HomeOur A-Z guide to minerals Health Hub
Vitamins and Supplements

Our A-Z guide to minerals

Phil Day: Superintendent Pharmacist | minute read

In addition to the vitamins our bodies need to stay healthy, they also require different nutrients to support everyday function. Although these nutrients are mostly delivered through the foods we eat as part of a healthy, balanced diet, sometimes supplements may be required. For example, you may be following a specialist diet that limits a particular food group or have a certain medical condition that reduces the body's ability to absorb nutrients.

This article looks at what nutrients we need, what functions they perform in the body, the best sources of each mineral, and how much we should have each day.

Beta-carotene

What do I need it for?

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is used to support eye health, immunity, and promote healthy hair and skin.

Sources of beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is the substance that gives orange and yellow fruits and vegetables their colour. Carrots, peppers, apricots, mangoes, and papayas offer a great source of this antioxidant.

How much do I need?

There isn’t a set recommended daily intake (RDI) for beta-carotene but eating a well-balanced and varied diet should ensure you get the amount you need. If you’re a smoker or have been exposed to asbestos in the past, the NHS advises against taking beta-carotene supplements due to an increased risk of lung cancer.

Calcium

Calcium has an essential role in maintaining different parts of the body. It supports the development of healthy teeth and bones, regulates muscle function, and helps the blood clotting process.

Sources of calcium

Dairy products provide an excellent source of calcium. If you follow a dairy-free diet, other good sources of calcium include soya-based drinks and dark green vegetables such as kale and okra. Whole pilchards and sardines are rich in calcium too. The body’s ability to absorb calcium from food is dependent on sufficient vitamin D levels. If we’re deficient in vitamin D, the levels of calcium we can absorb drop from between 30 and 40% to between 10 and 15%. Our vitamins A-Z guide gives an overview of vitamin D and its functions. We also look at vitamin D deficiency in more detail in this recent article.

How much do I need?

The RDI for adults aged 19-64 is 700mg. A healthcare professional may prescribe it to help with the treatment of conditions including osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and coeliac disease. Excess calcium can lead to stomach discomfort in some people. If you experience tummy pain or diarrhoea while taking calcium supplements, speak to your GP.  

Chromium

What do I need it for?

Chromium is a mineral that the body uses to turn carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into energy.

Sources of chromium

Chromium is found in meats, nuts, and some cereals.

How much do I need?

Our bodies require trace amounts of chromium. The NHS recommends that around 25 micrograms (µg) a day is sufficient.

Copper

What do I need it for?

Our bodies use copper to help produce red and white blood cells. It also supports the body in using iron to make haemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen in the blood.

Sources of copper

Copper is present in a range of food sources, from meats and fish to vegetables. Animal livers are a rich source of copper, along with shellfish such as crab and oysters. Non-animal products that offer a good source of copper include avocados, almond nuts, sunflower seeds, and wholegrains such as quinoa and brown rice.  

How much do I need?

The RDI for adults is 1.2mg of copper per day. The NHS advises that we should be able to get all the copper we need from a varied diet. Too much copper in the body can lead to side effects including an upset stomach, sickness, and diarrhoea. If you’re taking a supplement that contains copper and start to experience any of these symptoms, talk to your pharmacist or GP.

Iodine

What do I need it for?

Iodine is used by the body to support our thyroid glands, ensuring a healthy metabolism. Our metabolism controls the rate of chemical processes in the body, for example how quickly the food we eat is converted into energy.

Sources of iodine

Iodine is present in animal products, including fish such as cod and haddock, and dairy produce such as milk. Eggs are another good source of iodine. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you might want to consider introducing a supplement containing iodine to your daily diet after chatting to a healthcare professional.

How much do I need?

140 micrograms (µg) per day is the recommended daily intake of iodine for adults. Depending on your diet, the iodine you need should be consumed through the food you eat. If you do follow a specialist diet, plant-based drinks like oat milk are often fortified with this nutrient and provide a good alternative to animal products.

Iron

What do I need it for?

Iron is a mineral that plays a vital role in red blood cell production. It’s present in the haemoglobin (protein in our red blood cells) that carries oxygen around the body. We constantly need a sufficient amount of iron in the body for healthy functioning.

Sources of iron

Red meat offers a rich source of iron, although it should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Other sources include pulses such as kidney beans and chickpeas, nuts, and dried fruits.

How much do I need?

Adult men, and women over the age of 50 are advised to incorporate 8.7mg into their daily diet. For women aged between 19 and 49, the recommended daily iron intake is 14.8mg due to a higher risk of low iron through menstrual bleeding. Speak to a healthcare professional about supplements if you’re concerned about an iron deficiency.

Magnesium

What do I need it for?

Magnesium performs several vital roles, including the support of healthy nerves and muscles. It’s used in over 300 of the body’s chemical processes to maintain proper function. These include energy production and the release of hormones that support bone health.

