Trace minerals-it's teamwork

Updated: Mar 20, 2019

Trace minerals are essential or beneficial to health in trace amounts and toxic in excess. The metals are electrically active atoms and can act as antioxidants or be essential within the structure of an enzyme.

Excess of the minerals is held in reserve within the cell in an inactive form on protein or lipid transport carriers. If needed the mineral can then be released as a free electrically active ion. The balance of different minerals can be selected for somewhat by the cell's supply of different types of carrier molecules. Some types can carry various trace minerals but have a preference for a specific mineral.

The trace minerals can also be essential and/or toxic to infectious microbes. The reserve supply of minerals within the cell can be released strategically as a type of antibiotic/immune system defense against infectious microbes.


Trace Metals and Infectious Diseases, Ed. by Jerome O. Nriagu and Eric P. Skaar, (2015, MIT Press, mitpress) Appendix 8.1 Functions, food sources, and symptoms of deficiency or overload for biologically relevant essential and nonessential metallic elements.

  • Essential - Cobalt (Co), possibly Chromium (Cr), Copper (Cu), Iron, (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), possibly Nickel (Ni), Selenium, (Se), possibly Vanadium (V), Zinc (Zn),

  • Nonessential or benefits not defined- Arsenic (As) - toxic in humans in excess, essential for some types of animals in trace amounts.

Food sources for tra

  • Arsenic - rice, flour, spinach, grape juice, saltwater fish and seafood, grains, drinking water, fertilizers.

  • Cobalt - depends on soil (more info) and air concentration, drinking water. Cobalt is found within molecules of vitamin B12 which is found in animal food products, nutritional yeast flakes, and some other foods.

  • Chromium - Meats, poultry, fish, beer, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, spices, water.

  • Copper - Organ meats, legumes, nuts, seafood/shellfish, seeds, wheat bran cereals, whole grain products, cocoa products, cheese. shellfish, (G.28); potatoes, asparagus and leafy greens; mushrooms, dried fruits such as apricots and prunes; blackstrap molasses, black pepper, and yeast. (G.29) (G.30)

  • Iron - Nonheme iron: fruit, vegetables, (lentils, beans), fortified bread, grain products/cereal, Heme iron: red meat, fish, poultry, and shellfish (G.28) contain a form called heme iron which is more readily absorbed. Vitamin C eaten along with whole grain or beans, nuts and seeds can help increase absorption of non-heme iron. (more info about iron sources)

  • Manganese - Nuts, legumes tea, seeds, whole grains, seaweed, beans, peas, ginger, coffee.

  • Molybdenum - Legumes, grain products, nuts, lentils, beans, organ meats, soybeans, cauliflower.

  • Nickel - Grains, vegetables, legumes, meat, poultry, nuts, chocolate, drinking water.

  • Selenium - Organ and muscle meats, seafood, whole grains, eggs, poultry (depending on soil Se content). Brazil nuts-includes food sources of Iodine. Selenium is more available near coastal waters. Two Brazil nuts per day may provide the 200 mcg recommended for daily needs. Excess intake regularly may cause toxicity symptoms. One milligram or more per day may cause vomiting, loss of hair and nails and skin lesions. (Nutrition & Diet Therapy, 8th Ed.)

  • Vanadium - Mushrooms, black pepper, shellfish, parsley, dill seed, vegetable oils, fats, olives, seafood, beer, wine, grains.

  • Zinc - Oysters, crab, lobster, liver, poultry, cheese, fortified cereals, whole grains, red meats, legumes, dairy products. Pumpkin seeds, shellfish, (G.28), nuts, beans, dark chocolate. (G.zinc) (The 10 Best Foods for Zinc, healthline)

  • Trace Minerals and Infectious Disease, Appendix 8.1, pp 144-146 (mitpress)

Minerals needed in larger amounts. electrolytes, bone and endocrine metabolism:

  • Calcium: dairy products and fortified substitutes made from almond, soy, rice or hemp. Sesame seeds, almonds and other nuts, seeds and beans. Canned salmon and sardines.

  • Magnesium: oat bran, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, chocolate, and molasses.

  • Phosphorus: most foods contain this nutrient, particularly dairy and protein rich foods, also cereals, nuts and beans. An excess may be provided if carbonated beverages are used regularly.

  • Potassium: all fruits and vegetables and juices are the richest sources, but animal products also contain some potassium.

