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

Women's Health (UK) - - EAT SMART - words EMMA PRITCHARD il­lus­tra­tion SHARON FAR­ROW

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.

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