-workers, so that the absence of one mineral severely disrupts the functions of other minerals, and ultimately disrupts the body’s metabolism.

Calcium intake and osteoporosis

There are two kinds of bone cells: osteoblasts which build new bone, and osteoclasts which break down and get rid of old bone. The bone ends are made up of cartilage, which is softer so that joints can work smoothly. While bones use calcium, phosphorous and magnesium as building materials, the ability to absorb calcium into bones depends upon vitamin D and is assisted by the trace mineral boron. Vitamin C makes collagen, and zinc helps make new bone cells.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in our bones, helping to keep them rigid and strong. The RDA for calcium is about 1,500mg per day and can be obtained from both plant and animal sources.

Osteoporosis is a generalised thinning of the bones that causes no symptoms until the bones actually break. Osteoporosis is the silent thief that robs up to 25% of your skeleton by the time you reach fifty. It is particularly prevalent in women after the menopause. It increases the risk of bone fractures which occur in one in three women and one in twelve men by the age of seventy.

Ensuring an adequate intake of calcium is crucial for women during their reproductive and post­ menopausal years. The female reproductive hormone oestrogen plays a very important role in bone development by helping to stimulate bone growth cells (osteoblast), pulling calcium from the blood, increasing intestinal absorption rates and decreasing excretion rates by the kidneys. As soon as oestrogen levels drop at menopause, bone breakdown cells {osteoclasts) become more active than bone making cells, leading to a loss of bone tissue and in some cases a dramatic loss of bone tissue. This leaves bones thin and porous and extremely susceptible to breaks and fractures, but more importantly, they are unable to support the weight of the body.

Therefore calcium is essential to help maintain strong bones, along with vitamin D for its absorption and utilisation.

Calcium food sources: Milk (full, semi and skimmed) cheese, pumpkin seeds, tofu, broccoli, cabbage, nuts


Sodium, more familiarly known as salt, plays a vital role both in nerve transmission and in the maintenance of water concentration in blood and body fluids. However, excess sodium intake can cause serious problems and there is a link between high sodium intake and high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular or heart disease.

The problem with sodium is that is dissolves efficiently in the blood and cannot be easily cleared from the blood into cells. As a consequence water is pulled out ofthe cells and into the bloodstream, raising the amount of blood the heart has to pump around and therefore raising blood pressure. The RDA for sodium is about 3gms or 3000mg per day; however it is estimated that we consume far more than this amount.

You can reduce the amount of salt in the diet by:

  • Using less salt in cooking
  • Not adding salt to food at the table
  • Cutting down on salty snack food, e.g. crisps and peanuts
  • Decreasing the amount of salty meats eaten, e.g. bacon, ham, tinned meats
  • Avoiding or cutting down on processed foods and ready made meals as they are often high in salt.

Remember sea salt is the same as table salt so is NOT a suitable alternative.


Pregnancy is such a nutritionally demanding time for a woman. Even the slightest deficiencies during pregnancy can have serious effects on the health of the baby. A healthy pregnancy will depend on a greater supply than normal of some essential nutrients to meet the needs of the mother and the growing foetus.

During the first three months of pregnancy all the organs of the baby are completely formed. This is the period when optimum nutrition is most important. Research has demonstrated that some vitamins and minerals exist in different ratios between mother and foetal blood supply, indicating that some vitamins and minerals can be pumped via the placenta, while others only passively diffuse through.

So far, slight deficiencies in vitamins Bl, B2, and B6, folic acid, zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium have all been linked to birth abnormalities. As many as 5% of births show some developmental defect, many of which affect the central nervous system. Spinae bifida, a condition in which the spinal chord does not develop properly, has been strongly linked to a lack of folic acid (as well as other nutrients).

Folic acid is essential for transporting co-enzymes needed for amino acid metabolism in the body. It is required for the process of cell division for a growing foetus and is vital for the development of the neural tube and the nervous system. Because folic acid is water soluble (which means the body cannot store it), supplementation is essential. It is highly recommended that all women planning a pregnancy should, increase their intake of folic acid from well before conception and should continue for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Zinc is a component of over two hundred enzymes in the body. It is a component of DNA and RNA, and it is essential for metabolism, cell growth, immunity, production of testosterone (the male hormone), and sperm formation. Zinc deficiencies can lead to retarded growth in the child; therefore adequate amounts of zinc through the diet are essential.

