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Minerals

Did you ever notice how TV commercials for breakfast cereal always mention vitamins and minerals? But when you think of minerals, food isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Aren't minerals something you find in the earth, like iron and quartz?

Well, yes, but small amounts of some minerals are also in foods — for instance, meat is a good source of iron.

Like vitamins, minerals help your body grow and stay healthy. The body uses minerals to to many things — from building strong bones to sending nerve impulses. Some minerals are even used to make hormones or maintain a normal heartbeat.

Let's take a closer look at some of the minerals you get from food.

Calcium

Calcium is the top mineral when it comes to your bones. This mineral helps build strong bones, so you can do everything from standing up straight to scoring that winning goal. It also helps build strong, healthy teeth, for chomping on tasty food.

Which foods are rich in calcium?

  • dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • canned salmon and sardines with bones
  • leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli
  • calcium-fortified foods, like soy milk, orange juice, and cereals

Iron

The body needs iron to make hemoglobin (say: HEE-muh-glo-bun). Hemoglobin is the part of your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Your entire body needs oxygen to stay healthy and alive. 

Which foods are rich in iron?

  • meat, such as beef, chicken, and turkey
  • tuna and salmon
  • eggs
  • beans
  • baked potato with skins
  • dried fruits, like raisins
  • leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli
  • whole and enriched grains, like whole-wheat bread or oatmeal

Potassium

Potassium (say: puh-TAH-see-um) keeps your muscles, heart, and nervous system working properly.

Which foods are rich in potassium?

  • bananas
  • tomatoes
  • potatoes and sweet potatoes, with skins
  • green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli
  • citrus fruits, like oranges
  • milk and yogurt
  • legumes, such as beans, split peas, and lentils

Zinc

Zinc helps your immune system, which is your body's system for fighting off illnesses and infections. It also helps with cell growth and helps heal wounds, such as cuts.

Which foods are rich in zinc?

  • beef, pork, and dark meat chicken
  • milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • nuts, such as cashews, almonds, and peanuts
  • legumes, such as beans, split peas, and lentils

When people don't get enough of these important minerals, they can have health problems. For instance, too little calcium — especially when you're a kid — can lead to weaker bones. Some kids may take a multivitamin that also has minerals, but most kids don't need them if they eat a healthy diet. So eat those minerals and stay healthy!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021