Minerals make up about four percent of your body. A healthy body requires a variety of minerals and vitamins. On account of biochemical individuality, there are wide variations in requirements for minerals and vitamins. You may be deficient in one or more minerals and vitamins, while someone else is not deficient, even consuming the same amounts. You are not what you eat. You are what you absorb, including necessary minerals and vitamins.
Minerals and vitamins are micronutrients. They interact. You require both minerals and vitamins for healthy digestion. Unlike vitamins, minerals come only from the soil. You can make some vitamins internally, but you cannot make minerals. For example, depending on your individual digestive system, you can produce some B vitamins, but you cannot produce the magnesium and potassium required for various digestive processes.
Only if the soil where the vegetables and fruits were grown contained minerals can the vegetables and fruits grown in that soil contain minerals. If the soil lacks certain minerals, then foods grown in that soil lack these minerals. Some mineral deficiencies in the soil are known to create conditions that either prevent growth of these plants or are favorable to fungus and ill health of the plants. Some blighted orchards can be remediated with a mixture of minerals applied to the soil.
In many places, according to modern agricultural methods, the soil is treated with artificial fertilizers to try to increase the phosphorous and potassium in the soil. Fertilizers are often denominated with a specific NPK content. “N” stands for nitrogen. “P” stands for phosphorus. “K” stands for potassium. Unfortunately, this nomenclature overlooks the many other minerals often required for the health of the soil and also for our health.
Similarly, the controversial herbicide glyphosate can prevent absorption of certain minerals by plants, according to some research. This use was even noted in a 1964 patent. A 2015 report (final addendum, page 37 of the pdf file and page 28 of the printed report) by EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) contains a short section on the chelating properties of glyphosate: “Glyphosate can be transferred from the roots of target plants to the rhizosphere (surrounding roots) and non-target plants can also be influenced. This can reduce absorption of micronutrients (creating manganese and iron deficiency). Glyphosate is a strong chelator to various divalent cations such as calcium, iron, copper, and manganese. Glyphosate binds micronutrients in the soil and can cause micronutrient deficiencies in plants that increase their susceptibility to disease.” (Parentheses are mine.) This is the subject of much controversy, so read the research and think for yourself.
Other methods of agriculture are possible, whether organic farming or its cousin, permaculture. I was born in a city, so I have no knowledge nor practical experience of these methods. My friends tell me that these methods are ancient, including:
- not tilling the soil in order to cultivate the soil microbiome, such as the bacteria to fix nitrogen in the roots,
- planting synergistically and in smaller plots than for monoculture,
- cultivating diverse crops, for example alternating in time or space at least root vegetables, leafy vegetables, and flowering vegetables (fruits),
- integrating plant cultivation (for animal feed) and animal husbandry (for compost),
- rotating crops, and
- leaving the soil fallow now and then.
The real advantage of organic produce is that it tends to contain more minerals and vitamins than conventional produce. This is often overlooked in the fear of artificial pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. Some conventional produce is sprayed more than others. For details, see the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists of the Environmental Working Group. Organic produce currently makes up about ten to fifteen percent of the market in Belgium and Europe. This market share is increasing. If it continues to increase, then prices will fall, or else relative prices will fall. Organic carrots, beets, spinach, celery, cucumber, apples, pears, bananas, onions, cauliflower, and cabbage are cheap, compared with the price of ill health.
Many people have mineral deficiencies that they do not recognize. The most common deficiency is of iron, although some people can have an iron excess. Other common mineral deficiencies are magnesium, iodine, zinc, selenium, and others. There are different opinions about the most common mineral and vitamin deficiencies. You are concerned about what you and your loved ones may be deficient in, regardless of the statistics.
Nota bene. I am not promoting food supplements. Beware of cheap food supplements. Many are low-quality, inorganic, and made of ground, powdered rock, not whole plants nor even bones of healthy animals. Commercially, they are rarely controlled for their content in heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead, mercury, and arsenic. Many of the formulations are not absorbed well into the blood, tissues, and bones. Powdered rocks nobody absorbs well. There can be some truth to the stale criticism that mineral and vitamin supplements simply make your urine more expensive. I suggest trying to obtain your minerals from the food that you eat. Let your food nourish you. As Hippocrates said, “let your food be your medicine”.
