When it comes to minerals, you hear a lot about magnesium, calcium, and potassium, which are undoubtedly important nutrients. What you should know, though, is that these minerals—part of a category known as “macrominerals”—aren’t the only ones you need for optimal health. Another category of minerals, known as “trace minerals”, also deserves your attention. Here’s the rundown on trace minerals, why you might be low in them, and how to get your fill.
What are trace minerals?
The body needs pretty large amounts of macrominerals (hence the name “macro”), since they’re tied to key functions that happen on a large scale, including cell growth, bone repair, nerve transmission, hormone regulation, and more. “Because they are connected to many recognizable conditions and symptoms, it is easy to get familiar with macrominerals,” explains functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P.
That said, the body also needs a number of trace minerals, including iron, copper, iodine, zinc, manganese, selenium, and chromium. Sure, as the name “trace” suggests, you need much smaller amounts of these minerals. But just because you don’t need large quantities of trace minerals in your daily diet, that doesn’t mean they’re not vital to your health.
Trace minerals play important roles in a whole host of processes throughout the body. Iron, for example, is essential for growth and development, as well as the creation of healthy red blood cells and lean muscle. Copper, meanwhile, supports the formation of connective tissues and blood vessels, explains Rodgers. And while selenium acts as an antioxidant and is used for DNA synthesis, iodine is required for thyroid hormone production.
Why you might be low in trace minerals
Despite your more limited need for them, if you’re not mindful of your intake of trace minerals, you may suffer health consequences, notes Rodgers. What’s more: Everything from industrial farming to a vegetarian diet can leave you a little low. The following culprits are some of the most common reasons you might be falling short on trace minerals.
There’s no doubt about it: Sweating is good for your body, as it helps to release toxins and, in turn, gives your immune system a boost, explains Rodgers. However, the more you sweat, the more your body may excrete trace minerals. “Sweat is more than just water and contains some macrominerals (particularly sodium, potassium, and calcium) and trace minerals (particularly copper and iron),” Rodgers says. “Sweating excessively because of heat or long sweaty workouts can leave you deficient in trace minerals if you do not regularly and properly rehydrate.”
2. Industrial farming
Due to unsustainable industrial farming practices, the soil used in industrial farming isn’t what it used to be in terms of its trace mineral content, explains functional dietitian Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., C.L.T. As a result, the produce grown in this soil ultimately lacks trace minerals. To add insult to injury, “Glyphosate (a.k.a. Round-Up), a modern-day chemical herbicide, has been found in several new studies to reduce trace mineral absorption not just in crops, but also in the body,” she adds. As such, eating non-organic produce could impact your trace mineral status, Volpe says. (Another reason to support local, sustainable farms!)
3. Packaged, processed foods
Packaged and processed foods account for nearly two-thirds of the calories consumed by Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Compared to their whole-food counterparts like grains and produce, these foods are lacking in nutrients, including trace minerals, notes Rodgers. (They’re stripped of these micronutrients during processing.)
Read More: The Best And Worst Foods To Eat When You’re Stressed
As such, if your diet relies heavily on the processed stuff, you might be coming up short on trace minerals. “Technically, there are some highly-processed foods (such as cereals) that are fortified with some synthetic trace minerals (such as iron),” Volpe says. “However, the bioavailability (degree to which those nutrients can be absorbed and utilized by the body) is usually lower compared to what we can get from naturally nutrient-rich foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains.”
4. Blood loss
Trace minerals are constantly transported throughout the body via the circulatory system, which means that any excessive blood loss—whether from ulcers, injuries, or even heavy menstrual cycles—can contribute to acute or chronic trace mineral deficiencies if left unchecked, according to Volpe.
5. Restrictive diets
Many trendy diets are restrictive in nature, often encouraging people to cut out entire food groups. One of the many consequences of this? You guessed it: too few trace minerals. “For example, people following a vegan or vegetarian diet need to be very strategic and consistent about finding ways to incorporate plant-based food sources of iron, in particular,” says Volpe. They’ll also want to make sure to combine these eats with sources of vitamin C to boost absorption.
Read More: The Best Supplements For Plant-Based Eaters
And it’s not just meat-free diets that can lead to lower trace mineral intake. “People who go on a gluten-free diet could end up replacing whole grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye with more processed flour alternatives, such as white rice flour and tapioca flour, which don’t contain as many trace minerals,” Volpe explains.
How to get the trace minerals you need
These minerals might be often overlooked—but they’re an important part of any truly balanced lifestyle. Follow these tips to ensure you get the minerals you need.
1. Eat a balanced diet
This basic advice is literally everywhere—and that’s because it’s truly foundational for overall health. “While it isn’t always easy or possible to get everything we need from food alone, a balanced diet that includes whole grains, a variety of protein sources, healthy fats, and around five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables most days exponentially increases the amount of trace minerals you consume on a regular basis,” says Volpe. Foods high in trace minerals include broccoli, bananas, nuts, seafood and legumes, she says.
2. Drink natural mineral water regularly
While it certainly doesn’t have to be 100 percent of the time, sipping still or carbonated mineral water whenever possible can help to boost trace mineral intake, according to Volpe. “A couple of glasses of mineral water won’t provide a significant amount of trace minerals, but making this shift could add up over time,” she suggests.
3. Consider supplementing
Want to take out an insurance policy on your trace mineral intake? A high-quality multivitamin with naturally-sourced trace minerals helps supplement whatever you don’t consume through diet alone, according to Volpe. “While not all supplements are created equal, a great multivitamin with trace minerals can help to maintain more optimal trace mineral levels within the body,” she says.
Another option here: trace mineral drops, which are easily absorbed and user-friendly; all you have to do is add the drops to your water, Volpe suggests. (Pro tip: A little goes a long way here, so stick to those package instructions!)
4. Add probiotic-rich foods into your diet
“Trace mineral absorption starts in the gut, so a healthy gut is fundamental to getting ample amounts of trace minerals from the foods we eat and supplements we take,” says Volpe. To support gut health, she recommends regularly incorporating probiotic-rich foods into your diet. “Probiotics can go a long way to support and promote healthier digestion and absorption of food, which could mean better trace mineral absorption,” she explains.
Ultimately, if you’re unsure about your trace mineral status—and how it might be impacting your health—checking in with a dietitian or functional healthcare provider is a good move. (You can schedule a free one-on-one consult with one of The Vitamin Shoppe’s credentialed nutritionists here.) In addition to evaluating your diet and lifestyle, you may consider looking into micronutrient testing to get a clear sense of where you stand and what you might need to do in order to get those trace mineral levels into a healthier place.