Biology » The Chemistry of Life » Inorganic Compounds



Dietary minerals are the chemical elements that living organisms require to maintain health. In humans, essential minerals include calcium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine and magnesium.

Macro-elements (macro-nutrients) are nutrients that are required in large quantities by living organisms (e.g carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus and sulfur).

Micro-elements (micro-nutrients) are nutrients that are required in very small quantities for development and growth and include iron, cobalt, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, zinc and molybdenum.

The table below summarises some important minerals required for proper functioning of the human body. Proper nutrition involves a diet in which the daily requirements of the listed mineral nutrients are met.

MineralFood SourceMain FunctionsDeficiency Disease
Calcium (Ca)most fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy productsstrong bones and teeth; muscle contraction; blood clotting; nerve functionrickets, osteoporosis
Magnesium (Mg)nuts, meat, dairy productsstrong bones and teeth; nerve and muscle function; energy productionosteoporosis, muscle cramps
Phosphorus (P)nuts, meat, dairy productsstrong bones and teeth; nerve function; part of nucleic acids and cell membranesrickets, osteoporosis
Potassium (K)bananas, meat, dairy productsgrowth and maintenance, water balance, heart functionmuscle cramps; heart, kidney and lung failure
Sodium (Na)table salt, fruit and vegetablesregulates blood pressure and volume; muscle and nerve functionmuscle cramps
Sulfur (S)meat, dairy products, eggs, legumespart of proteins; detoxifies the body; good skin; hair and nailsdisorder unlikely
Iron (Fe)meat, legumespart of haemoglobin (the oxygen transport protein); part of some enzymesanaemia
Iodine (I)seafood, iodated saltproduction of hormones by the thyroid gland; strong bones and teeth; good hair; skin and nailsgoitre, stunted growth, mental problems
Zinc (Zn)seafood, meatimmune function; male reproductive systemstunted growth, prostate problems

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