What are minerals?

Like vitamins, minerals are known as micronutrients as they’re needed by the body in smaller amounts – we typically measure minerals in milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg). Minerals are essential because we cannot make them and must obtain them from our diet.


Calcium and iron are among the minerals that our bodies need to perform a range of essential functions, whether it’s the formation of bones and teeth or the normal function of the nervous system.

To learn more about key micronutrients check out our Vitamins and Minerals Information Hub – discover whether you’re getting enough iron and which are the best food sources of calcium.

For most people, a balanced and varied diet should provide all the minerals you need. Speak to your GP if you are concerned about nutritional deficiencies or are considering taking supplements.

Calcium foods


Calcium is important in the activity of many enzymes in the body and is essential for building and maintaining bones and teeth. The contraction of muscles, release of neurotransmitters, regulation of heartbeat and clotting of blood are all dependent on calcium. Periods of growth, pregnancy and lactation may initiate an increased demand. Deficiency in children can result in rickets, while in adults it may contribute to high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

More like this

How can I get it?

Three portions of dairy per day, such as three slices of cheddar, a yogurt and large glass of milk will provide your Nutrient Reference Value (NRV).

Other useful sources include small-boned fish (such as sardines and anchovies), green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds (including almonds and sesame seeds), as well as calcium-set tofu and apricots. You can also buy calcium-fortified bread, although it is much better to get calcium from natural sources, where possible.

How much do I need?

Adults aged 19 and over need 700mg of calcium a day.

Learn more about the amount of calcium in different foods.


Chromium is vital (along with insulin) to absorb glucose into cells and regulate blood sugar levels. Chromium levels can be depleted by over-consuming refined sugars and white flour products and lack of exercise.

How can I get it?

The best sources are brewer's yeast, wholegrains, potatoes, apples, parsnips and bananas.

How much do I need?

Around 25 micrograms of chromium a day should be enough for most adults.

Foods rich in iron


Iron is critical to human life. It plays the central role in our red blood cells, where it works transporting oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and taking carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs. In addition, iron functions in several key enzymes in energy production and metabolism including DNA synthesis. Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency worldwide and may lead to anaemia.

How can I get it?

A portion of red meat or sardines served with a dark green leafy vegetable such as kale will help you on your way to meeting the NRV. Other good sources include offal, egg yolk and fortified cereals.

How much do I need?

The amount of iron needed is based on your age and gender:

  • 8.7mg a day for men aged 19 and over
  • 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 49
  • 8.7mg a day for women aged 50 and over


Magnesium is an extremely important mineral and activates numerous enzymes, muscles and nervous functions. Symptoms of deficiency may include muscle cramps, headaches, loss of appetite, insomnia and a predisposition to stress.

How can I get it?

Magnesium occurs abundantly in whole foods and the best dietary sources are kelp, seaweed, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, nuts, wholegrains and tofu.

How much do I need?

The amount of magnesium you need is: 300mg a day for men (19 to 64 years) 270mg a day for women (19 to 64 years).


Phosphorous is a key mineral, playing a role in energy metabolism, calcium absorption and converting protein to help grow, maintain and repair cells and tissues. It is readily available in most foods, including high-protein foods.

How can I get it?

The main food sources are meat, milk and wholegrains, nuts and seeds.

How much do I need?

Adults need 550mg of phosphorus a day. You should be able to get all the phosphorus you need from your daily diet.


Potassium can help your muscles and nerves to function properly, lower your risk of high blood pressure and heart problems, ease fatigue, irritability and confusion. Older people are more at risk of too much potassium in the body as their kidneys are less able to eliminate excess.

How can I get it?

Potassium is found in many foods, and is especially easy to obtain in fruits and vegetables such as chard, mushrooms and spinach.

How much do I need?

Adults (19 to 64 years) need 3,500mg of potassium a day.

Selenium foods


Selenium works with vitamin E in preventing free radical damage to cell membranes. It is important for a healthy immune system, fertility and thyroid metabolism. It also helps to regulate blood pressure.

How can I get it?

A few Brazil nuts or a prawn sandwich made with wholemeal bread would provide the daily intake. Other good sources include offal, shellfish, butter, avocados and wholegrains.

How much do I need?

The amount needed is based on your gender:

  • 75μg a day for men (19 to 64 years)
  • 60μg a day for women (19 to 64 years)


Zinc is part of more than 200 enzymes in our bodies. In fact, zinc functions in more reactions than any other mineral. Adequate zinc levels are needed for proper immune function and zinc deficiency results in an increased susceptibility to infection. It is essential for the maintenance of vision, taste and smell.

How can I get it?

Zinc is found in fish, shellfish, lean red meat, seeds, nuts, legumes and wholegrains.

How much do I need?

The amount of zinc you need is:

  • 9.5mg a day for men (aged 19 to 64 years)
  • 7mg a day for women


Sodium is a component of salt, which is naturally present in the majority of foods we eat. Most people eat more salt than is good for their health. It is recommended that adults eat no more than 6g of salt (equivalent to 2.5g of sodium) per day, and children less than that. Three quarters of our salt consumption comes from packaged foods such as breakfast cereals, soups, sauces and ready meals.

UK dietary recommendations

Dietary recommendations for a nutrient – the ‘nutrient reference value’ (NRV) – are based on the daily intake thought to safely satisfy the needs of the majority of the population. NRVs differ between countries due to variations in climate, diet and lifestyles, for example Australia’s NRV for vitamin D is lower than ours in the UK, due to their climate.

NRVs are the levels considered adequate for most healthy people, and are only advisory amounts because our specific nutritional requirements will vary depending on our age, sex and life-stage. For example during pregnancy or old age you may have different needs.

If you're concerned that you might be at risk of deficiencies, speak to your GP or healthcare provider.

For more information see the NHS website.

This article was last reviewed on 22 January, 2024, by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Choose the type of message you'd like to post