TR WITHOUT ACE A
When it comes to nutritional benefits, vitamins have long stood front and centre. But what about those equally important mineral workhorses that labour under cover with no recognition? WH sniffs out the main players
Susan Boyle, Billy Elliot, the England World Cup squad – nothing quite captures the attention of the British public like a plucky underdog. The nutritional equivalent of such a trier you’ll definitely have heard of, but probably don’t know much about. We’re talking about trace minerals, compounds needed – albeit in microscopic quantities
– to keep your body running as nature intended. And, tragically, living in the shadow of the cocksure, attention-seeking vitamin big boys, such as A, C and D.
‘Vitamins and minerals are both categorised as micronutrients, but there are some clear distinctions between the two,’ says dietitian Tom Irving. ‘Vitamins are organic compounds that contain carbon and are derived from plants or animals. We have to consume them because our bodies can’t naturally make enough of them or, in the case of vitamins E and D, can’t make them at all. Minerals, on the other hand, are inorganic substances that have never been living and which can’t be destroyed by heat and/or cooking. Macro-minerals are needed in larger quantities – typically in excess of 100mg per day – whereas trace minerals are needed in very small amounts, often below even 1mg per day.’
Unlike vitamins, there are no non-essential minerals, meaning you have to get them all via your diet. But while you’ll probably be au fait with where to find your vitamin C hit – hint, it involves your five a day – when it comes to minerals, things get a bit murkier. ‘For minerals, fruits and vegetables aren’t always the best sources,’ explains Professor Margaret Rayman, professor of nutritional medicine at the University of Surrey. And, although trace minerals are, typically, harder to be lacking in, certain current food trends – swerving dairy, for example – could put you at risk of deficiency, symptoms of which include chronic fatigue, cognitive decline and depression. Time to acquaint yourself with some of the key figures.