When you think of precious minerals, you probably think of silver and gold. But where your health is concerned, others - like calcium and iron - are far more precious. Each of these dietary minerals is unique and carries out its own life-giving task.
Scientists have divided these nutrients into two groups - major and trace minerals - depending on how much of the mineral is in your body.
7 minerals you can't do without
The major minerals stand out from others simply because there are more of them in your body. If you could remove all your body's minerals and place them on a scale, they would weigh about 5 pounds. Almost 4 pounds of that would be calcium and phosphorus, the two most common major minerals. The five other major minerals would make up most of the remaining pound.
By far the most abundant mineral in your body, calcium makes your bones and teeth strong and hard. Without it, they would be as floppy as your ears. Imagine trying to get around then. Calcium doesn't just stay trapped in your skeleton, though. Small amounts of it travel into your blood. There, it's essential for steadying your blood pressure and helping your muscles contract. One rather important muscle - your heart - needs calcium to keep pumping. Calcium is critical during childhood if you want to have strong bones as an adult. But no matter how old you are, it's never too late to get more of this important mineral.
The second-most plentiful mineral in your body works hand-in-hand with calcium to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Phosphorus is a crucial ingredient in DNA and cell membranes and helps make healthy new cells all over your body. To top it off, phosphorus helps turn your food into energy. Chloride. Your stomach would be useless without this element. Chloride is a main ingredient in your digestive stomach acids. It also helps to assure that all of your body's cells get their fair share of nutrients - no small job at all.
This is the least common major mineral in your body, but that doesn't hold magnesium back. First, it helps keep your bones and teeth healthy, then it makes sure calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and proteins do their jobs. When you flex your muscles, you need magnesium to help them relax again. Recently, experts even found a connection between magnesium and heart health. A deficiency of the mineral could increase your risk of heart attack and high blood pressure.
Keeping your blood pressure steady, maintaining your heartbeat, balancing water in your cells, and assuring your muscles and nerves work properly are a few of potassium's many important jobs. Like magnesium, this mineral might be essential for heart health.
This mineral usually gets a bad rap because it's the main element in salt. But your body needs sodium to maintain its balance of fluids. Nowadays, most people try to limit their salt, or sodium, intake for health reasons. Those who are "salt-sensitive" are especially at risk for heart disease. But it would benefit everyone to lower their daily sodium intake to 2,400 milligrams or less.
This mineral is a number one supporting actor. It doesn't do much on its own, but it's part of other star nutrients like thiamin and protein. Sulfur is especially important in proteins because it gives them shape and durability. Your body's toughest proteins - in your hair, nails, and skin - have the highest amounts of sulfur.
Trace minerals - small but powerful protectors
By definition, each trace mineral makes up only a tiny percentage of your total body weight - less than one-twentieth of a percent, to be exact. But their small amounts only make them more valuable. They carry out enormous tasks that are as important as the jobs of any of the more common nutrients.
Your thyroid gland uses this nutrient to make its hormones. These compounds control your body temperature, regulating the metabolism of every major organ. A lack of iodine can wreak havoc with your body and cause a condition called goiter.
Without a teaspoon of this mineral in your body, you couldn't breathe. Iron makes up hemoglobin and myoglobin, two compounds that carry oxygen throughout your blood and your muscles. No wonder you feel weak and listless when you are iron deficient.
Now famous for preventing cancer, selenium also carries out important daily tasks in your body. It helps your thyroid use iodine, for instance, and it's important for a healthy immune system. A deficiency in selenium can cause heart and thyroid disease.
This mineral has many jobs. Cleaning up free radicals, building new cells, and producing energy from other nutrients are just three. A zinc deficiency can be dangerous, leading to digestion problems and deficiencies in other nutrients.
The mighty five. Chromium, copper, fluoride, manganese, and molybdenum are five trace minerals you'll find in common foods and drinks. They are responsible for everything from strong teeth (fluoride) to your blood-sugar level (chromium). They are so important that nutritionists have set daily requirements for each of them to make sure you get enough.
Experts are also investigating a handful of other minerals to see how essential they are to your body. Boron is one that seems promising as an important ingredient in bone and joint health.