Chemical Elements Needed for Life

Dietary minerals are the chemical elements in addition to carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, which are needed for life. Simply stated, they come from either water or the earth, and plants and animals absorb them to obtain the nutrients.

There are 22 minerals identified as needed from the diet. Below are 11 of the most important minerals to our body and what role they play in our general health and well-being.


Iodine is needed for proper thyroid function, normal growth and reproduction, energy metabolism, prevention of goiters and the regulation of cellular metabolism and body temperature.

  • Stimulates the thyroid gland
  • A deficiency may cause obesity, sluggish metabolism
  • Needed to utilize fat

Food Sources of Iodine: seaweed, seafood, milk, cream, eggs, plant leaves, cranberries, legumes and iodized salt.


Zinc is essential to a healthy immune system and aids wound healing. It also helps maintain your sense of taste and smell. It is needed to support normal growth in childhood and adolescence as well as in pregnancy.

  • A constituent of insulin
  • A constituent of male reproductive fluid
  • Combines with phosphorus to aid in respiration
  • Improves vitamin action
  • Helps food become absorbed through intestinal tract
  • Essential to nucleic acid metabolism
  • Used up fast in patients with major burns
  • Deficiency may be a factor in hardening of arteries

Food Sources of zinc: seafood (especially oysters and fish), poultry, meats (especially organ meats), eggs, milk, peanuts, oatmeal, corn, whole grains, wheat germ and yeast.


  • Magnesium acts as a starter for some chemical reactions
  • Sleep promoting material
  • Keeps you cool and calm
  • Relaxes your nerves
  • A lack of magnesium underlies our epidemic of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis.

Food Sources of Magnesium: Cocoa, chocolate, nuts, soybeans, dried beans/peas, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and wheat germ, meat, milk, tofu and halibut.


  • Helps food in the digestive process
  • Aids in nerve health
  • Found to be deficient in alcoholism
  • Works with B vitamins to provide energy
  • used for weak bones (osteoporosis), anemia, and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. (Source: Medline Plus)

Food Sources of Manganese: Tea, coffee, blueberries, beans/peas, nuts, wheat germ and bran, spinach and cocoa powder. Note: Animal foods are not a source of manganese. Only 5 percent of manganese is absorbed from the diet.


  • Sodium helps maintain a normal water balance
  • Provides strength to your muscles
  • Deficiency may cause stomach gas
  • Helps process amino acids
  • Assists in the formation of stomach acids
  • Joins with chlorine to improve blood quality


  • Possible role in iron metabolism
  • Is deficient in dental caries

Food Sources of Molybednum: Legumes, whole grain breads/cereals, dark green leafy vegetables and organ meats.


  • Necessary for normal glucose metabolism
  • Deficiency may be related to adult diabetes
  • Deficiency may be caused by excess of white sugar
  • Often deficient in pregnancies and malnutrition
  • Chromium acts cooperatively with other substances to control insulin and certain enzymes
  • Chromium is an essential nutrient that helps the body use sugar, protein, and fat.

Food Sources of Chromium: Brewer’s yeast, whole grains, eggs, vegetable oils, nuts, meats, dairy products, peanuts, broccoli and grape juice.


  • Must be present to convert iron into hemoglobin
  • May prevent general weakness
  • Deficiencies occur in pregnancies
  • May prevent impaired respiration
  • Copper is found in virtually every cell of the human body

Food Sources of Copper: Nuts, dried beans/peas, cocoa, eggs, prunes, potatoes, organ meats and shellfish.


  • Works with sodium to regulate heartbeat
  • Joins with phosphorus to send oxygen to the brain
  • Stimulates the kidneys to dispose of body wastes
  • Deficiency may cause constipation and insomnia
  • Potassium helps keep blood pressure down
  • Aids muscle contractions

Food Sources of Potassium: Fruits, vegetables (including oranges and orange juice, cantaloupe, avocado, banana, prunes, dates, figs, apricots, broccoli, potato, tomato juice and winter squash), legumes, whole grains and milk.


  • Needed for blood clotting
  • Needed to activate enzymes
  • Relaxes heart muscle
  • Prevents osteoporosis
  • Needed to help transport nerve impulses

Best Food Sources of Calcium: Dairy products.


  • Needed to prevent anemia
  • Carries oxygen to the brain
  • Deficiency may be implicated in a poor memory
  • Some foods decrease iron absorption

Food Sources of Iron: Sources: Lean meat, fish, poultry, egg yolk, dried beans/peas, molasses, cocoa and baking chocolate, green leafy vegetables and whole grain or fortified breads and cereals.

Sources: UNT Dining Services, Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, Nutrition and Diagnosis Related Care

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