15 Essential Minerals (and the Best Sources)

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Last Updated on July 23, 2020 by Michael Joseph

Essential minerals all play an important role in human health.

Depending on the quantity of each mineral that the human body needs, they can be classed as either major minerals or trace minerals.

The body needs major minerals in relatively high (>100 mg/day) amounts. Major minerals include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium.

In contrast, humans only need trace minerals in small (<100 mg/day) amounts. Trace minerals include chromium, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.

This article provides a guide to these essential minerals alongside their recommended daily allowance (RDA) and the best dietary sources.

Calcium

Calcium Element Name and Abbreviation.

Calcium is a major electrolyte mineral, and according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is one of the nutrients of concern alongside magnesium and vitamins D and E (1).

In other words, a large proportion of people do not consume enough calcium. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), over 40% of adults had an inadequate intake of these nutrients (2).

Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the human body, and it plays a vital role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth (3).

The mineral also has functions that support blood clotting, muscle contraction, nerve impulses, and more (4).

Generally speaking, the best source of calcium is dairy foods. However, some non-dairy options are relatively high in the mineral.

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Calcium Men aged 19-70: 1000 mg Women aged 19-50: 1000 mg Cheese, milk, sardines, yogurt, fortified foods (soy and cereal products) (6)
Men aged 71+: 1200 mg Women aged 51+: 1200 mg (5)

Chloride

Chloride is another major mineral, and it is also an electrolyte that plays a role in regulating fluids within the body (7).

Most people consume an adequate amount of chloride from table salt (sodium chloride) intake.

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Chloride 2.3 g 2.3 g Salt, seaweed, olives (8)

Chromium

Chromium is a trace mineral, and humans only require small amounts of this nutrient each day.

In the human body, chromium plays a role in the digestive breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates, fat, and protein (9).

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Chromium Men aged 19-50: 35 mcg Women aged 19-50: 25 mcg Beef, broccoli eggs, liver, oysters, poultry, wheat germ (11)
Chromium Men aged 51+: 30 mcg Women aged 51+: 20 mcg (10)

Cobalt

Cobalt is another trace mineral, and the human body only requires minimal amounts each day.

However, this mineral is a component of vitamin B12 (cobalamin), and we do not require it in its isolated form (12).

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Cobalt N/A N/A Beef, liver, fish, fortified nutritional yeast, shellfish,  (13)

Copper

Copper is a trace mineral that is present in a wide range of different foods.

This trace mineral has several crucial functions within the body, and it is a vital part of several important enzymes and proteins within the body (14).

As a result, copper plays an important part in enzymes and proteins that ensure the optimal function of the cardiovascular system and the nervous system, among others (15).

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Copper 900 mcg 900 mcg (16) Cocoa, grains, organ meats, shellfish (17)

For further information, here is a complete list of foods high in copper.

Iodine

Iodine Element Name and Abbreviation.

Iodine is a trace mineral, and it plays a vital role in producing thyroid hormones (18).

For this reason, it is possible for either excessive or insufficient iodine intake to adversely impact thyroid health (19).

It is thought that approximately two billion people are deficient in iodine globally (20).

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Iodine 150 mcg 150 mcg (21) Dairy, eggs, grains, sea vegetables, shrimp (22)

For further dietary sources, see these fifteen highest food sources of iodine.

Iron

Iron is an essential trace mineral that can be found in two different dietary forms (23):

  • Heme iron (animal foods)
  • Non-heme iron (plant foods)

Both can be good sources of the mineral, but heme iron is more bioavailable and hence a more reliable source (24).

A sufficient intake of iron is vital for producing hemoglobin, which is a compound that carries oxygen within the blood (25).

For this reason, inadequate iron intake is a risk factor for developing iron-deficiency anemia (26).

More information on the functions of iron is available here.

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Iron 8 mg Aged 19-50: 18 mg (27) Dairy, eggs, grains, sea vegetables, shrimp (28)
Aged 51+: 8 mg

See this list of foods high in iron for more iron-rich ideas.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a major electrolyte mineral, and it is another of the four nutrients of concern for inadequate intake (1).

On this note, research shows that around half of the US population consumes less than the recommended amount of magnesium (29).

Magnesium has many important functions within the body, and these include helping with the formation and maintenance of healthy bone tissue (30).

Additionally, maintaining adequate levels of magnesium is thought to be important for cardiovascular health (31).

