Nutrition 103 – Minerals



Nutrients are compounds found in our food that are essential for life and health. They provide energy, build and repair tissue and regulate chemical processes in the body, such as our metabolism. They are classified into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are nutrients we need in larger amounts; whereas, micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts. There are six classes of nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, lipids, water, vitamins and minerals. Today, we’ll be focusing on micronutrients, more specifically, minerals.

Minerals are classified as either macrominerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur), requiring more than 100 mg/day, or trace minerals (iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium), requiring less than 50mg/day. Four of these minerals (magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride) are also classified as electrolytes (salts), meaning they dissolve in and are reactive in water. Minerals make up about 5-6% of our total body weight and food sources are preferable to supplement forms. Here is a general overview, main functions and food sources of each mineral.

Calcium is found mostly in bones and teeth. It is the mineral most likely to be deficient in our diet. Deficiency can lead to Osteoporosis, which is the weakening of bones, thus increasing your risks of fractures.

  • Blood clotting
  • Nerve impulse transmission
  • Muscle contraction


  • Dairy
  • Fortified alternative milks
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds*

* Plant sources are not as efficiently absorbed.


Phosphorus is found mostly in your bones and teeth. Deficiency is pretty rare in North America, however, it can develop with malnutrition.

  • Growth
  • pH balance
  • Energy use and storage


  • Meat (chicken & beef)
  • Fish (salmon, sardines & rainbow trout)
  • Seeds (pumpkin, squash & sunflower)
  • Dairy
  • Bran Flakes


Approximately 60% of Magnesium can be found in bones and the rest, in soft tissues (NIH). Chronic alcoholism can lead to deficiency.

  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Muscle and nerve function
  • Blood glucose control
  • Energy metabolism


  • Leafy green vegetables (spinach)
  • Legumes (peanuts & black beans)
  • Nuts (almonds & cashews)
  • Seeds (pumpkin & chia)


Sodium is the mineral most likely to be overconsumed in a North American diet. It is recommended not to exceed 2.4g/day and preferable to consume approximately 1.5g/day.

  • Fluid balance
  • Nerve impulse transmission


  • Table salt
  • Soy Sauce
  • Canned Soup
  • Cheese
  • Fast food


Approximately 98% of the potassium in your body is found in your cells, with the majority of that being found in muscle cells . A potassium rich diet may help prevent high blood pressure, osteoporosis, kidney stones and protect against stroke (Healthline). Deficiency and toxicity are uncommon, though it is often underconsumed in North America.

  • Fluid balance
  • Nerve impulse transmission


  • Banana
  • Yogurt
  • Melon
  • Orange juice
  • Potato
  • Butternut squash


Chloride is similar to sodium and potassium in that it helps regulate body fluids.

  • Fluid balance
  • pH balance
  • Muscle contraction
  • Production/release of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid)
  • Nerve impulse transmission


  • Soy sauce
  • Processed meats
  • Cheese
  • Canned fish


Sulfur helps make cells rigid which is necessary for hair, nails and skin. There is a very low risk of deficiency, barring severe protein deprivation, and toxicity is unlikely without excess supplementation (ScienceDirect).

  • Building/repairing DNA
  • Energy metabolism


  • Meat and poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dried fruit (apricots, peaches & figs)


Iron is another mineral that is most likely to be deficient in our diet. Low levels of iron often manifest in pica, which is craving substances with no nutritional value, such as ice.

  • Carries oxygen throughout the body
  • Coenzyme in energy metabolism


  • Meats
  • Fortified cereals
  • Legumes
  • Leafy vegetables


Manganese is essential for bone health.

  • Cofactor for energy metabolism
  • Blood clotting
  • Bone formation
  • Reproduction
  • Immune response


  • Sea food (clams, oysters & muscles)
  • Legumes (soybeans)
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Nuts (hazelnuts & pecans)
  • Coffee/Tea
  • Whole grains


Copper is important for brain health. Too much or too little of this mineral can damage the brain and plays a role in several neurological diseases, such as: Menkes, Wilson’s and Alzheimer’s (MNT).

  • Cofactor in energy metabolism
  • Formation of red blood cells
  • Nerve cell maintenance


  • Shellfish
  • Organ meat (beef liver)
  • Whole grains
  • Seeds (sunflower)
  • Nuts (cashews)
  • Chocolate (baking & dark >70%)


Iodine is necessary for the production of thyroid hormone. Deficiency is the most common cause of goiters as the thyroid will get bigger in order to try and absorb more iodine. Deficiency is uncommon in Canada because of the iodized-salt program that began in the 1920s (CTV News).

  • BMR
  • Reproductive function
  • Growth


  • Table Salt
  • Dairy products
  • Seafood
  • Seaweed


Zinc deficiency is rare, but can occur in people with alcohol addictions and people taking immune suppressing medications. Too much, on the other hand, can cause deficiencies in other nutrients.

  • Cell creation and growth
  • Wound healing
  • Immune function
  • Taste perception
  • Reproduction


  • Meat
  • Oysters
  • Fortified Cereals
  • Beans


Cobalt is contained in vitamin B12. While deficiency is uncommon, it can lead to abnormal development of red blood cells leading to anemia, as well as, decreased thyroid function. Cobalt toxicity is rare; however, when it occurs, it is damaging to the heart muscle and can lead to congestive heart failure.

  • Formation of red blood cells
  • Formation of myelin sheath
  • Energy metabolism


  • Nuts
  • Green leafy veggies
  • Fish
  • Figs
  • Whole grain cereals
  • Meat


While 80% of fluoride consumed is absorbed by the GI tract, only about 50% remains in the body and the majority is stored in bones and teeth (NIH). Fluoride is important for strong teeth as it helps rebuild enamel and prevent tooth decay (i.e. cavities).

  • Inhibits/reverses tooth decay
  • Bone growth


  • Fluoridated water (tap/bottled)
  • Tea
  • Toothpaste
  • Coffee


Comes in two forms: inorganic and organic both of which are great dietary sources.

  • Reproduction
  • Thyroid hormone metabolism
  • DNA synthesis


  • Brazil nuts*
  • Seafood (tuna)
  • Organ meats
  • Meat (ham)

Stay tuned for the fourth and final post of the Nutrition Basics Series, Nutrition 104, where I’ll cover fibre.

Headshot of Sami Grosse

* Random fact: I am very allergic to Brazil nuts.

If you enjoyed this post, check out parts I and II of the Nutrition Basics 4-part Series.

Nutrition 101 – Macros

Part 1/4 of the Nutrition Basics Series. These are the basics of healthy eating. Learn about the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, lipids and water.

Nutrition 102 – Vitamins

Part 2/4 of the Nutrition Basics Series. Vitamins do not provide energy, however, they are important to the body’s growth, maintenance and metabolism.

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