  • Sodium: processed foods containing salt and added table salt are the main sources but use of "softened" water can also increase a person's daily intake of sodium.

  • Chloride: table salt and processed foods also provide the electrolyte, chloride.

  • Iodine: iodized salt and processed food made with iodized salt. Seaweed and coconut products and any other produce grown near the ocean may contain more iodine than produce grown inland.


Other nonessential metallic pollutants:

  • Mercury, Cadmium, Aluminum, (Trace Metals p140)

Being deficient in the beneficial trace metals or other nutrients may increase risk of the pollutants being absorbed. Intake in excess or deficiency of some of the trace metals may increase risk of deficiency of another. Copper and zinc levels need to be in balance for example (more on copper/zinc).


To visualize the bigger picture see the graphic in this link showing the percentages of various chemical found within the body. The Trace Metals mentioned in the previous list of foods would be within the 1% -Other category in the Chemical Composition of the Human Body: (thoughtco.com/chemical-composition-of-the-human-body) -reference for the percentages-% used in the first bullet point below, the weights are from the reference at the end of the list.

  • Oxygen - 65% - 43 kg Carbon -18% - 16 kg Hydrogen -10% - 7 kg Nitrogen - 3.3% -1.8 kg Calcium - 1.5% - 1.0 kg Phosphorus -1% - 780 gr Potassium - 0.2-0.4% - 140 gr Sulfur - 0.2-0.3% -140 gr Sodium - 0.1-0.2% - 100 gr Chlorine - 0.14% - 95 gr Magnesium - 0.05% - 19 gr.

  • Trace - Iron - 4.2 gr, Copper - 72 mg, Zinc - 2.3 gr, Silicon - 1.0 gr, Strontium - 0.32 g,

  • Minute trace amounts - Selenium - 15 mg, Iodine - 20 mg, Cobalt - 3 mg, Boron - 18 mg, Nickel - 15 mg, Chromium - 14 mg, Manganese - 12 mg, Molybdenum - 5 mg

  • Potential Toxins: Fluorine - 2.6 gr, Bromine - 0.26 gr, Aluminum - 60 mg, Lead - 0.12 gr, Cadmium - 50 mg, Arsenic - 7 mg, Mercury - 6 mg. (average amount present in typical person).

  • Elemental Composition of the Human Body by Mass, Typical Elements in a Person - a more complete list of the elements found in the body with a weight estimate: (thoughtco).

For the bigger picture on foods to include, a summary of the individual nutrient lists:

What to eat? – variety:

  • Drinking water,

  • Dairy products, cheese, and fortified substitutes made from almond, soy, rice or hemp.

  • Sesame and Pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts and other nuts, seeds, and beans, peas, lentils, soybeans and soy products. (G.zinc)

  • Canned salmon and sardines, shellfish, (G.28), oysters, crab, Lobster;

  • Oat and wheat bran, rice, whole grains, flour, cereals, fortified cereals for folate, zinc, iron;

  • Fruits, dried fruits, such as apricots and prunes, juices, sea vegetables, cauliflower, spinach, leafy green vegetables, asparagus, potatoes and other vegetables.

  • Parsley, dill seed, ginger, black pepper, spices;

  • Mushrooms, nutritional yeast flakes,

  • Vegetable oils, fats, olives,

  • Cocoa, chocolate, and blackstrap molasses,

  • Eggs, poultry, beef, red meats, liver, organ meats;

  • Coffee, tea, beer, wine.

Other important points or references:

  • Potassium: all fruits and vegetables and juices are the richest sources, but animal products also contain some potassium.

  • Having too little potassium in the daily diet in proportion to salt intake may be a risk factor for high blood pressure.

  • Salt – Sodium, Chloride & Iodine if fortified salt: processed foods containing salt and added table salt are the main sources but use of "softened" water can also increase a person's daily intake of sodium.

  • Seaweed seasonings, or seaweed and coconut products and any other produce grown near the ocean may contain more iodine & selenium than produce grown inland.

  • An excess of Phosphorus may be provided if carbonated beverages are used regularly.

  • “Red meat, fish, poultry,” and shellfish (G.28) contain a form of Iron called heme iron which is more readily absorbed. Vitamin C eaten along with whole grain or

  • beans, nuts and seeds can help increase absorption of non-heme iron. (more info about iron sources).

  • Copper references (G.29) (G.30)

  • · Trace Minerals and Infectious Disease, Appendix 8.1, pp 144-146 (mitpress)



Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.


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