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Magnesium Aged 19-30: 400 mg Aged 19-30: 310 mg (32) Almonds, cocoa products, leafy greens, pumpkin seeds (33)
Aged 31+: 420 mg Aged 31+: 320 mg

For more magnesium-rich foods, here are twenty of the best sources.

Manganese

Manganese is an essential trace mineral that the body requires in relatively low amounts.

It is also one of the most prevalent minerals in food, and a wide range of plant-based and animal-based foods contain it.

Manganese is a co-factor for several important enzymes including superoxide dismutase and arginase (34).

Superoxide dismutase is an enzyme located in the body’s mitochondria that protects against oxidative damage. Hence manganese plays a crucial role in the body’s antioxidant defense system (35).

Manganese also plays a role in glucose and fatty acid metabolism (36).

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Manganese 2.3 mg 1.8 mg (37) Grains, legumes, nuts, potatoes, shellfish (38)

Molybdenum

Molybdenum is one of the lesser-known minerals.

However, it is also essential, and it plays a vital role in human health.

For instance, molybdenum is part of numerous vital enzymes, such as sulfite oxidase and nitrogenase (39).

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Molybdenum 45 mcg 45 mcg (40) Dairy, grains, leafy greens, legumes, liver (41)

Phosphorus

Phosphorus Element Name and Abbreviation.

Phosphorus is one of the major minerals, and it is an important component of bone (42).

This essential mineral is also vital for storing and transferring energy, and for the overall growth, development, and repair of the body’s tissues (43).

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Phosphorus 700 mg 700 mg (44) Beef, cashew nuts, cheese, milk, fish, lentils, yogurt (45)

Potassium

Potassium is one of the major essential minerals, and it is also an important electrolyte.

In this regard, potassium plays a critical role alongside sodium (and chloride) in determining fluid balance inside and outside of cells (46).

Due to this, potassium also has a primary role in regulating blood pressure (47).

On this note, higher intakes of potassium to sodium generally result in lower blood pressure. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis supports these benefits of increased potassium intake (48).

The human body needs potassium in relatively high amounts, and the mineral has many important functions.

There is currently no RDA for potassium, but an adequate intake (AI) level has been set by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (49).

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Potassium 3400 mg 2600 mg (49) Legumes, meat, potatoes, salmon, spinach (50)

For more options, here are twenty of the most potassium-rich foods.

Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that forms an integral part of several antioxidant enzymes and proteins (51).

As demonstrated in a recent randomized controlled trial, maintaining adequate selenium levels may help to reduce oxidative stress within the body (52).

In addition to the mineral’s role in the human antioxidant system, selenium is also essential for thyroid hormone metabolism (53).

See this guide to selenium for more information on its functions and benefits.

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Selenium 55 mcg 55 mcg (54) Brazil nuts, grains, meat, mushrooms, seafood (55)

A full list of selenium-containing foods is available here.

Sodium

Alongside potassium, sodium is a major electrolyte mineral that helps to determine fluid balance within the body (46).

Although it is an essential mineral, high sodium intake can lead to hypertension and increased blood pressure in some individuals (56).

Here is a summary of recent research on sodium requirements.

There is no set recommended daily allowance for sodium intake, but the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend an upper intake of 2,300 mg per day (57).

Name Recommended Limit (men) Recommended Limit (women) Best Food Sources
Sodium 2,300 mg 2,300 mg (57) Bread, cheese, chips, cured meat, packaged foods, salt (58)

Zinc

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that plays a vital role in the immune system.

Additionally, the mineral also supports the normal growth and repair of cells and tissues within the body (59).

For a full look at the functions of zinc, see this guide here.

As a trace mineral, the human body only requires minimal daily quantities of zinc.

Name RDA (men) RDA (women) Best Food Sources
Zinc 11 mg 8 mg (60) Cereal/grain products, cheese, meat, milk, shellfish (61)

Additionally, here is a list of the most zinc-rich foods.

Final Thoughts

There are numerous essential minerals that the human body requires.

Some of these minerals are required in higher amounts, while the body only needs a small intake of others.

As is usually the case, the best approach to consume an adequate amount of these minerals is to emphasize nutritious, whole foods, and limit ultra-processed food.

For more on nutrients, find out about the essential vitamins we need.

Or see these nutrition guides for more on popular nutritional topics.

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