Parathyroid secretion heightens during pregnancy, leading to a release of calcium and phosphate from the mother’s skeleton. They are transferred to the foetus for the growth of its bones. About half the calcium phosphate made available in this way is used by the mother in milk production. Iron is required by the foetus and the mother for haemoglobin and myoglobin formation. The total iron content of the adult body is about 3-Sg. A new born baby has drained about 700mg of iron from the mother and a further 200mg is required to produce milk, hence extra dietary intake of iron is required.

It can be difficult to maintain a good intake and quality of foods during pregnancy and so some form of supplementation may be required. However, it is essential that a health professional prescribe the required supplements and dosage. It is not advisable to take huge amounts of vitamin and minerals supplements during pregnancy, in particular, vitamin A as this can be toxic to the foetus.


Antioxidants are a group of compounds that are produced by the body and that occur naturally in many foods, typically brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. They are substances which retard or prevent deterioration, or destruction caused by oxidation.

Life could not exist without oxygen; it is the basis of all plant and animal life on this planet. Without it we could not release the energy from our food and without energy the body can do nothing. Because oxygen is chemically a very reactive element, it can be highly dangerous if not regulated; it can provide too many oxidized molecules inside the body, creating havoc by producing free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cell structures. When they enter the cells they damage the DNA (the genetic material of the cell), causing inappropriate cell division and other changes that can ultimately lead to cancer, heart disease and numerous other illnesses. Years of research have established that free radicals are a major cause of cell damage in many of the degenerative diseases of our time. Anyone interested in keeping at bay the signs of aging and associated decline into degenerative disease would do well to boost their intake of antioxidant nutrients.

The job of defending the body against free radicals falls to the antioxidant defence system, a group of compounds that are uniquely qualified to disarm free radicals before they can attack their target tissue. The ACE vitamins, Vitamin A, C and E, are the most well known group of antioxidants, doing their job of boosting our immune system and mopping up free radicals; selenium and zinc are also excellent antioxidants. However research delivers the theory that there is a dynamic interplay between certain key antioxidants.

These are:


Vitamin A is also known as retinol. Good sources of vitamin A include cheese, eggs, oily fish (such as mackerel), milk, fortified margarine and yoghurt.

Vitamin C also know as ascorbic acid, is found in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Good sources include peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, oranges and kiwi fruit

Vitamin E is found in a wide variety of foods. The richest sources are plant oils such as soya, corn and olive oil. Other good sources include nuts and seeds, and wheatgerm (found in cereals and cereal products).

Selenium is a trace element found widely in the environment. Good food sources include Brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.

Carotenoids represent one of the most widespread groups of naturally occurring pigments. These compounds are largely responsible for the red, yellow, and orange colour of fruits and vegetables, and are also found in many dark green vegetables.

Flavonoids an amazing array of over 6,000 different substances found in virtually all plants, are responsible for many of the plant colours that dazzle us with their brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red.

In studies of human cells, there is evidence that antioxidants can prevent aging on the cellular level, where the aging process begins. Groups of cells form tissues, groups of tissues form organs and groups of organs are what run our bodies; it therefore makes sense that once our cells begin to age, our bodies simply cannot function well or efficiently.

Antioxidants can extend the life of human cells, primarily by protecting them against free radicals; therefore by controlling free radicals, antioxidants can extend life.

How does the antioxidant defence system work?

When an antioxidant encounters a free radical it literally engulfs it and the free radical then joins its molecule structure. The antioxidant itself then becomes a free radical. So what has been gained? These newly created free radicals are relatively weak and are not likely to do further harm.

The antioxidant network, works together by recycling or regenerating one another after they have quenched a free radical, vastly extending their antioxidant power, for example Vitamin C is the antioxidant that recycles Vitamin E. These antioxidants then work together to boost and strengthen our entire system.

