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Top 5 Minerals That are Crucial to Your Health

August 22, 2019

"Minerals are elements that we don’t make in our bodies and therefore need to get from our diet."

On today’s Inside Health with Dr. Keller Wortham, MD, we're talking about the minerals that are crucial for your health.

We've talked about vitamins in the past, but minerals don't always get the attention they deserve. Today Dr. Keller will share the list of the top 5 minerals we need, the best mineral sources, and symptoms that might indicate a mineral deficiency.

Video Highlights

  • 00:04: What are Minerals?
  • 02:04: Iron 
  • 05:34: Calcium
  • 08:19: Magnesium
  • 10:19: Zinc
  • 12:58: Potassium
  • 14:20: Other Trace Minerals

What are Minerals?

Today, we’re mining for minerals… in our food! Minerals are a very important aspect of our diet. Minerals are elements that we don’t make in our bodies and therefore need to get from our diet. The word “minerals” is actually a misnomer. Minerals are technically elements (remember the periodic table?) and when we talk about minerals in our diet, we’re really talking about these crucial elements. But since the two words are often used interchangeably, we’ll continue to call them minerals for clarity.

Top 5 Crucial Minerals and Where to Get Them

#1: Iron

Iron is an essential element in your diet, primarily because it is the principal element in hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the molecule that helps create our red blood cells and carry oxygen throughout the body. We need a lot of it because our red blood cells are constantly renewing themselves and they need more and more hemoglobin to get the oxygen where it needs to go.

You can recycle some of your iron, but if you have a bleeding disorder, or a hard time absorbing iron, or if you’re a woman who experiences heavy menstrual cycles, you can actually lose a fair amount of iron, and need need to replenish it.

Sources of Iron

Iron is pretty readily available in lots of foods. Red meat is high in iron, but if you’re a vegetarian or don’t eat much red meat (and we typically recommend that you don’t) you can get iron in things like spinach and lentils. Bonus tip: Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron, so if you eat a food that’s rich in both — like broccoli — you get both the iron you need and the vitamin C to aid absorption.

If you’re not getting enough iron in your diet, you might experience a lot of symptoms that have to do with low red blood cells, or what we call anemia. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, you’re not getting enough oxygen to the various parts of your body, so you could feel fatigued, experience shortness of breath, your heart could start beating faster from trying to get oxygen without enough of the oxygen-carrying molecule in your system, or you could experience dizziness, lightheadedness, or you could begin to look very pale. 

One way that doctors check for anemia is by looking under the eyelid. The skin there should be a rosy color, but people who have anemia tend to look pale there. 

If you have a particular kind of anemia called microcytic anemia — which means your red blood cells are very small — that would be an indication to your doctor that he or she should test your iron levels. If you have low iron levels, it could be caused by not getting enough iron in your diet, or it could be caused by losing too much iron due to some kind of bleeding disorder or heavy periods. If you’re older, it could also be a bleed in your digestive tract. So anyone who has microcytic anemia and has an iron deficiency, should be screened for things like colon cancer. So if any of this sounds familiar, make sure you talk to your doctor.

#2: Calcium

We always think of bone health when we think of calcium, because calcium is the fundamental building block in making our bones — almost like the concrete that helps form our skeleton. Calcium is also very important for heart health. If you have a calcium deficiency you can end up with brittle bones, and issues like heart arrhythmias — a condition in which the electrical impulses in your heart don’t function properly. So calcium is a very important element. 

A lot of people as they age, especially women after menopause, can start to lose calcium from their bones. That condition is called Osteoporosis. So you really want to make sure you’re on top of getting enough calcium. Other symptoms of calcium deficiency might include twitching muscle spasms.

Calcium Sources

It’s widely known that calcium is very available in dairy products, like milk, yogurt, and cheese. But don’t worry… if you don’t consume dairy, you can also get it from things like almonds, chia seeds, or lentils. 

