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    Minerals: Their Functions and Sources - Topic Overview

    The body needs many minerals; these are called essential minerals. Essential minerals are sometimes divided up into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). These two groups of minerals are equally important, but trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than major minerals. The amounts needed in the body are not an indication of their importance.

    A balanced diet usually provides all of the essential minerals. The two tables below list minerals, what they do in the body (their functions), and their sources in food.


    Major minerals
    Mineral Function Sources


    Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction

    Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats


    Needed for proper fluid balance, stomach acid

    Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, meats, breads, and vegetables


    Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction

    Meats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes


    Important for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health

    Milk and milk products; canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines); fortified tofu and fortified soy milk; greens (broccoli, mustard greens); legumes


    Important for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balance

    Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, processed foods (including soda pop)


    Found in bones; needed for making protein, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, immune system health

    Nuts and seeds; legumes; leafy, green vegetables; seafood; chocolate; artichokes; "hard" drinking water


    Found in protein molecules

    Occurs in foods as part of protein: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts

    Trace minerals (microminerals)

    The body needs trace minerals in very small amounts. Note that iron is considered to be a trace mineral, although the amount needed is somewhat more than for other microminerals.

    Trace minerals
    Mineral Function Sources


    Part of a molecule (hemoglobin) found in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the body; needed for energy metabolism

    Organ meats; red meats; fish; poultry; shellfish (especially clams); egg yolks; legumes; dried fruits; dark, leafy greens; iron-enriched breads and cereals; and fortified cereals


    Part of many enzymes; needed for making protein and genetic material; has a function in taste perception, wound healing, normal fetal development, production of sperm, normal growth and sexual maturation, immune system health

    Meats, fish, poultry, leavened whole grains, vegetables


    Found in thyroid hormone, which helps regulate growth, development, and metabolism

    Seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, dairy products



    Meats, seafood, grains


    Part of many enzymes; needed for iron metabolism

    Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, organ meats, drinking water


    Part of many enzymes

    Widespread in foods, especially plant foods


    Involved in formation of bones and teeth; helps prevent tooth decay

    Drinking water (either fluoridated or naturally containing fluoride), fish, and most teas


    Works closely with insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels

    Unrefined foods, especially liver, brewer's yeast, whole grains, nuts, cheeses


    Part of some enzymes

    Legumes; breads and grains; leafy greens; leafy, green vegetables; milk; liver

    Other trace nutrients known to be essential in tiny amounts include nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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