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Minerals

 

Calcium
What it does
Calcium is needed for healthy bones and teeth. It also helps blood to clot, muscles to contract and wounds to heal. If the body becomes short of this mineral it will take calcium from the bones and teeth it's stored in. Over time this leaves them porous and fragile, which can result in the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. A good daily intake should be enough to guard against this. Calcium may also help to lower high blood pressure.

How to spot a deficiency
Muscle spasms can indicate low levels of calcium in the body.


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Food Sources
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are the richest source of calcium - aim for the low-fat varieties wherever possible as we absorb calcium far better from them. It can also be found in tinned salmon, pilchards and sardines, almonds and broccoli.


Supplements
If you're taking a calcium supplement it's a good idea to take magnesium with it as well.
Chromium
What it does
This trace mineral helps the body to use insulin - the hormone that converts blood sugar into energy. An adequate supply of chromium means the body can use insulin efficiently and so helps to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Because of this it may help to prevent diabetes. It also helps to break down fat and protein, thereby reducing high levels of bad cholesterol that can contribute to heart disease.

How to spot a deficiency
A deficiency may result in anxiety, poor digestion and high cholesterol levels. It can also bring on diabetes in people who are susceptible to it.

Food Sources
Potatoes, nuts, seafood, wholegrains and brewer's yeast all contain chromium.

Supplements
The amount usually recommended is 200 mcg, taken with food and water. Chromium is better absorbed when taken with vitamin C.
Copper
What it does
It helps the body form collagen - an important protein that keeps skin and tissue flexible and elastic. It also plays a role in strengthening the immune system, making it resistant to infection. Copper is essential in preventing heart disease, maintaining good skin and aiding fertility.

How to spot a deficiency
Symptoms include fatigue, palpitations, brittle hair and nails, high blood pressure, anaemia and infertility. Although rare, a severe copper deficiency can occur in people with illness such as Crohn's or coeliac disease. However, even a mild deficiency can cause a significant increase in bad cholesterol, which is associated wi risk of stroke and heart disease.


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Food Sources
Shellfish are the richest source of copper, but other good sources include wholegrains, nuts and seeds, peas, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, bananas and potatoes.


Suppliments
Be careful not to take more than 2mg per day as it can lead to nausea and stomach pain. Always take copper and zinc together.
Iron
What it does
Iron is a very important factor in the function of the blood. It helps deliver oxygen around the body to provide us with energy. Getting enough of this mineral helps to strengthen your immune system and enables you to concentrate on mental tasks.

How to spot a deficiency
Having a short attention span can mean adults or children are low in iron. Women in particular are at risk from iron deficiency, because of menstruation. People not getting enough iron may develop anaemia, symptoms of which include weakness, fatigue, paleness, breathlessness and increased susceptibility to infection.


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Food Sources
The best source of iron is red meat, but shellfish, beans, peas, leafy-green vegetables, and apricots also contain sufficient amounts.


Supplements
Iron should only be taken in supplement form when recommended by a healthcare practitioner, as excessive amounts are linked to serious health problems.
Magnesium
What it does
This versatile mineral plays a part in supplying the body with energy, nerve and muscle function and healthy teeth and bones. It works with calcium to regulate heart rhythm. Recent research indicates that magnesium is useful in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. It may also help protect against type-2 diabetes. Magnesium eases muscle cramps such as those experienced by women during their period.

How to spot a deficiency
Magnesium levels are easily depleted by stress, eating too much processed food and intense physical activity. Even a moderate deficiency can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. More serious deficiencies can result in fatigue, irregular heartbeat and poor concentration.


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Food Sources
The best sources of magnesium are shellfish, dark-green leafy vegetables, nuts and wholegrains.


Supplements
If you're taking magnesium, a dose of 300mg a day is best. Always take it with a calcium supplement, as imbalances between the two will reduce any beneficial effect.
Potassium
What it does
It helps conduct nerve impulses, muscle function and regulates heartbeat and blood pressure. Along with sodium it helps to balance the levels of water in the body. Plus it helps to cleanse the body of unwanted toxins. People with low levels of potassium have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

How to spot a deficiency
A deficiency would have to be very severe before any symptoms became apparent and then would include weakness and nausea. A serious deficiency tends only to happen during a bad case of diarrhoea or vomiting, when too much fluid is lost.


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Food Sources
Most fruit and vegetables contain potassium, in particular potatoes, bananas and oranges.


Supplements
Most people don't need a potassium supplement unless they are taking a diuretic medicine.
Selenium
What it does
It's only in recent years that researchers have discovered what an important mineral this is, particularly in the role of fighting disease. Like vitamin E it is an antioxidant that helps protect cells against environmental and dietary toxins. Therefore, it is seen as important in preventing conditions such as cancer and heart disease.

How to Spot a deficiency
Over-farmed soil has led to greatly depleted levels of selenium. This means the levels in our food have also fallen. It's felt that poor amounts of selenium may give people a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and immune diseases.

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Food Sources
Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium - just one a day gives you an adequate intake. Seafood, meat and wholegrains also contain significant amounts.


Supplements
Nutritionists recommend a daily intake of 200mcg. Taking it with vitamin E will greatly enhance its effectiveness.
Zinc
What it does
This mineral is important for many functions in the body from sexual development to taste and smell. However, perhaps its most crucial role is in maintaining a strong immune system that can fight against viral infections such as cold and flu. It's also helpful in improving the fertility of both men and women. And because it stimulates healing it is a useful treatment for acne, burns and other skin problems.

How to spot a deficiency
It's very rare to be severely deficient in zinc in this country, but even a mild lack can cause an increase in colds, poor sense of taste and smell, skin problems and reduced fertility.

Food sources
Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium - just one a day gives you an adequate intake. Seafood, meat and wholegrains also contain significant amounts.

Supplements
A daily dose of 15mg is the usual supplement amount. As zinc interferes with the levels of copper in the body, the two should always be taken together. It's better absorbed on an empty stomach so should be taken last thing at night.
Iodine
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What it does
Although the body only needs small amounts of iodine, it's vital in the production of thyroxine, the hormone responsible for regulating our metabolism. Getting enough of this mineral also guards against certain forms of mental retardation in a developing foetus.


How to spot a deficiency
It's extremely rare to suffer from a deficiency in developed countries, but the first symptom is an enlarged thyroid gland.

Food Sources
The richest sources of iodine are saltwater fish, seaweed, and kelp. It is also found in fruit and vegetables that are grown in soil with high iodine content.

Supplements
You probably get all the iodine you need from your daily diet, so supplements are not usually necessary.


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