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Minerals: Their Functions and Sources

Topic Overview

The body needs many minerals; these are called essential minerals. Essential minerals are sometimes divided up into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). These two groups of minerals are equally important, but trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than major minerals. The amounts needed in the body are not an indication of their importance.

A balanced diet usually provides all of the essential minerals. The two tables below list minerals, what they do in the body (their functions), and their sources in food.


Major minerals







Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction


Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats




Needed for proper fluid balance, stomach acid


Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, meats, breads, and vegetables




Needed for proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction


Meats, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes




Important for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health


Milk and milk products; canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines); fortified tofu and fortified soy beverage; greens (broccoli, mustard greens); legumes




Important for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balance


Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, processed foods (including soda pop)




Found in bones; needed for making protein, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, immune system health


Nuts and seeds; legumes; leafy, green vegetables; seafood; chocolate; artichokes; "hard" drinking water




Found in protein molecules


Occurs in foods as part of protein: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts

Trace minerals (microminerals)

The body needs trace minerals in very small amounts. Note that iron is considered to be a trace mineral, although the amount needed is somewhat more than for other microminerals.

Trace minerals







Part of a molecule (hemoglobin) found in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the body; needed for energy metabolism


Organ meats; red meats; fish; poultry; shellfish (especially clams); egg yolks; legumes; dried fruits; dark, leafy greens; iron-enriched breads and cereals; and fortified cereals




Part of many enzymes; needed for making protein and genetic material; has a function in taste perception, wound healing, normal fetal development, production of sperm, normal growth and sexual maturation, immune system health


Meats, fish, poultry, leavened whole grains, vegetables




Found in thyroid hormone, which helps regulate growth, development, and metabolism


Seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, dairy products






Meats, seafood, grains




Part of many enzymes; needed for iron metabolism


Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, organ meats, drinking water




Part of many enzymes


Widespread in foods, especially plant foods




Involved in formation of bones and teeth; helps prevent tooth decay


Drinking water (either fluoridated or naturally containing fluoride), fish, and most teas




Works closely with insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels


Unrefined foods, especially liver, brewer's yeast, whole grains, nuts, cheeses




Part of some enzymes


Legumes; breads and grains; leafy greens; leafy, green vegetables; milk; liver

Other trace nutrients known to be essential in tiny amounts include nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.


Current as of: December 17, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Colleen O'Connor PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian