Every morning, you whip up a lean protein shake and take your multivitamin. You go for a run and polish off a liter of water. You get a head start on your lunch packed with leafy greens, lean protein, and whole grains. What could you possibly be forgetting?
Even the most nutritionally conscious people sometimes miss the importance of trace minerals. Your body requires trace minerals from food to perform many important functions, and a deficiency in trace minerals can be just as serious as a deficiency in vitamins.
What Are Trace Minerals?
Trace minerals are minerals your body cannot produce on its own. It must extract them through the foods that you eat. Many healthy foods contain at least a small amount of these trace minerals.
Chromium works with your insulin to regulate blood sugar levels throughout the day. Without chromium, you can experience reduced glucose tolerance, unexplained and unwanted weight loss, peripheral neuropathy and idiopathic nerve pain, and mental symptoms like brain fog or sudden confusion.
Chromium is naturally present in most nuts and many dairy products. Whole wheat flour is also high in chromium. Swapping out white bread and white pasta for their wheat alternatives may be beneficial to your health. Chromium is also found in liver, but it’s a little harder to convince people that liver is delicious.
Copper, the same as the metal, is used by the body to repair cartilage and bone tissue. It also helps the body process iron, another trace nutrient.
Copper is sufficiently available in many of the foods we eat. It’s naturally high in beef (and organ meats, for those with a taste for liver and onions). Many plants, including most fruits and vegetables, also contain copper. Most nuts and beans have small amounts of the mineral, so it’s easy to meet your daily needs for copper on a vegan and gluten free diet.
Iron, like copper, is a metal. Your body needs iron to make blood. This nutrient is crucially beneficial to growing children and pregnant people who will need to be making a greater amount of blood to adequately supply their growing baby. Some women become deficient in iron during their menstrual cycles, increasing the need for iron rich foods at certain times of the month.
All meats contain iron. Vegetarians and vegans can find iron in whole grains, nuts, and beans. Enriched breads and fortified cereals also contain iron.
Manganese is a chemical element that your body uses as an essential enzyme. It supports brain function and helps to maintain a healthy nervous system. A lack of manganese can cause skeletal deformity, fertility issues, and blood glucose abnormalities.
Manganese isn’t very hard to get. It’s in almost everything. Shellfish, molluscs, coffee, tea, black pepper, leafy greens, soybeans, legumes, and rice all contain manganese. Your morning cup of joe is likely keeping you in an adequate supply of manganese -- especially if you enjoy it with a spinach omelette.
Iodine is a wildly important trace mineral. It plays a role in almost everything your body does. It’s necessary for thyroid function and the overall growth and development of the human body. Children who are significantly deficient in iodine may develop serious health issues leading into their adulthoods.
Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of cognitive disabilities and developmental impairment in children worldwide. Iodine deficiency is the most serious of all trace mineral deficiencies, and many children in developing countries are significantly afflicted.
Many fruits and vegetables are grown in iodine rich soil. Iodine is also added to table salt to assure that most people have access to a source of iodine in their home.
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect healthy cells from environmental damage. While it’s far from the only antioxidant, it’s the one your body prefers to use. Natural sources of selenium are all meats and seafoods, as well as whole grains.
The body uses zinc to create enzymes that power almost every system. Zinc is necessary for building proteins that help to maintain muscles and heal wounds. These protein building blocks are crucial for infant development, making zinc one of the most important trace minerals for pregnant people.
All meats, seafood, and poultry contain zinc. Zinc can also come from most leafy greens, certain grains, and eggs contain zinc. Zinc is also abundant in dark chocolate. If you ever want an excuse for a decadent dessert, you can rightfully claim that a few dark chocolate squares every now and then are “necessary” for your health.
A Note About Fluoride
Fluoride is technically a trace mineral, but the body doesn’t need it. While fluoride can provide benefits to your dental health, it can also cause serious ailments like skeletal fluorosis when ingested in large amounts.
If you choose to use fluoride, be mindful of the fact that fluoride naturally occurs in some fruits and vegetables as a result of groundwater irrigation. It’s also added to the public water supply in most urban and suburban areas of the United States.
Before you consider adding more fluoride to your life in the form of toothpaste or mouthwash, consider the fact that you’re already inadvertently exposed to fluoride every time you drink water from the tap, boil pasta with tap water, or put on a cup of coffee.
Why Are They Called Trace Minerals?
Trace minerals are called trace minerals because you only require trace amounts of them. Eating a copper penny is wholly unnecessary and ill-advised. You only need microscopic amounts of copper to properly support your body.
You only need 0.2mg of most trace minerals a day, with a maximum of 15mg. It’s very hard to consume too much of a trace mineral through diet, but it generally isn’t recognized as dangerous to do so. The only trace nutrient it’s dangerous to consume beyond the threshold is fluoride.
How Can I Get Enough Trace Minerals?
Eating a healthy and balanced diet should be sufficient enough to maintain proper trace mineral levels in your body. Unless your doctor has advised you to consume more of a specific mineral, making sure to incorporate enough lean meat, beans, leafy greens, and a few sprinkles of table salt into your diet should be adequate.
Many people with omnivorous diets rely heavily on trace minerals derived from meat, cheese, eggs, poultry, and seafood. Vegans, vegetarians, those with nut allergies, and those with celiac disease will have fewer options for foods rich in trace minerals. Even though options are limited, they still exist. Eating more beans and incorporating more greens into your smoothies may help you make up the gaps.
Trace Minerals for Dental Health
Trace minerals can work in conjunction with macro minerals to help remineralize the teeth. Macro minerals are the minerals most people are more familiar with, like calcium and phosphorus.
Both calcium and phosphorus are used to strengthen bone, but when ingested through your diet, they cannot be used to strengthen your teeth. Once your teeth have emerged from your gums, they’re finished growing. They can no longer regenerate the same way that internal broken bones can. Instead, they need to be supplied with topical minerals they can use to fortify themselves from the outside.
Your teeth are coated in a substance called enamel, and it’s the hardest substance that the human body is capable of producing. Although enamel is thin, it’s strength rating is higher than steel. Your body wants your enamel to last throughout your entire natural life.
The things you eat and drink, as well as your oral hygiene habits, will dictate how long your enamel will truly last. Over time, enamel erodes. Cavities and tooth decay can set it once the enamel on your teeth has been significantly damaged. In addition to eating a balanced diet and regularly, properly brushing your teeth, you can supply your enamel with what it needs through a remineralizing toothpaste.
Calcium, phosphorous, and trace minerals will bond to the outside of a clean tooth. These bonds won’t be permanent, so you’ll need to brush regularly with a remineralizing toothpaste to stay on top of the fortification process.
When your teeth are constantly remineralized, bacteria cannot breach your enamel. Weak spots are repaired and protected from further damage.
Trace minerals may not seem like they matter, but they’re some of the most important things your body needs. Without them, none of the systems in your body will be able to function properly.
Make sure you’re ingesting enough trace minerals through your diet and supplying your teeth with the trace minerals they need to stay strong and healthy.