Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives

Vitamins and minerals



Micro means small

A micronutrient is a nutrient required by the body in small amounts, such as a vitamin or a mineral.

“Four elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen) account for 96% of living matter. About 50 of the known elements occur in measurable concentrations in the living systems. In humans and other mammals, 23 elements have known physiological activities. From these elements, 11 can be classified as ‘‘trace elements’’ (TE) because of their essentiality and very limited quantity in humans.” -Cesar Fraga University of California, Davis.

Minerals: A mineral is a nutrient required by the body in small amounts. Minerals are elements that originate in the Earth and cannot be made by living organisms. Plants obtain minerals from the soil, and most of the minerals in our diets come directly from plants or indirectly from animal sources. Minerals may also be present in the water we drink, depending on geographic locale. Minerals from plant sources may also vary from place to place, as soil mineral content varies geographically.

Calcium is the most common mineral in the body with 99% of calcium being in the bones and teeth, while the other 1% is in the blood and muscles. It is essential for the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, and that’ s where about 99% of the body’s calcium is found. Calcium also helps the heart, nerves, muscles, and other body systems work properly. Sources of calcium in the diet are dairy products, beans, tofu, spinach and other leafy greens.

Chromium is essential part of metabolic processes that regulate blood sugar, and helps insulin transport glucose into cells, where it can be used for energy. Food sources are broccoli, green beans, potatoes, grape juice, orange juice, beef, turkey breast and apples.

Copper plays a role in the formation of connective tissue, and in the normal functioning of muscles and the immune and nervous systems. Copper, along with iron, is a critical component in the formation of red blood cells. Foods sources of copper include liver, oysters, clams, crab, cashews, sunflower seeds, lentils and chocolate.

Fluoride is derived from the mineral fluorine and exists naturally in water sources, some soils and foods. It is the 13th most common mineral. There is much controversy about the addition of fluoride in drinking water. Children under the age of six years may develop enamel fluorosis if they ingest more fluoride than needed. Enamel fluorosis is a chalk-like discoloration -white spots- of tooth enamel. A common source of extra fluoride is unsupervised use of toothpaste in very young children, whereby children swallow the toothpaste.

Iodine is a non-metallic trace element, required by humans for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Food sources of iodine include iodized salt, cod, shrimp, canned tuna, milk, navy beans, potatoes with peels and seaweed.

Iron is a key element in the metabolism of almost all living organisms. In humans, iron is an essential component of hundreds of proteins and enzymes. An essential mineral, iron is necessary for the transport of oxygen (via hemoglobin in red blood cells) and for oxidation by cells. Deficiency of iron is a common cause of anemia. Food sources of iron include meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables and iron-fortified cereals. Animal sources (called “heme iron”) include meat, fish and poultry. Our bodies easily absorb this type of iron. Plant sources (called “non-heme iron”) include dried beans, peas and lentils and some fruits and vegetables.

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. Approximately 50% of total body magnesium is found in bone. The other half is found predominantly inside cells of body tissues and organs. Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is known to be involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. Food sources of magnesium are wheat bran, almonds, spinach, cashews, soybeans, and oatmeal.

Manganese is a mineral that helps your body utilize nutrients such as biotin, thiamin, ascorbic acid, and choline. It also helps to maintain normal blood sugar levels, and maintains the health of nerves.  Manganese is found in spelt, brown rice, garbanzo beans, spinach, pineapple, pumpkin seeds and tempeh.

Molybdenum’s function and interactions with other chemicals in the body are not well understood, but it is involved in many important biological processes, including development of the nervous system, waste processing in the kidneys, and energy production in cells. Food sources of molybdenum include legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils; grains; leafy vegetables; liver; and nuts. The amount of molybdenum in plants varies according to the amount in the soil.

Phosphorus is a mineral that makes up 1% of a person’s total body weight. It is present in every cell of the body, but most of the phosphorus in the body is found in the bones and teeth. The main function of phosphorus is in the formation of bones and teeth, but it also plays an important role in the body’s utilization of carbohydrates and fats and the synthesis of protein. The main food sources are the protein food groups of meat and milk. Generally a diet with adequate calcium and protein offers enough phosphorous.

Potassium is essential for the proper functioning of the heart, kidneys, muscles, nerves, and digestive system. It is also an electrolyte, a substance that conducts electricity in the body, along with sodium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. Potassium is crucial to heart function and plays a key role in skeletal and smooth muscle contraction, making it important for nor normal digestive and muscular function. Many foods contain potassium, including all meats, some types of fish (such as salmon, cod, and flounder), and many fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Dairy products are also good sources of potassium.