Regarding health via food, minerals can be sorted into two groups:
The difference has to do with the quantities required for healthy digestion and other functions. Macro-minerals are required in hundred of milligrams or thousands of grams per day. Micro-minerals are required in milligrams per person per day. These quantities can vary from person to person. Some people were born with mineral deficiencies from one or another of their parents. Intensive exercise can require more minerals. Recommended daily amounts of minerals and vitamins vary from country to country and are often a political matter. Tests are available to look for mineral deficiencies in your blood, but some tests are more reliable than others. For example, magnesium is found mostly inside cells, so unless the test measures the magnesium inside your blood cells, called a red blood cell count, then the test is meaningless.
Again, on account of biochemical individuality, there are wide variations in requirements for minerals and vitamins. What quantities are required, even with individual variations? What are they used for? What foods have them? These questions cannot be answered with precision. The body is not a machine. The body is a garden, but your garden is not my garden. Also, the mineral content of a specific food depends on the soil it was grown in and the specific batch. Commercial fertilizers include nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK), but they rarely include other nutrients.
The following are macro-minerals, their symbols for shorthand, where they are concentrated, and what you use them for:
- calcium – Ca – concentrated in your bones and teeth, and required for blood clotting and muscle contraction,
- magnesium – Mg – concentrated in your heart, but required for many physiological processes,
- potassium – K – concentrated in your pancreas, also found in bones and teeth, and required by the nervous system and the muscles,
- sodium – Na – concentrated in your liver, but required for many physiological processes,
- phosphorous – P – found in all cells in the body, bones, teeth, heart, kidneys, nerves,
- chlorine – Cl – not strictly a mineral, but found in blood, lymph and all cells in the body, necessary to regulate the acid-alkaline balance. Note that this refers to the organic chlorine found in nature, such as mountain salt, sea salt, or celery, and not to the chlorine synthesized and added to the urban water supply or to swimming pools for disinfection.
Calcium receives the most publicity, but magnesium is perhaps the most overlooked mineral necessary for health. According to Dr. Klaus Kisters and others, there are various possible signs of magnesium deficiency. According to Dr. David Jockers, the specific signs of magnesium deficiency depend on the person.
Most minerals from food leave an alkaline reside in the body, including calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc, manganese, chromium, selenium, iron, and copper. Other minerals leave an acidic residue in the body, including phosphorous, sulfur, and chloride (found in salt, sodium chloride, NaCl). Proteins, dairy, grains, beans, and toxic metals form acids in the body. Phytic acid in grains and beans contains phosphorous. Health depends on consuming more alkaline- than acid-forming foods. This is known as the acid-alkaline balance, which is an art, not a precise science.
Note that citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, and grapefruit taste acidic, but they are in fact alkaline-forming due to their content of minerals.
What foods have them? What are they used for in the body? What quantities of minerals do you require? Where are they concentrated in the body? On account of biochemical individuality and the variability of nature, these questions cannot be answered with precision. From my reading of the books on this subject, the following table lists the macro-minerals, how much you may require, what you use them for, and what foods have them. Do your own research, and listen to your body. Beware that:
- Your individual requirements may vary widely from the statistical average requirements.
- You require a mix of minerals, not one or another isolated mineral.
- An excess of one can cause excretion or deficiency of another. For example, an excess of sodium (in salt) prompts you to excrete calcium and potassium.
