Last week we had a question from a Mum who wanted to know why there was copper in our baby formula. She thought it was strange until we explained that copper is in fact an essential element, vital to the proper functioning of the body. We started thinking that maybe we should write a review on vitamins and minerals to get the facts straight. This is the first of a two-part series and it focuses on minerals.
Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) is probably best known for the fact that he recognised the role of oxygen in combustion and named both oxygen and hydrogen. Not a bad start!
But he also discovered that the building blocks of proteins, fats and carbohydrates consist of the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. His theories paved the way for future discoveries about the building blocks of cells. It was soon revealed that all organisms are built from the same six essential elemental ingredients: carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and sulfur (S).
Dietary minerals are the other chemical elements our bodies need, apart from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. The term “minerals” is misleading, and would be more meaningful if they were referred to as “ions” or “dietary ions”. People who have a well balanced diet will, in most cases, obtain all their minerals from what they eat. Minerals are often artificially added to some foods to make up for potential dietary shortages and subsequent health problems. The best example of this is iodized salt – iodine is added to prevent iodine deficiency, which even today affects about two billion people and causes mental retardation and thyroid gland problems. Iodine deficiency remains a serious public health problem in over half the planet.
Approximately 4% of the human body consists of these “minerals”. An adult of 75kg contains about 3kg of minerals. Because your body cannot make minerals, they must come from your diet. Minerals are therefore essential nutrients. At least 16 of them are considered crucial in our diet. They are all essential to life; without them you wouldn’t be able to function properly, grow or procreate.
The interesting thing is that while they are essential to life in minute quantities, all of these substances are toxic in large doses! This seemingly contradictory fact confuses a lot of people. Some research now suggests that trace amounts of arsenic are essential, too!
Minerals can be divided into two main categories, based on the amount that is needed by the body.
These are present in relatively large amounts in the body and are therefore required in fairly large amounts in the diet —more than 100 milligrams daily. Calcium is the most common and abundant mineral that accounts for approximately 2% of an adult body, so an average adult who weighs 75kg contains about 1.5kg of calcium.
Interestingly, calcium is closely linked to another macro-nutrient we don’t hear a lot about and that’s magnesium. It turns out that these two are almost yin and yang elements:
▪ Calcium exists mainly outside the cells, whereas almost all magnesium is found inside the cells;
▪ Calcium excites nerves; magnesium calms them down;
▪ Calcium with potassium makes muscles contract, but magnesium is necessary for muscles to relax;
▪ Calcium is necessary to the clotting reaction – essential for wound healing – but magnesium keeps the blood flowing freely and prevents abnormal thickening when clotting reactions would be dangerous.
Calcium is mostly found in the bones and gives them much of their hardness, whereas magnesium is found mainly in soft structures.
The balance of calcium and magnesium is very important and with so many women being told to take calcium to prevent osteoporosis, many may not have enough magnesium as a result. If you are taking additional calcium you might want to check with your health professional that your magnesium levels are not suffering.
Other macro-nutrients are sodium, potassium, phosphorus, chlorine (in the form of chloride ions) and sulphur.
Trace minerals are those that are required by the body in amounts of less than 100mg per day. Iodine is one of these. It’s probably because of it’s relative abundance in seawater that iodine came to play a key part in animal life. Interestingly it’s the heaviest element in the human body. (Well, the heaviest that’s supposed to be there, anyway!) But it accounts for a tiny fraction of us – only 0.0225 milligrams in your entire body. To put that another way, more than 40,000 people would only have a kilogram between them! Nevertheless it is absolutely essential because it enables the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones, essential to normal healthy growth.
The Key Minerals
Here is a list of the most critical chemical elements (“minerals”) needed by the body. Some authorities suggest there are more minerals, including vanadium, nickel, boron and arsenic, but that is not a widely held view at this point. The macro-nutrients are highlighted in bold italics.
Used to make hydrochloride acid in the stomach. Chloride is found in the fluid around all cells in the body
Chromium is important in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. Chromium stimulates fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis, which are important for brain function and other body processes. Chromium is also important in the metabolism of insulin.
Meat, liver, mushrooms and egg yolks
An essential component of Vitamin B12 This vitamin helps prevent anaemia, fatigue and depression.
