What are trace minerals and why do we need them?
Posted on April 12 2019
Trace minerals, also known as microminerals or trace elements, are simply minerals that our bodies require, but require only in small amounts. Along with protein, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins, minerals are needed to support strong bones and teeth, nerve function and energy production.
These naturally occurring substances are found organically in the earth. However, centuries of farming and erosion mean agricultural soil has been depleted of most minerals.1 It used to be far easier to get the minerals we need from fruits and vegetables, but now, we have to pay closer attention to our diets in order to get enough.
What do trace minerals do?
Trace minerals have plenty of different purposes in our bodies. Their roles vary massively, from cardiovascular function and hormone regulation, to immune defense. They help our bodies carry out everyday functions in the best way possible, acting as facilitators that are key for our health.2 As the building blocks for hundreds of enzymes and biochemical reactions, trace minerals are critical to the normal working of our bodies. When we don’t get enough of these minerals in our diets, our health can deteriorate. Overall mineral deficiencies can result in a variety of issues, such as weak bones, fatigue, or decreased immunity.
Which trace minerals do we need?
There are numerous trace minerals at work in our bodies, and nine of them perform essential functions.3 Let’s take a closer look at their roles and how much of each mineral we need:
The recommended intakes for these trace minerals are estimated figures to give you an idea of how little you need of each mineral daily.
How do we get them?
Our diets aren’t as rich in minerals as they would have been a few thousand years ago. However, you can still find some trace minerals in foods. Here’s a few minerals and their sources that you might already be consuming in your diet:
- Selenium: Found in sardines, raw dairy products and almonds.
- Zinc: Good sources include red meats, seafood, whole grains and legumes.
- Iron: Shellfish and red meats are great sources.
Although naturally occurring traces of minerals are found in our foods, many of us aren’t getting enough. Overtime, a lack of trace minerals can end up causing health problems. One of the most common mineral deficiencies in the world is iron deficiency anemia, which can cause extreme fatigue, weakness and cold hands or feet, to name just a few symptoms.4 A lack of zinc can cause stunted growth and poor wound healing, whereas a lack of selenium can cause muscle weakness and pain. This is precisely why we often need an extra mineral boost from sources other than the food we eat.
What to remember
Although eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet does provide some trace minerals, it’s important to take note of whether you’re getting enough. The balance of these minerals in your body can be the difference between falling ill and feeling your best. We need trace minerals to help keep us healthy and strong in every aspect of life.
1Lyne, J., & Barak, P. (2000). Are Depleted Soils Causing a Reduction in the Mineral Content Of Food Crops?
2Minerals & Trace Elements (2009). Retrieved from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/minerals-and-trace-elements.html?showall=1&limitstart=
3National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 14, Trace Elements. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218751/
4Johnson-Wimbley, T. D., & Graham, D. Y. (2011). Diagnosis and management of iron deficiency anemia in the 21st century. Therapeutic advances in gastroenterology, 4(3), 177–184