|Mineral and symbol||Daily requirements?||Where found and used?||What foods have it?|
|Calcium – Ca||1 – 2 grams||bones, teeth, muscles, extracellular fluid||parsley, fenugreek, almonds, carob, sesame seeds, tahini, broccoli, kale, millet, bone broth, tofu|
|Magnesium – Mg||500 – 1000 milligrams||nerves, bones, teeth, heart, muscles, intracellular||green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and parsley, chlorophyll, chlorella, dark chocolate, cumin|
|Potassium – K||2 – 5 grams||nervous system, heart, bones, pancreas, intracellular||carrots, coriander (cilantro), bananas, plums, prunes, sweet potatoes, mangos, dates|
|Sodium – Na||?||nervous system, bones, extracellular||salt, celery|
|Phosphorous – P||?||bones, blood, muscles, nerves, teeth, and adenosine triphosphate (atp), which is cellular energy||meats, poultry, fish, nuts, quinoa, amaranth, grains, fibrous vegetables, lentils, beans, legumes, soybeans, natto, tempeh, fruits|
|Chlorine – Cl||?||digestion in the stomach by hydrochloric acid||salt, celery|
Your bones and teeth have ninety-nine percent of your calcium and eight-five percent of your phosphorous, but you also use calcium to contract your muscles. Most people have a kilo or more of calcium. Calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous are required for healthy bones, while calcium and magnesium are required for a healthy heart. There is more calcium in your body than any other mineral. You require vitamin D to absorb calcium. Phytic acid find in grains can slow down or prevent calcium absorption.
Magnesium and magnesium deficiency are often overlooked with all the publicity about calcium. You have about thirty grams of magnesium in your body, mostly in your bones, in your teeth, and also in all your red blood cells. If you are chronically deficient in magnesium, you put your health at risk, according to Dr. Carolyn Dean in her book “The Magnesium Miracle“. According to Dr. Dean, the signs of magnesium deficiency vary from person to person, but can be muscle cramps, heart disease, diabetes, migraine headaches, osteoporosis, and dementia. Do your own research, but start with her article on magnesium deficiency. Dr. Peter Osborne also describes signs of magnesium deficiency.
You require magnesium for at least three hundred physiological processes. Routine blood tests do not measure magnesium inside cells, so to test for a possible magnesium deficiency, order a magnesium red blood cell test. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, chard, kale, or broccoli have much magnesium. Chlorophyll is the constituent of the plant that makes it green. Structurally similar to hemoglobin in the blood, chlorophyll transports nutrients. At the center of the chlorophyll molecule is an atom of magnesium, which makes the chlorophyll green, while an atom of iron makes the blood red.
Dr. Steven Lin, a dentist, describes the health benefits of magnesium. Dr. Mark Sircus describes why eighty percent of us are deficient in magnesium. To supplement or not to supplement? How much to supplement? Do your own research, think for yourself, and make your own decision. I suggest getting nutrients from food first. Dr. Josh Axe gets specific about magnesium deficiency and possible supplements here.
Calcium gets all the publicity, but it is potassium that is more necessary for your health. You require potassium for your nervous system, heart, and muscles. It is also essential for healthy teeth and bones. Requirements vary, but the recommended daily consumption of potassium in many places is almost five grams per day. It may be useful to regulate blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you may lack potassium. According to Dr. Joe Mercola, MD, signs of potassium deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, abdominal pain and cramps, and in severe cases abnormal heart rhythms and muscular paralysis.
Potassium is called an “electrolyte”. The body is electric, according to Dr. Robert Becker in his aptly named book, “The Body Electric“. Electrolytes transmit faint electric signals in your heart and brain. These signals are measured in the form of electrocardiograms (ECG) and electroencephelograms (EEG), which are beyond the scope of this site. There is a balance between potassium and sodium, which is also an electrolyte. It may be desirable to consume as much as five times as much potassium as sodium. Instead of eliminating salt, which contains sodium, you might try to eat more foods high in potassium, such as sweet potatoes, broccoli, celery, spinach, and other leafy greens. In fact, potassium is found in all fruits and vegetables. This is why the soil is often treated with fertilizer denominated by its content of “NPK”. “K” stands for potassium. (Kalium in German means potassium.). Avocados, bananas, apricots, mangoes, and sweet potatoes are excellent sources of potassium. Perhaps this has to do with their orange color, though I am not sure. On the other hand, beets are red because of their iron content, while dark, leafy greens are green because of their magnesium content.
The content of potassium in the specific fruit or vegetable depends as much on the soil where it was grown as it does on the specific fruit or vegetable. Dr. Axe lists foods high in potassium in this article.