Selenium is an essential mineral found in small amounts in the body. It works as an antioxidant, especially when combined with vitamin E. Selenium plays a role in thyroid function and keeping your immune system working properly. Brewer’s yeast and wheat germ, liver, butter, fish (mackerel, tuna, halibut, flounder, herring, smelts) and shellfish (oysters, scallops, and lobster), garlic, whole grains, sunflower seeds, and Brazil nuts are all good sources of selenium. Selenium levels in food depend on how much selenium was in the soil where the food was grown. Selenium is destroyed when foods are refined or processed. Eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to get selenium in your diet.

Sodium (Chloride) is a crystalline mineral. The body uses sodium to regulate blood pressure and blood volume. Sodium is also critical for the functioning of muscles and nerves. Sodium occurs naturally in most foods. The most common form of sodium is sodium chloride, which is table salt. Milk, beets, and celery also naturally contain sodium, as does drinking water, although the amount varies depending on the source.

Zinc is second only to iron as the most common mineral in the body and is found in every cell. It has been used since ancient times to help heal wounds and plays an important role in the immune system, reproduction, growth, taste, vision, smell, blood clotting, and proper insulin and thyroid function. The best sources of zinc are oysters (richest source), red meats, poultry, cheese (ricotta, Swiss, gouda), shrimp, crab, and other shellfish. Other good, though less easily absorbed, sources of zinc include legumes (especially lima beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, soybeans, peanuts), whole grains, miso, tofu, brewer’s yeast, cooked greens, mushrooms, green beans, tahini, and pumpkin, and sunflower seeds.


A vitamin is an organic (carbon-containing) compound necessary for normal physiological function that cannot be synthesized in adequate amounts and must therefore be obtained in the diet. The two types of vitamins are classified by the fluid in which they can be dissolved: water-soluble vitamins (all the B vitamins and vitamin C) and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K). Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissue of the body, whereas water-soluble vitamins are not easily stored and excess amounts are flushed out in the urine.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in many foods. Vitamin A is important for normal vision, the immune system, and reproduction. Vitamin A also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs work properly.  Vitamin A can be found in egg, meat, and dairy products. Beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, can be found in green, leafy vegetables and bright colored fruits and vegetables.

B Vitamins are water-soluble and are essential for growth, development, and a variety of other bodily functions. They play a major role in the activities of enzymes, proteins that regulate chemical reactions in the body, which are important in turning food into energy and other needed substances. Food sources of B vitamins can be obtained from fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy products. Leafy green vegetables, beans, and peas also have B vitamins.

  • B1 (thiamine) is involved with proper nervous system and muscle functioning; the flow of electrolytes, and the production of hydrochloric acid.
  • B2 (riboflavin) plays a key role in energy metabolism and for the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
  • B3 (niacin) has a role in energy production in cells and helps keep the skin, nervous system, and digestive system healthy.
  • B5 (pantothenic acid) influences normal growth and development.
  • B6  (pyridoxine) helps the body break down protein and helps maintain the health of red blood cells, the nervous system, and parts of the immune system.
  • B7 (biotin) helps break down protein and carbohydrates and helps the body make hormones.
  • B9 (folate) helps the cells in the body make and maintain DNA and is important in the production of red blood cells.
  • B12 (cobalamin) plays a role in the body’s growth and development. It also has a part in producing blood cells, nervous system function, and how the body uses folic acid and carbohydrates.

Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Humans are unable to synthesize vitamin C, so it is an essential dietary component. Vitamin C is needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body, required for the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and certain neurotransmitters and is involved in protein metabolism.  All fruits and vegetables contain some vitamin C, but the higher concentrations can be found in cantaloupe, citrus fruits, kiwi, berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peppers and leafy greens.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps the body to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the body. It is best known for its role in using calcium to help build bones and keep them strong. Vitamin D affects many other tissues in the body, including the kidneys, intestines, and parathyroid glands. The body can make vitamin D after exposure to UV rays or it can be obtained through some foods or supplements. The amount of vitamin D made when the skin is exposed to sunlight depends on age, skin color, and geographic location. Food sources for vitamin D are cod liver oil, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, mushrooms, egg yolks and fortified dairy and juice products.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. The body also needs vitamin E to boost its immune system.  Food sources of vitamin E are wheat germ, liver, eggs, nuts, sunflowers seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, avocados and asparagus.

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin acting as an antioxidant best known for its role in helping blood clot, or coagulate, properly. It is rare to have a vitamin K deficiency because in addition to being found in leafy green foods, the bacteria in your intestines can make vitamin K. Sometimes taking antibiotics can kill the bacteria and lead to a mild deficiency, mostly in people with low levels to begin with. Foods that contain a significant amount of vitamin K include beef liver, green tea, turnip greens, broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, asparagus, and dark green lettuce. Chlorophyll is the substance in plants that gives them their green color and provides vitamin K. Freezing foods may destroy vitamin K, but heating does not affect it. Note: There are probably thousands of different substances that act as antioxidants. The most familiar ones are vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, along with the minerals selenium and manganese. They work together synergistically.  


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