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Definition of Trace Minerals

author image Elle Paula
Elle Paula has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.
Definition of Trace Minerals
Eating a balanced diet can help ensure that you get all of the trace minerals. Photo Credit Dave King/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images

Minerals are inorganic compounds that are needed in small amounts by the body. Minerals do not provide calories, so they do not supply the body with energy, but they help the body maintain normal physiological function and carry out various processes. Minerals are divided into two classes: major minerals and trace minerals.

Major Minerals Versus Trace Minerals

The major minerals get their name from the fact that you require more of them in your body. The recommended daily allowance of the major minerals varies from hundreds of milligrams to thousands of milligrams per day. Major minerals include sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and sulfur.

The body requires trace minerals in smaller amounts than major minerals. Recommended daily values for trace minerals do not exceed 20 mg per day. The trace minerals include iron, zinc, selenium, fluoride, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese and molybdenum. “Nutrition and You” by Joan Salge Blake notes that although trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts, they are just as important as the major minerals.


Iron is the most abundant trace mineral in the body as well as the trace mineral with the highest recommended daily intake. Iron is essential for the proper formation of red blood cells, the transportation of oxygen and proper brain function. Iron is available in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry and fish. Non-heme iron is found in plant sources, such as vegetables and grains. Women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 18 mg of iron daily, because significant iron is lost during menstruation. Adult men of the same age require 8 mg of iron per day.


The trace mineral zinc has the second highest recommended daily value. Women should aim to consume 8 mg of zinc daily and men should consume 11 mg of zinc per day. Zinc helps keep the immune system healthy, allows proper wound healing and allows you to taste. Zinc is also needed for proper DNA synthesis, growth and development. Red meat, seafood and whole grains are the best sources of zinc.

Other Trace Minerals

The other trace minerals are needed in very small amounts and needs are usually easily met by consuming a varied, balanced diet, according to the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. Flouride helps protect the teeth from decay, manganese aids in bone and cartilage formation, chromium and manganese help the body use carbohydrates for energy, iodine helps the thyroid gland produce thyroid hormone, copper promotes the absorption of iron, selenium helps regulate thyroid hormones and molybdenum allows the breakdown of amino acids and other compounds.


Certain conditions, such as pregnancy, heavy menstrual periods and surgery, may increase your needs for specific trace minerals. In these cases, your physician may recommend taking supplements that contain high amounts of trace minerals. If these conditions do not apply to you, it is important to research your supplements and make sure that they do not contain any more than 150 percent of the recommended daily values of any of the trace minerals. Excess supplementation can be harmful to the body and cause negative health effects.

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