Like calcium, sodium is found mostly in the fluid outside your cells, while magnesium and potassium are found mostly inside your cells. Salt and celery contain sodium, which is necessary to retain water. For example, if you live where the climate is hot and humid, you lose sodium when you sweat. According to Dr. Max Gerson, good health depends on an optimal balance between sodium and potassium. The common advice to avoid salt is oversimplified and often unnecessary. The need for sodium depends on the person and on biochemical individuality. It is better to avoid excess sodium and to balance sodium consumption with potassium consumption. Note that table salt is refined and devoid of other minerals. Sea salt and mountain salt from uncontaminated sources contain these other minerals.
Phosphorous is essential for healthy bones. You also require phosphorous to remove waste and to repair tissue. Foods high in phosphorous include meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, garlic, beans, and grains, among others. You can consume too much phosphorous, which tends to make your blood and tissues more acidic. This acidity requires alkaline minerals to restore a balance. Sweetened soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, another reason to avoid them.
Nota bene. This refers to organic chlorine found in salt and celery, among other foods. It tends to make the body acidic, depending on other minerals in the salt or celery. Some acidity is required to absorb minerals and to digest protein.
Note that the chemical name of salt is sodium chloride. This is different from sodium chlorite, which is used as a disinfectant for food safety. In very small amounts, acidified sodium chlorite (and its byproduct chlorine dioxide) has also been used therapeutically. This use is controversial and beyond the scope of this website. Do your own research.
The following is a list micro-minerals, their symbols for shorthand, where they are concentrated, and what you use them for:
- iron – Fe – concentrated in your blood, required to transport oxygen (via hemoglobin in red blood cells) and for oxidation by cells,
- sulfur – S – found in tissues, hair, and nails, for detoxification, protein synthesis,
- iodine – I – concentrated in the thyroid, required for metabolism,
- silica – Si – found mainly in connective tissues skin, bones, hair, fingernails, necessary to grow and maintain strong bones,
- zinc – Zn – concentrated in skin, nails, and hair, but required for many physiological processes, such as fertility, protein synthesis, cell division, the sense of smell, and your immune and reproductive systems,
- copper – Cu – found in muscle and the liver, together with iron, copper enables the body to form red blood cells,
- manganese – Mn – found in bones, liver, kidney, and pancreas, promotes the formation of connective tissue, bones, blood-clotting factors, and sex hormones,
- selenium – Se – trace mineral found in thyroid, liver, and kidneys, useful for reproduction, thyroid gland function, immune system,
- chromium – Cr – trace mineral necessary to metabolize sugar, maintain or improve insulin sensitivity and to enhance protein, carbohydrate, and lipid metabolism,
- boron – B – found in bones and widely distributed, maintain a balance of sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone, promotes magnesium absorption, has other health benefits,
- molybdenum – Mo – used to detoxify sulfites and to reduce copper levels, found in nuts, legumes, grains, fish, organ meats (liver and kidney), vegetables,
lithium – Li – trace mineral possibly useful to reverse aging and for mental health.
What quantities are required, even with individual variations? Where are they found in the body? What are they used for? What foods have them? These questions cannot be answered with precision. From my reading of the books on this subject, the following table lists the macro-minerals, how much you may require, what you use them for, and what foods have them. How much of each mineral is found in which food depends most of all on the topsoil where the food was grown. If the soil is depleted of one or more minerals, you cannot expect to find much of those minerals in food grown in that soil. Do your own research, and listen to your body. Beware that:
- Your individual requirements can vary widely from the average and from recommended daily allowances.
- You require the mix of the minerals, not one or another isolated mineral.
- An excess of one can cause excretion or deficiency of another. For example, excess zinc depletes copper, and vice versa.
