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Home > Art Of Healthy Living > Balanced eating > Minerals in Nutrition
Minerals in Nutrition
Elements in their simple inorganic form are referred to as "minerals". In nutrition they are commonly known as mineral elements or inorganic nutrients.

Minerals are vital to health. Minerals are essential for regulating and building the trillions of living cells, which make up the body just like vitamins and amio acids. Body cells receive the essential food elements through the bloodstream. They must, therefore, be properly nourished with an adequate supply of all the essential minerals for the efficient functioning of the body.

Minerals help the life processes by maintaining the volume of water in the human body. They help draw chemical substances into and out of the cells and they keep the blood and tissue fluid from becoming either too acidic or too alkaline. The importance of minerals, like vitamins, is illustrated by the fact that there are over 50,000 enzymes in the body which direct growth and energy and each enzyme has minerals and vitamins associated with it. Each of the essential food minerals does a specific job in the body and some of them do extra work, in teams, to keep body cells healthy. The mineral elements, which are needed by the body in substantial amounts, are calcium, phosphorus, iron, sulphur, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chlorine. In addition, the body needs minute (trace) amounts of iodine, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, selenium, silicon, flourine and some others.

More than any other mineral the human body needs calcium. A man weighing 70 kg. contains one kg. of calcium. About 99 per cent of the quantity in the body is used for building strong bones and teeth and the remaining one per cent is used by the blood, muscles and nerves.

Calcium performs many important functions. Absence or lack of this mineral will result in faulty contractions of the heart. The muscles would not contract properly which will retard the movement of the limb and will hamper the clotting of the blood. Calcium stimulates enzymes in the digestive process and coordinates the functions of all other minerals in the body. Calcium is found in milk and milk products, whole wheat, leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and cabbage, carrots, watercress, oranges, lemons, almonds, figs and walnuts. A daily intake of about 0.4 to 0.6 grams of calcium is considered desirable for an adult. The requirement is larger for growing children and pregnant and lactating women. Deficiency may cause porous and fragile bones, tooth decay, heart palpitations, muscle cramps, insomnia and irritability.

The calcium-phosphorus balance necessary for the growth of bones and teeth and in the formation of nerve cells is created by the combination of calcium with phosphorous. This mineral is also essential for the assimilation of carbohydrates and fats. It is a stimulant to the nerves and brain.

The main sources of Phosphorous are cereals, pulses, nuts, egg yolk, fruit juices, milk and legumes. In the daily diet about one gram of phosphorous is necessary. Phosphorus deficiency may bring about weight loss, growth retardation, reduced sexual powers and general weakness. It may result in poor mineralisation of bones, deficient nerve and brain function.

Iron is an important mineral, which enters into the vital activity of the blood and glands. Iron exists chiefly as haemoglobin in the blood. It distributes the oxygen inhaled into the lungs to all the cells. It is the master mineral, which creates warmth, vitality and stamina. It is required for a healthy complexion and for building up resistance in the body.

The chief sources of iron are grapes, raisins, spinach, all green vegetables, whole grain, cereals, dried beans, dark coloured fruits, beets, dates, liver and egg yolk. The Indian Council of Medical Research has recommended an allowance of 20 to 30 mg. of iron in a balanced diet for an adult. Iron deficiency is generally caused by severe blood loss, malnutrition, infections and by excessive use of drugs and chemicals. Deficiency of dietary iron may cause nutritional anaemia, lowered resistance to disease, a general run down condition, pale complexion, shortness of breath on manual exertion and loss of interest in sex.

All living matter contains some sulphur this element is therefore essential for life. The greater part of the sulphur in the human body is present in the two sulphur-containing amino acids, methionine and cysteine, or in the double form of the latter cystine. The main purpose of sulphur is to dissolve waste materials. It helps to eject some of the waste and poisons from the system. It helps keep the skin clear of blemishes and makes hair glossy. It is also valuable in rheumatic conditions.

Radishes, carrots, cabbage, cheese, dried beans, fish and eggs are rich sources of sulphur. There is no recommended dietary allowance. But a diet sufficient in protein will generally be adequate in sulphur. Deficiency of sulphur may cause eczema and imperfect development of hair and nails. Sulphur creams and ointments have been remarkably successful in treating a variety of skin problems.

Small amount of magnesium is present in all human tissues. The adult human body contains about 25 gms. of this mineral. In combination with phosphate and carbonate the greater part of this amount is present in bones. Bone ashes contain less than one per cent magnesium. About one-fifth of the total magnesium in the body is present in the soft tissues, where it is mainly bound to protein. Next to potassium, magnesium is the predominant metallic cation in living cells. The bones seem to provide a reserve supply of this mineral in case of shortage elsewhere in the body.

Sodium chloride, the chemical name for common salt, contains 39 per cent of sodium, an element, which never occurs in free form in nature. It is found in an associated form with many minerals especially in plentiful amounts with chlorine. The body of a healthy person weighing about 65 kg. contains 256 g. of sodium chloride. Of this the major part, just over half, is in the extra-cellular fluid. About 96 g. is in bone and less than 32 g. in the cells. Sodium is the most abundant chemical in the extra cellular fluid of the body. It acts with other electrolytes, especially potassium, in the intracellular fluid, to regulate the osmotic pressure and maintain a proper water balance within the body.

Potassium is essential to the life of every cell of a living being and is among the most generously and widely distributed of all the tissue minerals. It is found principally in the intracellular fluid where it plays an important role as a catalyst in energy metabolism and in the synthesis of glycogen and protein. Potassium is widely distributed in foods. All vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, grapes, oranges, lemons raisins, whole grains, lentils, sunflower seeds, nuts, milk, cottage cheese and butter-milk are rich sources. Potatoes especially potato peelings, and bananas are especially good sources.

In the human body, chlorine is liberated by the interaction of common salt, taken along with food, and hydrochloric acid liberated in the stomach during the process of digestion. It is essential for the proper distribution of carbon dioxide and the maintenance of osmotic pressure in the tissues. Chlorine is found in cheese and other milk products, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, all berries, rice, radishes, lentils, coconuts and egg yolk. No dietary allowance has been established, but an average intake of daily salt will ensure adequate quantity of chlorine. Deficiency of this mineral can cause loss of hair and teeth.

The chief store-house of iodine in the body is the thyroid gland. The essential thyroxine, which is secreted by this gland, is made by the circulating iodine. Thyroxine is a wonder chemical which controls the basic metabolism and oxygen consumption of tissues. It increases the heart rate as well as urinary calcium excretion. Iodine regulates the rate of energy production and body weight and promotes proper growth. It improves mental alacrity and promotes healthy hair, nails, skin and teeth. Turnip greens, garlic, water-cress, pineapples, pears, artichokes, citrus fruits, egg yolk and seafoods and fish liver oils are good sources of Iodine.
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