Nutrition for Life - 2017


By Parul Kharod

We all know that we need vitamins from foods. But often we forget about the other most important component of our food, the minerals. Vitamins and Minerals are known as micronutrients because we need them in smaller amounts compared to the macronutrients, namely carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Here we will talk about the five most important minerals our body needs. Unless there is a deficiency, and you need to take a prescribed dose, it is always advisable to get all your minerals from food rather than supplements.


• Iron is an integral component of the hemoglobin of red blood cells and is necessary for oxygen transport throughout the body. Iron also plays a role in supplying oxygen to our muscles. Iron is involved in a number of other chemical reactions in the body and helps maintain energy metabolism and improve immunity. Research suggests iron may even help prevent postpartum depression and help new moms bond with their babies.

• Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency internationally. Low iron levels can result in anemia. Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia are fatigue, a fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, and pica (desire to chew on non-food items such as chalk or ice).

• Plant sources of iron are beans and legumes, nuts, pumpkin seeds, green leafy vegetables, and dried fruit such as dates, apricots and figs. Iron is better absorbed in presence of Vitamin C so sprinkle lemon juice over your dal or eat a citrus fruit with some nuts and seeds.

• Daily requirement: 15-18 mg


• Magnesium is used by every organ of your body, and is involved in over 300 chemical reactions. Magnesium provides energy, helps keep your cells healthy and strong and enables your cells to communicate with one another and enhance optimal functioning. Magnesium also helps regulate blood pressure, keeps your bones strong and prevents insulin resistance and migraine headaches.

• Low magnesium levels can cause fatigue, abnormal heart rhythm, muscle spasms, and twitches.

• Good sources of magnesium are almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, bananas, broccoli, peas, green leafy vegetables, avocado and oatmeal.

• Daily requirement: 350-600 mg


• Everybody knows that calcium helps build strong bones. But it has other important functions also. It helps regulate blood pressure. It also helps prevent PMS.

• It is important not to consume excessive amounts of calcium. High calcium intakes have been linked to increased risk of heart attacks and prostate cancer. High dairy intake in children can also cause anemia. It is recommended to take no more than 500 mg of calcium in form of supplements. The rest should come from food.

• Dairy foods are the best known sources of calcium, but there are a number of other foods that are good sources of this nutrient. Plant foods that are naturally good sources of calcium include certain leafy green vegetables, broccoli, bok choy, tofu, almonds, black beans, black eyed peas, sesame seeds, and blackstrap molasses. You can also choose calcium-fortified foods including soymilk, or almond milk.

• Daily requirement: 1000-1200 mg


• Potassium is an important mineral that helps regulate blood pressure. It helps regulate fluids and mineral balance and is needed for muscle contractions and transmission of nerve impulses. A diet low in sodium and high in potassium can help prevent heart attack and stroke.

• Potassium is present in a variety of fruits and vegetables; nevertheless, due to increase in fast food diets, many people are not getting enough potassium. Potassium deficiency can result in high blood pressure, stroke, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, weakness, depression and glucose intolerance, as well as increased risk of kidney stones, and increased bone loss.

• People who have chronic kidney disease need to monitor for high potassium levels in their blood and eat a low potassium diet if needed. Everyone else should be eating a variety of potassium rich foods.

• Bananas are not the only source of potassium. It is present in other fruits and vegetables such as oranges, cantaloupe, tomatoes, white and sweet potatoes, cabbage, spinach, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, and dairy products.

• Daily requirement: 3500-5000 mg


• Zinc is present in all organs, tissues and fluids in the body. Zinc has many functions in the body, and is necessary for optimal growth and development, reproduction, appetite, taste ability, and night vision. Zinc is critical for keeping your immune system strong. It fights infection, making you less likely to catch a cold or the flu, helps heal wounds.

• Zinc is widely available in whole grains, nuts and beans. Deficiency is rare. Eat more whole grains, sprouted beans, and include fermented foods for better absorption of zinc.

• Daily requirement: 15-50 mg

-- Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at