|Mineral and symbol||Daily requirements||Where found and used||What foods have it|
|Iron – Fe||?||blood, hemoglobin, oxygen transport||beets, figs, blackstrap molasses, lentils, spinach, beef, other red meat|
|Sulfur – S||?||detox||onions, garlic, leek, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, bok choy|
|Iodine – I||100 – 800 micrograms||nervous system, hormones, bones, thyroid||seaweed, sea vegetables, kelp, bladderwrack, saltwater fish|
|Silicon – Si||21 – 46 milligrams||bones, skin, hair, nails||horsetail, bamboo|
|Zinc – Zn||5 – 20 milligrams||fertility, digestion, hair, brain||beef, poultry, mushrooms, spinach, pumpkin seeds, lima beans, chickpeas, raw cashews, raw pecans, raw almonds, green peas, ginger, oysters, he shou wu|
|Copper – Cu||1 – 2 milligrams||blood, respiratory system, digestion, detox||ginger, raw cashews, raw sunflower seeds, raw hazelnuts, raw almonds, organic peanut butter, mushrooms, lentils, whole oats, liver, mushrooms, peas|
|Manganese – Mn||.2 – 2 milligrams||bones||clove, raw almonds, raw pecans, pineapple, spinach, sweet potatoes, brown rice, lima beans|
|Selenium – Se||> 20 – 80 micrograms||essential for the thymus; synergy with zinc||Brazil nuts, garlic, vegetables and fruits from soil with selenium|
|Chromium – Cr||> .2 milligrams||hypothalamus, control blood sugar, body heat, hormones||brewer’s yeast, broccoli, garlic, basil, turkey, beef, oats|
|Boron – B||?||bones||apples, beets, almonds, chickpeas, seafood|
|Molybdenum – Mo||?||detoxify sulfites, reduce excess copper||legumes, nuts, grains, fish, vegetables|
|Cobalt – Co||?||forms part of vitamin B12, deficiency can cause anemia||liver, meat, fish, leafy vegetables, grains, legumes|
|Silver||?||immune system||none, may not be required but could be useful in small amounts of colloidal form (nanoparticles)|
We are all human beings, but none of us are identical. Because of biochemical individuality, your nutrient profile and possible deficiencies are unique to you. In other words, minerals that you may be deficient in are not what I may be deficient in. On the other hand, patterns of nutrient deficiencies have been reported.
Iron deficiency is also known as anemia. It is the most common mineral deficiency. It is also possible to have too much iron. Some people may require more iron than others. The more vitamin c you consume, the more iron you can absorb. Beets, figs, blackstrap molasses, nettle, and good-quality meat have iron, while lemons, limes, grapefruit, and other citrus fruit have vitamin c. If you are deficient in iron, it may be possible to increase your iron levels naturally. For details, read this overview of iron for health.
Sulfur is the third or fourth most abundant mineral found in the human body after calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. Your muscles, skin, and bones contain about half of the sulfur in your body. You have about one point six grams of sulfur per kilogram of body weight (two point fifty-six ounces per one hundred pounds). You need sulfur to hold proteins, to maintain connective tissue, and to produce energy. Most of all, you use sulfur for detoxification. Garlic and onions have sulfur. For this reason, garlic can be very healthy for many people, though maybe not for everybody. Look for good-quality organic garlic. Chop a clove of fresh chopped garlic before you start to cook, and then add it to your dish after it is cooked and ready to eat. In many ancient cultures and even in some modern ones, garlic was and is thought to be a medicine. Why eat sulfur-rich vegetables? Sulfur from food is optimal, but if you are deficient in sulfur, then methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) can be useful.
Iodine is essential to your thyroid function. Your thyroid gland regulates your metabolism. In this twelve-minute video, Dr. Brownstein talks about iodine and the thyroid. You can find iodine in good-quality saltwater seafood, kelp, and bladderwrack. If you live near the sea, you may gradually absorb more iodine from the air than inland dwellers. If you live far from the sea and eat little seafood, you may be more susceptible to iodine deficiency. Dr. Mark Sircus describes the use of iodine as medicine. Note that almost all tincture of iodine found in pharmacies is tainted, so that it cannot be used internally. Various food-grade tinctures of iodine are available, such as Lugol’s iodine, the grandfather of them. Also, beware that you can have too much iodine. Do you consume enough iodine from iodized salt? Because of biochemical individuality, the answer depends on the person. There may be misinformation about this subject. Read different points of view, and then think for yourself. “Let your food be your medicine.” If you have a medical condition, see a doctor.