However, if you’re over a certain age and at risk for osteoporosis — especially women — Dr. Keller recommends supplementing dietary calcium with a calcium supplement, with the goal of getting 1,000 - 1,200 mg of calcium. Also it’s very important, when taking calcium, to add vitamin D. We’ve talked about vitamin D before, but know that this vitamin is very important for getting the calcium you consume into the bones (and directing it away from joints and arteries, where it can calcify and cause disease). 

#3: Magnesium

Magnesium is also very important for bone health — it works with calcium to build the bone matrix and keep bones strong. It’s especially important for children to make sure they get plenty of calcium and magnesium. Magnesium is also very important for your sleep! It helps regulate your circadian rhythms and relax your body at night.

In fact, Dr. Keller recommends to his patients who have trouble sleeping and don’t want to take sleeping pills, a blend of Calcium and Magnesium which they can take at night for some natural help sleeping. 

Magnesium is also very important for muscles. It helps them contract and function properly, so if you’re low in magnesium, you could notice restlessness in your muscles — like restless leg syndrome — cramps, and spasms, or (like calcium) bone weakness or fractures.

Magnesium Sources

Dark chocolate is a great food source of magnesium. For you chocolate lovers out there, this is good news! But if you don’t like chocolate, don’t worry. You can get magnesium from other foods, including avocados! So make some avocado toast and you’ll be getting a magnesium boost.

#4: Zinc

Zinc is another very important mineral, that affects things like the immune system, memory, and cognition. So make sure you get enough zinc to help keep colds at bay and improve the immune system against viruses. In fact, there’s a particular kind of zinc available at some drug stores that you can take when you first feel yourself starting to get sick, and it can help fend off viral infections. It’s a different formula of zinc than the typical type, but it can be found in things like Zycam. They can help fend of colds and viruses, possibly by working with your immune system in that area.

Because of a particular property in zinc, it’s very important for making a thyroid hormone (T3), and if you’re zinc deficient, your thyroid hormone might be low. That can lead to symptoms like brittle nails and hair, dry skin, and mouth ulcers. So these symptoms may be signs of a zinc deficiency.

Sources of Zinc

The number one food source of zinc is oysters! Now some people may enjoy oysters more than others — some just can’t stomach the texture, and of course raw oysters come with their own health concerns. But if you don’t like oysters, there are plenty of other sources of zinc, including garbanzo beans.

#5: Potassium

Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, is very important for electrolyte balances, and big shifts in potassium can be devastating to the body. Potassium deficiency (or overdose) can have a profound effect on blood pressure, and the kidneys as well, so it’s crucial to make sure you get potassium in the right amount — not too much, and not too little. If you’re getting potassium from food sources, chances are you’ll be able to stay right in that sweet spot.

Potassium also affects muscle function, so when you’re deficient in potassium, you can notice things like muscle cramping. Your doctor can test your potassium levels using a blood test and determine if they are too high or too low. 

Sources of Potassium

Potassium can be found in bananas, or if you want something a little less sugary, sweet potatoes are also great sources of potassium. So if you’re getting potassium from these sources, you’re going to be helping maintain the electrolyte balance and muscle function in your body. 

Other Trace Minerals and How to Get Them

Those are the top five, but there are a lot of other trace minerals we need, like chromium and selenium. If you’re eating a diet rich in whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and some of the things we’ve mentioned in this article, you’ll get most of those minerals.

Unfortunately, many of us are not eating as many fruits and vegetables as we need every day. It’s just not always possible to achieve a perfect diet with our modern lifestyles. Plus, the changes in farming practices, and overfarming, have caused the soil to be depleted from minerals as well.

This is where it can be helpful to augment your healthy diet with a vitamin and mineral supplement. If you do this, try to take one that is sourced primarily sourced from actual food. Minerals from these sources will be better absorbed and more natural, so look for a multivitamin that includes the necessary minerals in a plant-based form, in the right amounts, like the Smarter Multivitamin.

So make sure that you’re eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts, and if you need a boost, opt for a trusted multivitamin and mineral that will give you those things from plant-based sources.

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