Boosting the antioxidant network can have a profound effect on the length and more importantly the quality of our lives. The key to healthy aging is to fortify the body with the tools it needs to stay healthy.

The antioxidant network bolsters the defence system by keeping our cells young, our hearts strong and our brains functioning at their peak.

Although there are key antioxidants at work, many others do exist; compounds such as

  • Bioflavonoids: especially rich in citrus fruits.
  • Lycopene: found in tomatoes
  • Anthocyanidins: found in berries and grapes, in particular their skin

Many herbs also contain antioxidant properties, such as Ginkgo biloba, which is a particularly efficient scavenger of hydroxyl radical.


There is huge debate and strong arguments both for and against supplementation. Optimum nutritionists whole heartedly believe that due to our Western diet and fast, stressful way of life, supplementation is a must. Others in the field of nutrition believe that all dietary requirements can be obtained in the diet, and many supplements simply pass through the body undigested and unused, or can be stored to high levels with dangerous consequences.

The problem with all nutritional scientific fact is that many of the conclusions derived regarding the benefits and/or dangers of certain foods and nutrients have been obtained from experiments on either animals, mainly mice and rats, or in the test tube; and whilst evidence may appear conclusive, it must be remembered that not all findings are going to be the same when food and nutrients are placed in the environment of the human body.

There is however sound evidence of the properties of certain nutrients, such as the antioxidant effects of Vitamin C and E and it is clear that all food groups contain all the nutrients that our bodies need; however the quantity and quality of our nutrition will depend solely upon how good our diet is and how well and carefully the food has been cultivated, grown, stored and cooked.


Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) represents an estimate of how much an average person requires of a particular vitamin or mineral each day; they are general guidelines rather than a set dose.

RDA’s have recently been replaced by DIETARY REFERENCE VALUES (ORV), by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA). COMA disbanded in March 2000 and a new committee, The Scientific Advisory Committee (SACN), has been established to advise the Health Departments and the Food Standards Agency on matters relating to food, diet and health. The values established by COMA in 1991, still hold at present.

Three values have been set for each nutrient.

  • ESTIMATED AVERAGE REQUIREMENT (EAR) – This is the amount needed by an average person or group of people.
  • REFERENCE NUTRIENT INTAKE – This is more than most people require but covers the amount needed by 97% of a group of people.
  • THE LOWER REFERENCE NUTRIENT INTAKE (LRNI)- This is less than most people need but covers the amount needed by a small percentage of the population (about 3%) who have a lower requirement.
  • SAFE INTAKE -This is used when there isn’t enough evidence to set an EAR, RNI or LRNI. The safe intake is the amount judged to be enough for almost everyone, but below a level that could have undesirable effects.

For examples of vitamin and minerals, their food source and why they are necessary see appendix, page 121, and for example RNl’s see appendix, page 122 at the back of this manual.

The RNI for Vitamin C is 40mg per day, however optimum nutritionists believe that you should be taking in at least 1000mg per day: so who do you believe?

As a general precaution, you would be best advised only to self-prescribe the multi-formulas which cover a broad spectrum of nutrients in one capsule or tablet, since taking isolated nutrient supplements can have unwanted side effects. Deciding upon which brand to choose, the general rule of thumb is “you get what you pay for”. Some prices may seem excessive, but usually this reflects the high level of research, preparation, and quality control that goes into their production. Furthermore, to get the very best out of supplements, there are a few basic principles that need to be considered. These relate to the variability in the absorption rate of different nutrients. For example, some nutrients, such as Vitamin E are very easily absorbed, while others like manganese may have a maximum absorption of about 3%.

Additionally, almost all nutrients have other nutrients, which help with their absorption and some which hinder their absorption.

It will be important to ascertain with your clients just how good their diet is at present. It will be up to you to advise them on the best food groups from which to obtain a full range of vitamins and minerals, and the best way to store and cook their food so as to derive the highest bioavailability possible.

Supplementation is a personal choice, and is perhaps better left to the individual. If you have expressed the opinions for and against, at least then your client can make an informed choice regarding their decision to supplement their diet or not.

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