Let’s Talk Minerals

mineralsJamie bit into a slice of her dad’s homemade pizza and immediately frowned.

“What’s wrong with this pizza?” she asked. “It tastes different.”

“I used low-sodium tomato sauce and low-sodium cheese on it this time,” her father said.

“What was wrong with how it was before?” asked Jamie as she set her slice down.

Her father took a deep breath and sighed. “The doctor told me that I have high blood pressure and that I need to eat less sodium. Because salt is almost one-half sodium, I’m cutting down on all salty foods. He says we’ll get used to it.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Jamie said, and grimaced. “If sodium is so bad for you, why do you need it at all?”

Her father thought for a minute. “That’s a good question. Sodium is a mineral, and our body needs minerals to function properly.”

Minerals are non-living, chemical substances that come from the soil. Plants store minerals in their stems and leaves, and animals get minerals when they eat the plants. The human body doesn’t make minerals on its own, so people have to get them from the food they eat.

There are two groups of minerals: major and trace. Your body needs more than 250 milligrams each day of the major minerals: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur. You don’t need nearly as much of the trace minerals, which include iron, copper, iodine, zinc, and fluoride. However, even though your body doesn’t require as much of the trace minerals, they are just as important as the major minerals.

Each one of the minerals is important to help your body function properly and to keep you healthy. Without minerals, your muscles, bones, fluids, and nervous system would stop working. You can be sure to take in plenty of minerals by eating a wide variety of foods.

Name That Mineral

See if you can figure out what mineral this is from the description below.

I am considered a major mineral, but I make up only about 5 percent of all the minerals in your body. I work with sodium to keep your blood pressure normal and regulate fluid balance in body cells. I am also part of your nervous system. You will find me in bananas, but I also live in all fresh fruits and vegetables. What am I?

Answer: Potassium

major minerals

The Major Players

The major minerals include:

1. Sodium. Sodium balances movement of fluids and certain nutrients in and out of your cells. It also helps muscles contract and nerves communicate with each other. Without enough sodium, you may develop muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

Too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure in some people. Ways to lower your sodium intake are to cut down on the salt you add to foods and eat fewer processed foods, such as salty snacks, bacon, and frozen entrees.

2. Calcium. Your bones and teeth contain 2 to 3 pounds of calcium, making it the main structural mineral in your body. While calcium is important for building and strengthening your bones, it is also important in other ways.

When you cut your finger, calcium helps the blood clot. It also keeps your heart and other muscles moving, regulates your blood pressure, and helps your nervous system work properly. If you don’t get enough calcium from the foods you eat, your body will take it from your bones.

Most teens don’t get the calcium they need each day. Just 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of low-fat yogurt, and 2 ounces of Swiss cheese provide the 1,300 milligrams of calcium recommended each day. Foods such as broccoli, kale, bok choy, sardines, salmon bones, almonds, and tofu with calcium sulfate are also high in calcium. Look for calcium-fortified juices, soy milk, cereals, and snack foods to help you meet your needs. Check Nutrition Facts on labels for calcium content–as well as sodium and iron.

3. Magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that most people take for granted. Deficiency is rare, since it is found in many foods. Three-fourths of the magnesium in your body is stored in your bones and muscles. It helps regulate your body temperature, it builds protein stores–and you need it to grow. Magnesium also works with calcium to make your muscles contract and relax.

Teen girls need 360 milligrams of magnesium and boys need 410 milligrams daily. You can get it by eating a variety of whole grains, broccoli, squash, dried beans, nuts, and seeds.

trace minerals

The Minor League

The focus here is on two important trace minerals.

1. Iron. We know that a lack of iron in your diet can lead to anemia. Iron is one of the major components in hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen. Without oxygen, you will get tired very easily.

Iron also boosts your immune system, helps you think clearly, regulates your body temperature, and gives you energy. Teen boys need 11 milligrams of iron each day, and teen girls need 15 milligrams. The best sources of iron include meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. Your body absorbs the iron in these foods easily. You can also get iron in dried fruits, nuts, peanut butter, whole-grain and enriched breads and cereals, and green leafy vegetables. Check food labels for iron content.

2. Zinc. Zinc is part of at least 70 enzymes used to turn the food you eat into energy. Every cell in your body uses zinc. It is necessary for growth and wound healing, boosts your immune system, and prevents anemia and cell damage.

You might suspect you have a zinc deficiency if you have appetite loss, skin changes, and reduced resistance to infection. The best sources of zinc include seafood, meat, milk, eggs, nuts, dried beans and peas, and whole-grain breads and cereal. Teen boys need 11 milligrams of zinc each day; teen girls need 9 milligrams. Vegetarians need to be especially careful to get enough zinc.

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