Despite an abundant food supply, studies indicate that many adults and children in the United States are well-fed, yet undernourished. It all starts with a lack of important major minerals.
About Major Minerals
Minerals are inorganic substances that form the building blocks of our bodies. In fact, they are so important that we cannot exist without them. All vital processes depend on the presence and influence of minerals. Because we cannot synthesize minerals on our own, we must obtain them from our diet. Minerals, like vitamins, are essential nutrients.**
While living things are capable of producing vitamins, minerals occur naturally in non-living elements, such as soil, rock, and metal ores. Minerals find their way into our bodies through fluids, plants, fish, and animals that absorb and accumulate these minerals in small amounts.
Minerals from small to large
Nutrition professionals classify essential minerals as either “major minerals” or “trace elements.” Major minerals are minerals your body needs in relatively large (or major) quantities, and trace minerals are minerals your body needs in relatively small (or trace) amounts.
Major minerals = macrominerals
Major minerals are also called "macrominerals." The word "macro" means "large" in Greek. Naturally, these minerals require a relatively large presence in the diet. Calcium, for example, is the most abundant mineral in the human body. The average adult holds approximately 1 to 1,5 kg of this major mineral. That's why, at 1300 mg, the daily recommended dietary allowance of calcium in adults and children ≥ 4 years, is relatively high. In addition to calcium, other major minerals include sodium, potassium, and magnesium as well as chloride, phosphorus, and sulfur.
In contrast to major minerals, trace elements have a much smaller presence in the body. These minerals include, for example, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. Although we don't need large quantities of trace minerals, they are no less essential to the body than major minerals.
Major minerals and their function
The building blocks of life
Major minerals literally and metaphorically form the body’s backbone. These essential nutrients are the building blocks of the skeleton, cells, and tissues. They are also crucial to vitamins, enzymes, and hormones. For this reason, an adequate intake of major minerals is necessary for the formation of healthy bones and teeth (e.g., calcium and magnesium), the stabilization of protein structures (e.g., sulfur), and for elements that make up connective tissue, hair, skin, and nails. Major minerals also help active enzymes.**
Major Minerals as Electrolytes: Important Regulators
Major minerals play an essential role in balancing electrolyte levels in the body. “Electrolyte” is the umbrella term for minerals and substances that carry an electric charge. When electrolytes dissolve in the body’s fluids (i.e., our blood, sweat, and urine), they form electrolytes – positive or negative ions. Electrolytes are essential to basic life functions, like regulating your heartbeat, controlling your muscles and nerves. It's what keeps you moving. These critical chemicals allow cells to generate energy, maintain the stability of their walls, and to function in general. Electrolytes also help transport nutrients in to (and waste out of) our cells. And finally, electrolytes help maintain the healthy balance of water and pH in the body, ensuring better internal operation.**
Are we getting enough?
Clearly, major minerals are essential components of many bodily functions. Even a slight deficiency of any major mineral can upset a sensitive balance in the body. That’s why we should always meet the recommended major mineral targets in our diets.
But what is the supply situation in the United States? As a "land of plenty”, are we immune to the malnutrition problem? A recent study conducted as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has revealed that nutrient deficiencies are prevalent in the United States, including major mineral deficiencies. Nearly half of the population, for example, have a lack of calcium in their diets. Furthermore, more than one-third of Americans don't consume enough magnesium.
So, despite being exceptionally well-fed calorically speaking, there are many Americans who remain undernourished. Most of these people do not show any signs of deficiency, but this does not necessarily indicate a healthy nutrient supply. Women and some adolescents are more susceptible to calcium deficiencies and may, therefore, risk the health of their bones in the future. It's for this reason that people should focus on consuming a wide variety of healthy foods, e.g., fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, legumes, and other nutrient-dense foods. Dietary supplements can also help achieve a higher nutrient intake.
What Should Be Considered?
As a part of so many critical functions, the good news is that major minerals (when supplied in physiological doses (see table below)) are generally safe and well-tolerated. Major minerals in these doses rarely have side effects, and when they do, it's mild. In some cases, concentrated amounts of major minerals can lead to gastrointestinal disorders. Magnesium particularly can have a laxative effect. It's, therefore, better to ration larger quantities throughout the day. In concentrated doses, major minerals may also interact with some medicines. If you are taking any medical drugs (e.g., ACE inhibitors, cardiac glycosides, potassium-saving diuretics) or have health kidney issues, or if you are pregnant or nursing, ask your doctor before taking supplements in concentrated amounts.
Recommended Dietary Allowance
Different organizations and authorities around the world recommend varying amounts of major minerals. The simplified table below provides the daily intake recommended for the most critical major minerals on the latest RDAs, developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.