Vitamin B12 can only be manufactured by bacteria and can only be found naturally in animal products, however, synthetic forms are widely available and added to many foods like cereals
Required for blood clotting, but also found in many enzymes. Used in the development of bone and connective tissue
Prawns, beans and peas, nuts. Also found in liver.
The main building block of thyroid hormones T3 & T4 important to growth and development
Found in iodine-enriched table salt because our diets don’t usually contain enough iodine and deficiency can be serious
The essential part of haemoglobin in blood. Facilitates the transport of oxygen around the body
Haem iron: Liver, kidneys, meats;Non-haem iron: oysters, the yolks of eggs, nuts and lentils
Stimulates enzyme activity in cells
Citrus fruits, green vegetables
Activates many important enzymes, including the development of sex hormones and the formation of proteins
Cereals, vegetables, fruit and nuts
Important to enzyme building and the metabolism of fatty acids
Brown rice, garlic, spinach
Occurs as phosphates and found in DNA & RNA. Also involved in protein and fat metabolism
Meat fish and poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds and cereals
Works with sodium, see below
Tomatoes, bananas, green leaf vegetables, nuts, citrus fruits, fish
Works with vitamin E to protect cells from damage because it makes antioxidant enzymes. It has been shown to counteract the toxicity of heavy metals (lead mercury, cadmium etc)
Found in all protein foods
Important in the formation of tendons and ligaments
Root vegetables and whole grains
Works with potassium to regulate pressure within and between cells and to control the body’s water balance
Fish, bacon, crustaceans, table salt
Over 200 enzymes rely on zinc to enable them to catalyse chemical reactions in the body
All meats, fish, wheat germ and vegetables
We hope you found this article useful. Please feel free to comment or ask us any questions below.
Food and nutrients help to form strong teeth and bones, muscles and a healthy body. A balanced diet can also help to protect your child against illness. Children’s need for energy and nutrients is high, but appetites are small and children can be fussy, so it can be a challenge to get your child’s diet right especially when feeding them organic food. But there’s quite a bit at stake because healthy eating aids early learning and childhood development.
It’s useful to know that young children can usually regulate their own intake, so remember that pre-school children normally eat the amounts they want, even if it seems they’re not taking in very much. At this age, children are often good at regulating their appetite. If they’re not hungry, insisting on larger amounts of food can create a battle, which you’re likely to lose.
Base your child’s intake on the following food groups to help ensure she’s getting all the important nutrients. Make sure your child has a balanced diet, with food from each of the key food groups every day. The food pyramid helps kids to receive all the nutrients growing children need each day from the five food groups. These are:
Protein – this includes lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes
Grains – this includes bread, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles
Dairy – this includes milk, yoghurt, and cheese
They, and you, will need to eat a number of serves from each group depending on their age and how active they are. Growing children need the following number of serves from each group. Let Mindful Eating be a guiding principle. This table shows the suggested number of serves per day by age:
Age in years
3 – 4
4 – 6
4 – 5
1 – 2
1 – 1.5
4 – 7
5 – 9
3 – 4
3 – 5
1 – 2
Sample serves from the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.
Young children have small appetites, so fibre-rich carbohydrates can be bulky and inhibit the absorption of some minerals. A good mindful eating tip is to gradually introduce higher fibre carbohydrate foods, such as whole wheat pasta and brown rice, so that by the time children are five, they’re eating the same fibre-rich foods as the rest of the family.
Giving your baby a pure start to life really begins nine months before birth.
It’s not so surprising really, given all that rapid and miraculous cell growth and division is fuelled by you. So what to eat when pregnant is a key issue because that truly is the real baby food!
On the other side of the coin, there are some things that are definitely not good. Alcohol, nicotine and other “recreational chemicals” need to be avoided, preferably before you conceive. Enough said on that score.
There is no “magic food” to consume. As usual the answer is simple and logical. The best things to eat when you’re pregnant are simply wholesome fresh foods. Plenty of fruits and vegetables, obviously, but choose a balanced diet from each of the five food groups. Although you’re eating for two, remember its quality not quantity that you’re after. Let Mindful Eating be a guiding principle. Just think about what’s going in your mouth and eat what you should, not what you could, and make water you’re preferred drink.
The interesting thing about this approach is that you’re likely to feel a whole lot better, be healthier and possibly even shed some unwanted fat, even though that’s not the objective. And remember it’s not good to be dieting during pregnancy without the agreement and oversight of your doctor.
