Aren’t we all bombarded with nutrition facts? Some sources list as many as 90 essential nutrients that each of us needs on a daily basis! Sometimes, it could be quite hard to figure out what is really going on. But getting all the nutrients shouldn’t be this complicated. Just being mindful of a few nutrients and making sure we eat nutrient-dense foods should be more than sufficient to keep us going. So what are these few nutrients that decide our overall health? Let us first understand a little more about these nutrients.
There are two major ways by which nutrients are usually classified:
• Essential and non-essential nutrients: Essential nutrients refer to those that cannot be synthesized by the body and has to be replenished through our diets. Any nutrient that can be synthesized within the body is known as a non-essential nutrient.
• Macro and micronutrients: Macro-nutrient to those that are required by the body in large quantities. . These include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins which help build the body and release energy. – macro in Greek refers to “large” or “fat”. Any nutrient that is needed in extremely small quantities to carry out metabolic functions is known as a Micro-Nutrient. Vitamins and minerals fall into this category. – micro in Greek stands for “small”. So we could in effect classify all of our nutrient needs within these 4 categories.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link they say. On the same lines, the key to balanced & healthy nutrition depends on the consumption of micronutrients. Essential micro-nutrients usually fall into two categories namely Vitamins and Minerals. While all of us are aware of Vitamins being supremely important for our good health and well-being. Minerals, on the other hand, are not always paid attention to.
Minerals, unlike the other components in the body, are inorganic substances. They are present in all tissues and fluids within the body. Minerals play a critical role in various physicochemical processes that are essential to life. We must remember here that no mineral yields energy. But minerals present with enzymes catalyze the release of energy from other macronutrients.
Minerals are further classified as macroelements and microelements:
• Macro-elements are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and chlorine.
• Micro-elements are iron, copper, cobalt, potassium, magnesium, iodine, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, fluoride, chromium, selenium, and sulfur.
Calcium is one of the abundant minerals found in the human body. The average adult body contains up to one kilogram of calcium. Did you know that over 99% of the calcium in the body is found in the bones and teeth? The bones are the body’s reserve of this alkaline earth mineral.
Unlike a storage system like a bank vault where valuables are held within a container, the bones are composed of valuable resources. Each time the body needs calcium to carry out metabolic functions, it is drawn upon from the bones. This is usually done as microscopic units of bony tissue, and not just the withdrawal or addition of calcium atoms (1). The reserve calcium available within the bones is determined by a combination of various factors. This includes the total dietary calcium intake and the mechanical load on the skeletal structure. The bones reserve calcium only up to a threshold limit decided by the mechanical needs. Any amount of calcium received beyond this point is simply excreted by the body.
Besides just adding strength to our spines, calcium plays a significant role in a number of metabolic functions within the body. This includes muscle contraction, blood clotting, nerve impulse transmission, and the circulation of blood throughout the body (1). Calcium is found in abundance in a number of food products such as dairy, leafy greens, white beans, and certain varieties of fish.
Sodium is one of the minerals that play a key role in certain metabolic functions in the body. It is mostly associated with fluid balance and the functions of the nerves & muscles. Lately, sodium has been receiving flak in recent years for its association with high blood pressure. But the right amount of sodium within the body is absolutely critical for our survival. As per the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the maximum consumption of Sodium should not exceed 2300 milligrams or 1 tsp per day (2). Sodium is found in a number of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes.
Potassium is an essential mineral that plays a number of key roles within the body. Potassium along with sodium is responsible to maintain the water and acid-base balance in the blood and tissues. These sodium-potassium pumps also play a key role in generating electrical impulses which allow the conduction of nerve impulses. This active transport of potassium in and out of cells is critical to cardiovascular function (3). While potassium is mostly associated with bananas, there are a wide variety of fruits, vegetables that are rich in this mineral. Some of the other sources of potassium include spinach, avocados, sweet potatoes, and salmon.
Chlorine is another element that plays multiple essential functions in the body. Chlorine helps regulate osmotic pressure and maintain the pH balance. Chlorine provides the acidic medium within the stomach for the activation of gastric enzymes to act on the food (4). Common salt usually meets the sodium and chlorine needs of the body.
It is important to keep in mind that, though each of these minerals is essential and critical to maintaining bodily functions, it does not mean that more is better. Since each of these is a micronutrient, it is important for the body to receive them in small doses on a daily basis as opposed to any other way. It is always best to try and obtain all essential nutrients through whole foods, and it is best to consult one’s doctor if any supplements are needed. These nutrients being part of the diet in moderate quantities would definitely help in keeping up our overall health and well-being. A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is more than sufficient for most people to get all their mineral needs.
Disclaimer: The above article is sponsored by Thryve, the world’s first Gut Health Program that incorporates microbiome testing and personalized probiotics to ensure a healthier gut, happier life, and a brighter future.
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