Minerals are the new vitamins, but don't get supplement happy just yet
Move over, vitamins A, C and E. You've had your time in the sun. Health-conscious folks are turning their attention more and more these days toward minerals such as magnesium, calcium and zinc. Instead of relying solely on nutritious foods to ensure we're getting a well-balanced diet, it's easier than ever to do a bit of online research and self-diagnose a mineral deficiency — whether that's the reality or not.
Unfortunately, it's also all too simple to visit a health food store and stock up on supplements, and experts say that's the last thing you want to do without first visiting a doctor or nutritionist.
"Minerals are far more tricky to work with than vitamins,” says Dr. Barry Sears, a leading authority in anti-inflammatory nutrition and president of the nonprofit Inflammation Research Foundation. “This is because of their variability in absorption and potential toxicity. Minerals in supplements have very different absorption rates depending on their formulation. As a result, unlike vitamins, their potential toxicity is higher.”
Here's why Sears says minerals are "trickier" than vitamins: Unlike vitamins, which will be excreted in urine if you take them in excess, minerals usually work in pairs. “This is why the sodium-to-potassium balance is more important in maintaining a healthy blood pressure than simply lowering sodium,” Sears says. “Likewise, the magnesium-to-calcium balance is more important in bone health than simply increasing calcium. Therefore, taking a supplement of one mineral may actually cause an imbalance that is worse than the perceived deficiency in the mineral.”
Sears says the amount of minerals you need should come from blood testing — something the average person shopping at a health food store likely has not done. “The therapeutic zone of minerals is much more limited than with vitamins,” Sears says. “Zinc is important, but at slightly higher levels of the RDA, it can begin to have toxic effects. Furthermore, you need a zinc-to-copper ratio for optimal health as opposed to more zinc.”
The only mineral Sears says he feels is truly deficient in the American public is magnesium, and the only two supplements he recommends taking (without a doctor's advice) are refined fish oil for omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and refined polyphenols to get enough to activate critical genes.
If you're feeling run-down and want to be sure you're getting all of the nutrients you need from your diet, Rebecca Lewis, in-house registered dietitian at HelloFresh, says to keep the following in mind: "If we are eating the recommended amount of fruits and veggies (five a day) and whole grains (half of all grains should be whole grains) with lean meats and there is variety in the types of foods we are eating, then this would constitute a balanced diet," Lewis says. "This type of nutrient-dense diet is sufficient to ensure that we get all the minerals we need from the food we are eating."
Lewis provides this handy guide to foods that are rich in seven key minerals you need to keep healthy.
- Iron — apples, green beans, brown rice, beans, melons, potatoes, salad greens and peas
- Zinc — oysters, red meats, poultry, beans and fortified cereals
- Iodine — iodized table salt, sea vegetables, strawberries, cheese and potatoes
- Calcium — apples, green beans, citrus fruits, melons and salad greens
- Selenium — Brazil nuts, brown rice and mushrooms
- Magnesium — green beans, citrus fruits, cucumbers and salad greens
- Copper — beans, citrus fruits