Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Micronutrients: minerals

The second class of micronutrients to be introduced is the minerals. Minerals can improperly be referred to as atoms: they are chemical elements as found in the periodic table, the main picture of this post which some people may be familiar with from chemistry classes.

Don't worry, I won't be doing a chemistry lesson today...

Although they come in molecules (sometimes organic molecules) minerals themelves cannot be synthetized by our bodies and must therefore be introduced regularly through the diet.

Macrominerals and microminerals

Minerals can be further classified into macrominerals and microminerals, based on the daily requirement and their role in the body.

Macrominerals often take part to the building structure of our body itself, notable examples are Calcium and Phosphorus (our bones are mainly made of these two minerals).

Micromineals are required in extremely small amounts, they are required only to trigger some metabolic reactions. Microminerals are also called trace minerals.








Minerals deficiencies

It would be utterly unrealistic to think of fitting everything about minerals deficiencies in one paragraph of a blog. Our health depends on a good balance of minerals in the diet, some deficiencies are more widespread that usually believed.

People are mostly familiar with iron deficiency (which causes anemia), iodine deficiency (hypothyroidism) and calcium deficiency (rickets, bone health).
Just to mention some others:
  • Zinc plays a role in several metabolic processes especially the production of hormones, it is required to produce HCl in the stomach. Most people are zinc-deficient to some degree
  • Magnesium is required to produce serotonin, optimizes digestion, needed in order to produce ATP (the energy molecule of muscles)
  • Selenium, potent antioxidant, it helps with thyroid health and supports the kidneys, protects against the toxicity of other minerals (for example mercury)
  • Chromium, originally considered toxic, is needed for the metabolism of glucose
  • Sulfur enters into several metabolic pathways. It is also required for liver detoxification
  • Chloride: ever wondered what the Hydrochloridric Acid is made of?
List again is far from being complete. With time I'll dedicate special posts for each mineral, their roles and the preferred food sources.

Roles of minerals in the body

As with other nutrients, minerals have multiple roles in the body.
  • Act as cofactors for enzyme reactions
  • Maintain pH balance of the body
  • Facilitate the transfer of nutrients across cell membranes
  • Maintain proper nerve conduction
  • Contract and relax muscles
  • Regulate tissue growth
  • Regulate osmotic pressure of fluids in the body
  • Provide structural and functional support

So far so good

We completed the list of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, fats again, proteins) and the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). These are the bases on which we can seriously start discussing about nutrition.
In the next post I will speak about nutrient density, it is the very starting point to healthy eating. It will also help create a "nutrients awareness" that will help in evaluating everyday's choices and (why not?) build some critical thinking towards diets that forbid some foods, usually for dogmatic reasons, or restrict calories for weight loss or for the alleged health benefits of eating less (partially true, but...).

How food is prepared is very important to get the most out of every ingredient. Needless to say: stay tuned!

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