Minerals: Health Advantage

Minerals are essential for our daily body functions and good health

Eating fruitsVitamins have always been a household word. Also, no one would think twice before popping a multivitamin pill along with their breakfast - for immunity, for great skin, lustrous hair, well almost everything.

There is a strong belief in the vitamin magic — so much so, that in the village I did my rural internship, patients who had generalised fatigue and pains would ask us to prescribe Taaqat cha injection [Strength injections], their term for vitamin-B complex shots.

Minerals are yet to have that kind of mass appeal. Minerals in nutrition are like the spices we add to food. A little goes a long way and each one has specific function/s to perform - from cellular functions to building our teeth and bones. They deserve as important a consideration in our diet as do vitamins. It is best that we rely on a balanced diet that provides all major food groups including vitamins and minerals to benefit from their health-bestowing properties.

Mineral excess: Examples

When it comes to taking mineral supplements, there is surely such a thing as too much of a good thing.

High doses of selenium, for example, may generate destructive free radicals that can hamper insulin production by the pancreas. A study conducted by Dr Saverio Stranges, at the State University of New York, US, came to the conclusion that selenium supplementation did not appear to prevent Type-2 diabetes, and it could actually increase risk of the disease. Therefore, patients were advised not to take selenium supplements greater than those in multiple vitamins.

Excessive amounts of potassium in the body whether due to intake, or other causes, may lead to disturbed cardiac rhythm and ultimately cardiac arrest, as well as other metabolic disturbances.

Excess calcium in the body gets deposited as "stone" in the kidney and gall bladder.

Better eating habits, or supplements?

Mineral supplements are no substitute for a balanced diet. For some people, however, including those on restrictive diets that don't supply all required nutrients, dietary supplements can provide vitamins and minerals. Pregnant women and older adults have heightened nutrient needs and may benefit from a dietary supplement.

In case of iron deficiency - in specific conditions like heavy periods, pregnancy or lactation - it would be best to resort to iron supplements, as absorption from food to replete lost iron store would be a time-consuming process. Children with fussy food habits or poor eaters also need to be reviewed on their overall growth and development, and prescribed supplements accordingly, if need be.

While each essential mineral has its own sources, it would be impractical to select a food each for every mineral. The practical approach is to eat whole foods that are generally good in most vitamins and minerals and apart from that provide other added benefits such as wholesome nutrition, essential fibre content and other protective substances such as anti-oxidants. Also, because of our generous intake of common salt, two minerals, viz., sodium and chloride are rarely found deficient in our body.

Easy mineral balanced meals

  • Carrot rotis with yoghurt raita and banana slices with honey
  • Whole wheat bread with peanut butter and a glass of soy milk or skimmed milk
  • Hummus on pita bread with a fattoush salad [made with leafy greens, cucumber, onion and toasted bread]
  • Brown rice with chowli beans [black eyed peas] and a tomato-cucumber kachumbar
  • Shrimp salad, fish curry [salmon] and red rice
  • Turkey meat burgers in whole wheat bread with mustard and radish greens and a glass of pineapple juice
  • Oven baked potato wedges [with skins] with tomato salsa, almond soup and low-fat chocolate mousse.

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Mineral water: Myths and truths

Bottled water is sold as mineral water. But, how many of us read the label on that pricey bottle to find out what's really in it? It is also not clear if mineral water has any additional benefits, apart from basic hydration with clean water, because the mineral content in most brands is much less than that of tap water. It may, therefore, not be significant enough to work as a good source of essential minerals.

There are obviously no adverse effects from drinking mineral water, except for some brands containing a higher sodium level, which we can do without. In some countries, tap water may be richer in minerals than bottled mineral water - in Germany, regulations for tap water are stricter than that for bottled water.

The basics

Mineral Chemical element [vitamins are organic compounds] required for health and normal bodily functions.
Macro-mineral Minerals found in human body in excess of five gm with requirement of more than 100 gm/day; e.g., iron, calcium etc.,
Micro-mineral Minerals found in human body less than five gm with requirement of 100 gm/day; e.g., copper, selenium, zinc etc.
Trace elements Chemical elements required by body in very minute concentrations [less than one gm/day] to maintain normal growth and development; e.g., iodine, molybdenum, silicon etc.,

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

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