Make sure too, that the foods you’re eating contain enough of the key nutrients for pregnancy. Most of us get these through a balanced diet, but you might want to check out choline, usually grouped with the B-complex vitamins. Choline isn’t technically a B vitamin, but it is often included in the B-vitamin family because it does work closely with other B vitamins, especially folic acid Vitamin B9) and cobalamin (Vitamin B12), to process fat and keep the heart and brain healthy. We’ve blogged on choline recently.Pregnancy is a time when the body’s demand for choline is highest. Choline is particularly used to support the fetus’s developing nervous system. I mention it again because studies show intake is low and feedback to our previous blog shows that women don’t know this particular “vitamin”, despite it being an essential nutrient. You can get it through eggs, by the way.
Obviously, as an organic baby food company we like to keep abreast of the latest findings on organic food. The University of Barcelona has just released a study that shows that organic tomatoes contain more polyphenolic compounds than conventionally produced tomatoes.
Phenolic compounds are organic molecules found in many vegetables and have proven human health benefits. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants and are considered to be of great nutritional interest because their consumption is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular and degenerative diseases. Most interesting is the researchers view of why this might be. Organic farming doesn’t use nitrogenous fertilizers; as a result, plants respond by activating their own defense mechanisms, increasing the levels of all antioxidants. It seems that conventionally fertilised plants “don’t have to try so hard” and as a result their production of phenolic compounds is lower. Numerous scientific investigations show that the consumption of these antioxidants has a variety of health benefits. Researchers claim that more studies of clinical evidence are still needed to be able to state that organic products are truly better for our health than conventional ones.
Pregnancy is a wonderful time in any woman’s life. A bit of a roller coaster, yes, but it’s full of new feelings and new learning. Unlike many previous generations, first time mothers now have a clearer picture of what they need to know about nutrition when they’re “eating for two”. Eating for two these days is about quality, not quantity, and new research is turning up all sorts of interesting information on some of the critical nutrients first time mothers, indeed all mums, should ensure form part of their dietary intake.
The most important nutrients to support pregnancy can be summarised as follows:
Biotin • Choline
Folate • Iodine
Iron • Vitamin A
Let’s take a quick look at choline. Choline is clearly important but it appears most pregnant women don’t ingest the recommended daily dose.
Choline is a chemical similar to the B-vitamins, and is often lumped in with them, although it is not (yet) an “official” B-vitamin. Although its entire mechanism of action, particularly how it interacts with other nutrients, is not completely understood, it seems too often work in concert with folate and an amino acid called methionine. Although the human body can make some choline it is generally recognised that it is important to get dietary choline as well.
So what does choline do? It’s long been understood that choline helps in the development of the neural tube. In the developing baby, the neural tube is the embryo’s very early central nervous system that comprises the brain and spinal cord. This really is early development because by four and a half weeks portions of the brain are already forming!
Choline also has some other very important protective roles. It seems it helps in the prevention of miscarriage and stillbirth. It has been found that mothers in the bottom 25% for choline intake have a four times greater risks of having a child with neural tube defects compared with women in the highest 25% of intake.
Along with choline’s brain development function it can also impact on your child’s lifelong learning and memory capacity. But now we’re finding out it does even more.
Researchers at Cornell University, USA, found that increased choline intake during pregnancy could reduce stress levels in the child and lower the chances of it developing hypertension and diabetes later in life. Although adults may take choline, the amount of choline that one is exposed to while still in the womb has a stronger effect over time.
What can you do?
Australian dietary guidelines recommend a minimum intake of 440mg/day of choline. Many women just don’t get that much. Choline can be found in foods like eggs, beef liver and, you won’t be surprised, breast milk!
For comparison 1 large whole egg contains about 112mg, a nice 100g serving of pan-fried calf’s liver can deliver 418mg. 100gm of tofu will give about 28mg and a serve of cauliflower about twice that.
Of course, you can take a good supplement designed for pregnant women, but be careful here. The Bellamy’s team did a little checking and there is at least one very well known brand out there selling a pregnancy supplement that does not contain any choline! In fact, the only prenatal supplement we could find that contains choline is Zycia Natal Nutrients, available from pharmacies.
Use Mindful Eating here, too, and don’t take too much. You only need what’s required. More won’t help.
If you’d like to know more about Bellamy’s Organic and the certified organic baby foods we make, click on this link.
The Cornell paper on reducing stress levels can be found at: