This week we wrapping up the basics of nutrients with our last micronutrient: minerals! Minerals are another nutrient that we cannot produce in the body, so we must obtain it from our foods. Minerals are the human version of “spark plugs”. They are responsible for contracting and relaxing muscles, regulating tissue growth, maintaining nerve conduction, providing structural and functional support, and much more.
There are two classes of minerals: macro and microminerals (also called trace minerals). These are classified based on the amount that we need them. We need macrominerals like calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium in larger quantities than microminerals like iron, copper, chromium, etc. However, this does not mean that one is more important than the other. All of our nutrients work synergistically together to make us a well oiled human machine.
Our skeletal system is a storage place for minerals, being composed mostly of calcium. This also means that if we are not consuming enough, our body will begin to breakdown bone to release minerals, such as calcium, back into our blood. We get minerals from the earth in the form of plant and animal tissues. Bananas, avocado and asparagus are high in potassium. Sesame seeds, collard greens and kale are high in calcium. Oysters, pecans and pumpkin seeds are high in zinc. The list goes on!
While real foods that come from the earth are our preferred source of minerals, we must also take into account the quality of soil, produce and meats we consume. Animals and plants raised on nutrient-depleted soil may end up on our plates more than we would like. As athletes, we are also utilizing minerals more often than sedentary people. Common signs of mineral deficiencies include muscle cramping, spasms and sweet cravings (particularly chocolate). If increasing our performance and supporting our long and short term health is on the list of priorities, let’s make sure we are getting adequate amounts of these essential micronutrients!