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Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • 3.2.1 Describe the nutritional function of minerals.
  • 3.2.2 Identify the impact of minerals on wellness promotion and illness prevention.
  • 3.2.3 Examine special considerations for populations that face challenges securing adequate mineral intake.

Mineral Function

Minerals are common in cereals, bread, meat, fish, milk, dairy, nuts, fruit (especially in dried form), and vegetables. About 20 minerals are essential for body function, all in varying amounts depending on their role. The macrominerals are needed at levels higher than 100 mg/day, and trace minerals are needed in amounts less than 100 mg/day (Farag et al., 2023). Table 3.5 lists the macro (M) and trace (T) minerals and their functions.

Mineral Function
Calcium (M) Contributes to the structure of bones and teeth and controls blood vessel contraction and dilation, muscle function, blood clotting, nerve transmission, and hormone secretion
Phosphorus (M) Contributes to the structure of bones and teeth and to the genetic material of DNA and RNA
Potassium (M) Maintains intracellular fluid volume and is important for muscle contraction, specifically heart contractions
Sodium (M) Maintains extracellular fluid volume and plays a crucial role in normal nerve and muscle function
Chloride (M) Plays a role in acid–base homeostasis, contributes to maintenance of urine and plasma electroneutrality, and may even effect neurohormonal activation (Soliman et al., 2022)
Magnesium (M) Responsible for activation of enzymes, membrane function, intracellular signaling, and muscle contraction
Sulfur (M) Operates as a cofactor involved in regulating oxidative processes and is an endogenous metabolite of the amino acid, methionine
Iron (T) Helps develop red blood cells, metabolize cellular energy metabolism, and develop the immune system
Zinc (T) Performs the role of antioxidant by protecting cell membranes from free radical damage as a coenzyme of more than 300 enzymes
Iodine (T) Serves as a necessary component of thyroid hormones
Chromium (T) May facilitate the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins by increasing the effectiveness of insulin—the precise mechanism for this activity has yet to be identified
Copper (T) Operates as a cofactor in the process of cellular oxidation and is required for the oxidation of iron
Fluoride (T) Promotes remineralization of bones and teeth
Molybdenum (T) Aids in the metabolism of sulfur-containing amino acids and is an enzyme cofactor
Manganese (T) Serves as a cofactor for enzyme productions related to protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism; functions as antioxidant
Selenium (T) Removes excess hydrogen peroxide from thyroid and is also needed for DNA synthesis
Table 3.5 Essential Minerals and Their Functions

Minerals work synergistically. For example, the sodium-to-potassium ratio is essential in maintaining normal blood pressure and impacts blood pressure more than sodium or potassium alone. Likewise, the proper relationship between calcium and phosphorus is vital in maintaining normal bone structure. As with vitamins, one mineral cannot assume the function of another mineral, and a shortage or deficiency of any mineral will impact body function.

Mineral absorption takes place primarily in the small intestine. For some minerals, absorption efficiency depends on specific needs such as calcium absorption in pregnancy. During pregnancy, calcium absorption takes place actively, which requires energy to transport across the cell membrane. In times of plentiful serum calcium, the body switches to a passive diffusion method of absorption.

Mineral absorption can be helped or hindered by other dietary components that occur naturally in food. For example, iron is best absorbed in an acid environment, so health professionals recommend taking an iron supplement with orange juice. Juxtaposed is the absorption of minerals in the presence of phytates (found in whole grains) that interfere with calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc absorption.

National Institutes of Health

The NIH provides thorough information on their website about dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, probiotics, and more.

Mineral Intake for Wellness

Minerals play an essential role in various metabolic and physiologic processes. A deeper dive into cellular nutrition reveals that minerals are critical for the metabolism of every cell in the body. A well-balanced mineral intake is essential throughout the human life cycle, although specific needs may vary based on age and sex (Farag, et al., 2023). For example, the iron needs of premenopausal clients are higher than postmenopausal clients because of the iron loss during menstruation. A diet comprised of vegetables, legumes, nuts, lean meats, and seafood provides all the essential minerals needed throughout a person’s life.

Food fortification (the practice of intentionally increasing the content of one or more micronutrients) makes meeting the required mineral DV easier. For example, in the mid-1920s, in response to an increase in goiter, iodine was added to table salt (Leung, Braverman, and Pearce, 2012). Goiter is an increase in thyroid size resulting from either iodine deficiency or hyperthyroidism. Vitamin D was first added to milk in 1933 in response to the presence of childhood rickets (IOM, 2003; United Nations, 2019). Today, food fortification continues. Two more current examples are the addition of calcium to orange juice and iron and folate to breakfast cereals. Even though some breakfast cereals are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, many should not be considered nutritionally sound because they are high in added sugar. Fortification does not guarantee nutritional excellence.

Mineral Daily Values

As with vitamins, there are also mineral DV percentages. You can find vitamin and mineral information on the NIH website, which contains a list of vitamins and minerals with hyperlinks to more detailed information on each (select the mineral of interest and then proceed to the option of health professional).

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