The Minerals You Need

You hear a lot about vitamins but not so much about minerals. Problem is, even if you try to eat well, you might be coming up short on essential ones like calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. And odds are you’re overdoing it on another mineral: sodium. But you can easily increase your mineral intake by eating more mineral-rich foods, many of which are also high in various B vitamins and vitamins C, D, and K, as well as fiber. Those nutrients might help prevent certain cancers, heart disease, osteoporosis, and more. Mineral supplements, on the other hand, don’t’ always provide the same benefits and can cause side effects like nausea and an upset stomach. Here’s what you need to know about four important minerals, plus how to get more in your diet by eating the right foods.

If you decide to take supplements, look for products with the “USP verified” seal on the label. It indicates that they meet voluntary quality standards set by the nonprofit U.S. Pharmacopeia.


Why you need it Most women – about 80 percent – fall short on calcium, and 60 percent of men do. You know it’s important for keeping your bones strong, especially as you age. But eating the right amount might protect your health in other ways, such as lowering blood pressure, helping to prevent breast and colon cancers, and easing premenstrual syndrome. For years the advice has been to take supplements, but new research indicates that getting more from foods is the way to go. A recent report highlights results of 11 clinical trials involving about 12,000 older people (who are generally at increased risk of fractures and bone loss) and raises some concerns about supplements: There might be some big risks along with their proven benefits. Researchers concluded that treating 1,000 people with calcium supplements for five years would prevent 26 fractures but would also lead to 14 heart attacks, 10 strokes, and 13 deaths. The analysis didn’t look at studies that used calcium with vitamin D; some evidence suggests that the combination more effectively prevents fractures. Another study shows that although some calcium is good for your bones, taking more isn’t necessarily better.

How much you need 1,000 milligrams for premenopausal women and men younger than 50; 1,200 to 1,500 mg for postmenopausal women and men older than 65 (2,000 mg maximum daily). Aim for at least three servings of dairy or calcium-rich foods every day.

Good Sources Cheese, tofu, oranges and almonds are yummy sources of calcium.

• Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 8 ounces 415 mg
• Sardines, with bones, canned 325 mg
• Milk (skim), 8 ounces 300 mg
• Tofu, firm, with calcium sulfate, ½ cup 205 mg
• Cheese, such as mozzarella and cheddar (hard cheeses have more), 1 ounce 185 to 205 mg
• Salmon, with bones, canned, 3 ounces 180 mg
• Greens (kale, spinach), cooked, ½ cup 50 to 120 mg
• Beans (great northern, navy, white), boiled, ½ cup 60 to 80 mg
• Nuts (almonds, Brazil), 1 ounce 45 to 70 mg
• Orange (1 medium) 60 mg


Why you need it Iron helps your red blood cells deliver oxygen from your lungs to cells all over your body and carry carbon-dioxide waste back to your lungs for exhaling. If you don’t get enough, you can develop iron-deficiency anemia, which can cause extreme fatigue. Iron is also found in the cells of your muscles and helps improve athletic performance. Iron supplements are used to treat various conditions, such as canker sores, Crohn’s disease, depression, fatigue, and infertility, though there is not enough evidence to determine whether they help. Women with heavy periods sometimes take extra iron to make up for what they lose during menstruation. TIP Iron supplements work best on an empty stomach. But they can cause side effects such as stomach upset and nausea. If that happens, take supplements with food, but not with dairy, coffee, tea, or cereals. Better yet, skip supplements and just eat more of the foods listed below. Consult your doctor if you think you’re deficient.

How much you need 18 milligrams daily for women ages 19 to 50; 8 mg daily for pregnant women. (Warning: the maximum is 45 mg daily for those 14 and older. Consuming too much iron can be dangerous, increasing your risk for liver disease, heart failure, and other health problems. Doses of 60 mg or higher can be fatal).

Good sources

• Beans (black, baked, lentils, soybeans), 1 cup 5 to 8.8 mg
• Spinach, 1 cup 6.4 mg
• Beef liver, 3 ounces 5.8 mg
• Beef, 3 ounces 2.7 mg
• Canned clams, 3 ounces 2.3 mg
• Chicken, 3 ounces dark meat, 1.4 mg; light, 1 mg


Why you need it Together with potassium, magnesium helps strengthen your bones by improving your body’s ability to absorb calcium. Magnesium also protects against other health risks, including abnormal heart rhythms, blood clots, and high glucose levels. If you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes, be sure to get enough magnesium in your diet by eating the foods listed below or consider taking supplements. Several large studies have found that people who consume the most magnesium are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, talk with your doctor about magnesium supplements; some evidence suggest that they might help control blood sugar over the long term.

How much you need 320 milligrams daily for women; 420 mg for men. (The maximum daily level you should get from supplements is 350 mg; there’s no upper limit for food).

Good sources

• Halibut, 3 ounces 90 mg
• Nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts), 1 ounce 50 to 80 mg
• Spinach, cooked, ½ cup 75 mg
• Potato, baked, with skin, 1 medium 50 mg
• Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 8 ounces 45 mg
• Beans (baked, kidney, pinto), ½ cup 35 to 40 mg
• Avocado, ½ cup (about ½ medium) 35 mg
• Banana, 1 medium 30 mg
• Milk (skim), 8 ounces 30 mg
• Raisins, ½ cup 25 mg


Why you need it The conventional wisdom is to cut down on sodium to lower your blood pressure, but dietary potassium really is the hero in the battle against high blood pressure. Potassium in food helps your body get rid of sodium and protects the cells that line the walls of your blood vessels. In fact, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet works because it limits sodium and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat diary products, which are good sources of potassium. A potassium-rich diet is also associated with a reduced risk of bone loss, kidney stones, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Unfortunately, almost all Americans consume too much sodium and too little potassium. There’s a mismatch between what our biological systems are designed for and what we try to make them handle. A recent study suggest what might happen if people corrected the sodium-potassium ratio. It found that even if people kept consuming the same amount of sodium, increasing their potassium intake to at least the recommended level each day could reduce their risk of dying of a heart attack by up to 11 percent and stroke by as much as 15 percent.

How much you need 4,700 milligrams daily for men and women (no upper limit).

Good sources

• Potato, medium, baked, with skin 925 mg
• Avocado, ½ cup (about ½ medium) 585 mg
• Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 8 ounces 575 mg
• Beans (black, lima, kidney, pinto, lentils), boiled, ½ cup 305 to 485 mg
• Greens (spinach, Swiss chard), cooked, ½ cup 420 to 480 mg
• Orange juice, 8 ounces 475 mg
• Winter squash, ½ cup 450 mg
• Artichoke, 1 medium 425 mg
• Banana, 1 medium 420 mg
• Milk (skim), 8 ounces 410 mg

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