Note that the authorities in some countries routinely treat the drinking water with flouride. They add chemicals such as hydrofluosilicic acid, sodium fluoride, sodium silicofluoride, or others containing flouride to the water. Their belief is that this prevents tooth decay, although there is no scientific evidence of this belief. Other countries’ authorities use flouride as rat poison. This controversy is beyond the scope of this website. Nevertheless, if you are concerned about this flouridation, you can detoxify yourself, using small amounts of food-grade iodine. Do your own research, and think for yourself.
Silicon is found in your bones, skin, hair, nails, and joints. An overlooked source of silicon is the herb horsetail. You can make tea of horsetail or add it your cooked dishes. According to Dr. Exley, aluminum toxicity is a possible cause of senility, and horsetail could be used gradually to remove aluminum from the brain.
According to Dr. Joe Mercola, after iron, zinc is the most common mineral found in your body. It plays many roles and is required for the healthy functioning of all your cells, tissues, organs, and bones. Dr.Mercola promotes supplements, but you are not required to buy the supplements to read what he writes and to think about it. Pumpkin seeds have some zinc. Healthy animals have zinc. Zinc and selenium are synergistic. On the other hand, zinc and copper can be antagonistic, that is they can deplete the other. You require zinc for the reproductive system and also for your immune system.
Copper is found in ginger, which can act as an anti-inflammatory for many. Foods high in copper include dark green leafy vegetables, good-quality liver, almonds, sesame seeds, and pecans.
Manganese a trace mineral found in the spice clove and also on the beaches of the Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica. It may antagonize zinc and copper. In other words, if you have an excess of copper or zinc, you may have a deficiency of manganese.
In many regions on earth, the soil lack selenium, so food grown in that soil also lack selenium. Too much selenium can be toxic. Oligoscan is a test that claims to measure selenium in the body non-invasively. If you have reason to believe that you lack selenium, one or two Brazil nuts a day may be the answer. Garlic and onions also have selenium, depending on the soil where they were grown. Do your own research, and listen to your body.
Chromium is most of all necesssary to digest sugars and carbohydrates. You use it to regulate your blood sugar. Foods high in chromium include broccoli, garlic, oats, beef, turkey, apples, bananas, pears, green beans, and grapes. Be aware that eating and drinking sweets, such as soda, juice, candy and other sweets, prompts you to eliminate chromium in the urine.
Boron is found in beets, which cannot grow well in soil deficient in boron. Beets are also an excellent source of iron, particularly for vegans. Healthy bones and joints require boron. Other foods high in boron include almonds, chickpeas, and seafood. Boron may have other possible health benefits, such as being a natural aphrodisiac.
Many other minerals and nutrients are required for chronic health, according to Dr. Joel Wallach, veterinarian and pathologist. Wallach collected many observations and treated many animals and human beings with minerals. He points out that vitamins and minerals have been used to cure acute illness, such as vitamin C (scurvy), vitamin D (rickets), vitamin B1 = thiamin (beri-beri), vitamin B3 = niacin (pellagra), and iron and copper (anemia). He claims that each of us needs ninety essential nutrients, including sixty minerals, sixteen vitamins, twelve amino acids, and two or three essential fatty acids. Wallach further claims that mineral deficiencies are the cause of many health problems. Note that Dr. Wallach promotes certain supplements of these essential nutrients. This does not exclude the possibility that he is telling the truth from his point of view about the utility of minerals and vitamins for maintaining health. Others have reported on the use and effects of trace minerals.
Be aware that pharmaceutical products can deplete you of nutrients.
Vitamins and minerals also have critics and skeptics. Again, I suggest obtaining vitamins and minerals from good-quality food.
Dean MD, Dr. Carolyn, “Magnesium Miracle“, Ballantine Books, 2006, video
Bieler, MD, Dr. Henry, “Food is Your Best Medicine“, Ballantine Books, 1987, online, review
Mindell PhD, Dr. Earl, “Vitamin Bible“, Warner Books, 1979, website, critic
Timon, Mark, “Mineral Logic – Understanding the Mineral Transport System“, Advanced Nutritional Research, 1985
D’Adamo ND, Dr. James, “One man’s food–is someone else’s poison“, Health Through Herbs, 1980
Orthomolecular.org – micro-nutrients, minerals, sources, and functions