Why Are Minerals Important to Your Diet?

A small plate of tomatoes.
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Minerals, like vitamins, support your normal growth and development. Your body needs them to perform vital functions. Two kinds of minerals exist: macrominerals and trace minerals. Macrominerals, which are needed in fairly large amounts in your body, include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfur and chloride. Your body also requires trace minerals but in small quantities. Trace minerals include iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine, fluoride, cobalt and selenium.

Calcium, Phosphorus and Magnesium

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in your body, helps build strong bones and teeth. It plays a vital role in muscle contraction and nerve impulse transmission, as well as in the constriction and relaxation of blood vessels. Good calcium sources include dairy products, leafy green vegetables and calcium-fortified foods.

Your body needs phosphorus for the growth, maintenance and repair of your cells and tissues, as well as for the generation of DNA and RNA -- your genetic building blocks. You can find phosphorus in nuts, poultry, meat, eggs, fish and legumes.

Magnesium contributes to energy production, stimulates enzymes and helps balance calcium levels. Good sources of magnesium include whole grains, black walnuts, almonds, cashews and green leafy vegetables.

Sodium, Potassium and Chloride

Besides playing a key role in muscle and nerve function, sodium helps maintain blood pressure and blood volume. Table salt, or sodium chloride, is the most common type of sodium. Sodium also occurs naturally in foods such as celery, milk and beets.

Potassium is an electrolyte, meaning that it helps to conduct electricity in your body. The mineral also supports healthy heart, digestive and muscular functions. All meats, salmon, flounder, cod and legumes contain substantial amounts of potassium, as do dairy products and many fruits and vegetables.

Chloride helps keep the right balance of body fluids. Some examples of good chloride-containing foods are seaweed, lettuce, olives, rye and tomatoes.

Iron, Zinc, Manganese and Copper

Iron forms an integral part of hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells that provide oxygen to your body tissues. Foods rich in iron include eggs, beans, leafy green vegetables and dried fruits.

Zinc supports healthy immune function and contributes to cell growth. Nuts, legumes, beef and pork offer ample amounts of zinc.

Your body makes connective tissue, sex hormones, bones and blood clotting factors with the help of manganese. The best food sources of manganese include pineapples, wheat germ, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Copper helps keep your immune system and nerve cells healthy. It is found in seafood, organ meats, black pepper, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

Iodine, Fluoride and Selenium

Iodine helps your body make thyroid hormones, which play an essential role in normal growth and development. Foods that contain iodine include lima beans, sesame seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip green and summer squash.

Fluoride reduces the incidence of tooth decay and helps maintain bone structure. Though fluoride is mostly obtained from fluoridated water, it is also found in seafood, gelatin and tea.

Selenium plays a fundamental role in thyroid function and helps your immune system function better. Brewer's yeast, butter, garlic, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts and wheat germ provide significant amounts of selenium.

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