Sources of magnesium

Spinach and other leafy greens are good sources of magnesium, along with nuts and seeds, bananas, avocados, and wholegrains.

How much do I need?

Adult men should aim for 300mg of magnesium daily, and the RDI for adult women is 270mg. Chat to your pharmacist or GP if you’re considering introducing a magnesium supplement, as your daily intake shouldn’t exceed 400mg.

Manganese

What do I need it for?

Manganese is used in the formation and activation of different enzymes that carry out roles like breaking down the food we eat.

Sources of manganese

Good sources of manganese include wholegrains, nuts, green vegetables, and some fruits such as pineapple.

How much do I need?

There’s no set RDI for manganese, but eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh foods should ensure your body gets the amount it needs.

Molybdenum

What do I need it for?

This trace mineral also helps to form different enzymes our bodies need to perform a variety of functions, including the breakdown of substances like alcohol that contain toxins. Molybdenum also supports in repairing genetic material like DNA.

Sources of molybdenum

Beans and pulses such as lentils are a good source of molybdenum, along with dairy products such as milk and leafy green vegetables.

How much do I need?

Although there’s no set recommended daily intake for molybdenum, eating a varied diet should provide you with enough of this essential trace mineral.

Phosphorus

What do I need it for?

Phosphorus is used by the body to develop healthy bones and teeth. It also plays a role in turning the food we eat into energy.

Sources of phosphorus

Phosphorus is found in a variety of foods, including animal products such as red meat, fish, and dairy. Other good sources include grains such as oats, brown rice, and bread.

How much do I need?

The recommended daily phosphorus intake for adults is 550mg. This should be achievable with a healthy, balanced diet. If you are considering a supplement, the NHS recommends choosing one under 250mg to reduce the risk of having too much phosphorous in your diet.

Potassium

What do I need it for?

Potassium helps to regulate fluid levels in our body. It’s also an important mineral for healthy heart function.

Sources of potassium

Foods rich in potassium range from fruits such as bananas to meats including beef, chicken, and turkey. It’s also found in nuts, seeds, beans, and pulses, as well as vegetables including sprouts, broccoli, and parsnips.

How much do I need?

The adult RDI is 3,500mg of potassium as part of a healthy, balanced diet. If you’re considering taking a potassium supplement, talk to a healthcare professional as too much potassium can lead to tummy pain, diarrhoea, and nausea.

Selenium

What do I need it for?

Selenium helps to protect cells from damage and supports the immune and reproductive systems.

Sources of selenium

Selenium is found naturally in animal products such as meat, fish, and eggs. Non-animal sources include brazil nuts, brown rice, and sunflower seeds.

How much do I need?

Adult men need 75 micrograms daily and for women, 60 micrograms is recommended. It’s important not to take too much selenium (more than 350 micrograms) as this can lead to a condition called selenosis, which can cause hair loss.

Sodium chloride (salt)

We more commonly know sodium chloride as salt. Although it needs to be consumed in moderation, salt is an essential nutrient our bodies use to manage fluid levels and digest the foods we eat.

Sources of sodium chloride

Although low levels of sodium chloride are naturally occurring in many different food sources, manufacturers often add more to processed foods such as ready meals to enhance their flavour. Salt is present in bread, processed meats such as bacon, breakfast cereals, snacks, tinned foods like soups, and many others.

How much do I need?

Our bodies only need around 3.2g of salt each day, but as a nation it’s estimated we consume much more than this on average at around 8g. the NHS recommends monitoring salt intake, as too much can lead to an increased risk of conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. They’ve produced a helpful guide to help cut down salt in your diet if you’re worried you’re consuming too much.

Zinc

What do I need it for?

Zinc is a trace element that the body uses to perform different functions, including cell and enzyme production, breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates from our food, and promoting tissue regeneration.

Sources of zinc

Zinc is found in animal products including meat, fish, shellfish, and dairy. Seeds, nuts, and wholegrains also provide a good source of zinc.

How much do I need?

The recommended intake for adult males is 9.5mg per day, and 7mg per day for women. If you take supplements, the NHS recommends a maximum limit of 25mg unless advised otherwise by your doctor. Exceeding this can disrupt the body’s copper absorption, which can in turn lead to anaemia and weakened bones.

Where can I buy mineral supplements?

You can find a wide range of supplements from trusted brands in our online shop. Remember to speak to a pharmacist or your GP before starting any supplements. They’ll help you decide which ones are best for you. Follow the dosage instructions and don’t exceed the RDI unless instructed by a healthcare professional.

In addition to minerals and essential trace elements, our bodies also need 13 vitamins to maintain their optimal function. We’ve put together a vitamins A-Z guide that you can use to learn more about these and discover the best food sources for each.