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7 Nutrients You Need For Optimal Health + How To Get More Of Them

Laura L. Rokosz, PhD
Written by Laura L. Rokosz, PhD

As a nutritionist, I've noticed that many of my patients overlook the importance of minerals when considering a healthy diet. Of course, they understand that calcium helps with bone health, and they recognize the perils of excess sodium ... but what about the others?

From iodine to zinc, there are a number of essential minerals that are crucial for our overall health. They're found in abundant amounts in whole foods, but are largely depleted from processed foods. Here is a rundown of some of the best natural food sources for seven of these minerals:

1. Magnesium

Like calcium, magnesium is also needed to support bone health and is quite critical for normal muscle function and transmission of nerve impulses. If you're deficient, symptoms include muscle cramps and an irregular heartbeat. People with GI problems (like celiac and Crohn's disease) are more at risk of being deficient in this crucial mineral.

Best sources: Spinach, black beans, nuts, soy milk, yogurt, and seafood.

2. Potassium

Potassium is essential for maintaining a steady heartbeat and helping your muscles contract. It also assists chemical reactions and promotes nerve cell function. A drop in your potassium level can lead to heart palpitations, fatigue, or feeling faint.

Best sources: Orange juice, bananas, potatoes, honeydew melon, and avocados.

3. Iodine

Iodine is a component of the thyroid hormone thyroxine and is crucial for normal function of your thyroid. Profound iodine deficiency is commonly associated with goiter, or an enlarged thyroid gland.

Thyroid hormones are critical regulators of our metabolic rate — which is why a deficiency in iodine is commonly associated with weight gain, fatigue, sensitivity to cold, muscle pain and weakness, and reduced heart rate (among a slew of other symptoms).

Best sources: Iodized table salt, seafood, and sea vegetables like kelp.

4. Iron

Iron is a critical component of hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. It is also a key component of myoglobin, a protein that holds and stores oxygen in muscles for later use.

Iron deficiency is associated with anemia and symptoms like weakness, fatigue, and headaches.

Best sources: Red meat, poultry, tofu, greens such as spinach and Swiss chard, and shellfish.

5. Zinc

Zinc is required for the function of many enzymes, which are the workhorses of all cells. Some of these critical activities include digestion, insulin function, and nutrient metabolism. It also helps boost the body's immune system and is required for normal development in children.

Vegetarians tend to be more at risk of zinc deficiency since meat is high in bioavailable zinc. Find out the signs that may indicate you're not getting enough zinc.

Best sources: Oysters, beef, pork, and yogurt.

6. Selenium

Selenium is an antioxidant that can reduce inflammation. Deficiency is associated with many health problems, including heart disease and male fertility struggles.

Best sources: Meat; shellfish; and fruits, vegetables, and grains grown in selenium-rich soil.

7. Chromium

Chromium helps with the metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids, as well as the regulation of blood sugar. As a result, chromium is often marketed as a weight-loss supplement, although clinical data to support those claims is lacking.

Best sources: Meat, whole-grain products, broccoli, grape juice, and apples.

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