What are minerals, how much do we need?

Eating a varied diet will help ensure an adequate supply of most minerals for healthy people.


Minerals are inorganic substances required by the body in small amounts for a variety of functions. These include the formation of bones and teeth; as essential constituents of body fluids and tissues; as components of enzyme systems and for normal nerve function.


Some minerals are needed in larger amounts than others, e.g. calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride. Others are required in smaller quantities and are sometimes called trace minerals, e.g. iron, zinc, iodine, fluoride, selenium and copper. Despite being required in smaller amounts, trace minerals are no less important than other minerals.


Minerals are often absorbed more efficiently by the body if supplied in foods rather than as supplements. Also, a diet that is short in one mineral may well be low in others, and so the first step in dealing with this is to review and improve the diet as a whole. Eating a varied diet will help ensure an adequate supply of most minerals for healthy people.


The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) have revealed that some sub-groups of the population have low intakes of some other minerals, for example potassium, magnesium, zinc in men, and for women, iron, calcium, copper and iodine. Young British adults, especially young women, have particularly poor diets which are likely to put their future health at risk unless improvements are made. See our section on nutrient requirements for more information.

Most people do not show signs of deficiency but this does not mean their intakes or nutrient status are adequate. For example, adolescent girls, women of childbearing age and some vegans/vegetarians are more susceptible to low iron status as their dietary intake may not match their requirements, and therefore they are at risk of iron deficiency anaemia. There is also concern about the calcium intake of some adolescents, and young and older women and the implications for future bone health.

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