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Definition of Minerals in Food

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 Minerals in Food
A man drinks a glass of milk. Photo Credit: Gewitterkind/iStock/Getty Images

Your body cannot make minerals, so it’s essential you get them all from your food. Minerals are classified as micronutrients, because you don’t need too much of them, but that doesn’t negate their importance. Like vitamins, minerals don’t contain any calories so they aren’t a direct source of energy; however, they work with other nutrients so that your body functions properly. You need to take in 16 different minerals each day through your diet for optimal health.

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Breaking It Down

Minerals are divided into two categories -- major minerals and trace minerals -- based on the amounts you need to stay healthy. Major minerals, also referred to as macrominerals, are named for the fact that you need more of them in your diet. Your daily needs for major minerals range from hundreds of milligrams to over a thousand, depending on the specific mineral. The major minerals include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, chloride and sulfur. Trace minerals are named because you need less of them to stay healthy – usually less than 20 milligrams per day. Iron, copper, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, selenium, fluoride and chromium are trace minerals.

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Minerals are inorganic, which means they are not formed by living things, including your body. Instead, the minerals in plants come from the soil in which they are grown. Animal foods get their minerals from eating plants grown in mineral-rich sources. Because of this, the mineral content of foods can vary widely based on the quality of their soil. According to “Nutrition and You” by Joan Salge Blake, wheat grown in nutrient-rich soil can have 10 times as much selenium as wheat grown in nutrient-poor soil.

Basic Functions

Although each mineral has its own specific function, NHS Choices notes that as a whole, minerals perform three basic functions. They help build strong bones and teeth, control the amount of fluid inside and outside of your cells, and turn the food you eat into energy your body can use.

Beware of Deficiencies

Americans typically do not get enough of the minerals calcium, potassium and magnesium. It is best to get more of these minerals through whole foods so that your body is able to absorb them properly; however, in times of excess growth, such as during pregnancy, your doctor may recommend a supplement. Milk, yogurt and cheese are the major sources of calcium in the American diet, while potassium is found in fruits and vegetables. Vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fruits provide magnesium.

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