Today’s lesson is all about minerals. I know that to some people learning about minerals is about as exciting as watching water boil. Not me, I think minerals are fascinating. These essential nutrients play a major role in the body ranging from bone structure to nerve transmission and everything in between. Unlike vitamins, which are organic compounds that contain carbon, minerals are inorganic substances that we get from the earth; basically they are rocks. Some minerals are needed in significant amounts in the diet (gram quantities) and are also present in the body in large amounts like the calcium in your bones. Other minerals are only needed in trace amounts but their effect is just as great. For example, we only need to consume a miniscule amount of iron in our daily diet but without it we can suffer a number of deleterious effects, such as debilitating exhaustion from iron-deficiency anemia.
Minerals are present in both natural foods and processed foods. Just like vitamins, it’s best to get your minerals from the diet, however in some cases, mineral supplements are necessary. It’s best to talk to your physician regarding your mineral needs.
If you would like to know where the minerals are in the foods you eat, take a virtual walk through my kitchen with me and I’ll identify important minerals and tell you some of their functions.
Let’s start with the bowl of bananas on the kitchen table; they are chock full of potassium. Potassium is involved in nerve transmission and muscle contraction. One peak inside my refrigerator will reveal a treasure trove of minerals such as iron, phosphorous, magnesium and calcium. Iron is an essential component of the protein hemoglobin which transports oxygen via red blood cells. It is also a key player in utilizing the energy from foods. The spinach and ground beef for tonight’s dinner are both good sources of iron, however the iron in the spinach is not as easily absorbed. Combining a source of Vitamin C, like sliced oranges with the spinach salad, will enhance absorption of the mineral. Phosphorus is responsible for maintaining acid-base balance in the blood and is found in a variety of foods such as processed American cheese, sirloin steak and peanut butter. Magnesium is another mineral that plays a role in muscle contraction and also works to strengthen bones. You shouldn’t have too much trouble getting it in your diet since it’s found in a variety of foods such as almonds, baked potato, chicken and a staple in my kitchen, milk chocolate!
When you think of calcium, you may look to dairy foods because milk and milk products like yogurt and cheese are good sources of calcium. However, some vegetables can supply significant calcium to your diet such as broccoli, Bok choy, collard greens and kale. In addition, fish with soft edible bones like sardines or canned salmon are good choices too. Calcium is the main component of bones and teeth and it is imperative that growing children get enough calcium to ensure peak bone mass into young adulthood. Some people may not realize that calcium does more than build strong bones. Blood levels of calcium must remain at the appropriate levels in order to achieve muscle contraction and relaxation, proper blood clotting and nerve function.
Some other minerals worth mentioning are iodine ( found in iodized salt) which is part of a thyroid hormone that controls metabolism and fluoride, which works with calcium to form bones and teeth and is in fluoridated drinking water, seafood and tea. Zinc is noted for increasing our immunity and protein synthesis and it’s also involved in sexual development and sperm production. It’s interesting that oysters are exceptionally high in zinc and are associated with sexual endurance in men. Minerals aren’t so boring after all, are they?
Sodium is a mineral that our body needs but most Americans consume too much sodium in the form of sodium chloride or table salt. Here’s how you can reduce excessive intake of sodium:
Use spices, herbs, vinegars and lemon juice to season foods. Be adventurous and try a new spice in an old recipe.
Rinse canned foods to remove excess salt or buy low-sodium versions.
Avoid those instant seasoned soups and rice mixes. They are highly salted. If the flavoring packet is separate use half and season with non-salt flavorings.
Limit processed and packaged foods.
Eat in more often since restaurant foods tend to be salty.
Instead of salted popcorn, prepare air-popped popcorn and season with cinnamon, or black pepper depending on the taste you desire.