The human body reduced to its simplest form is a small pile of ashes. The carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen from protein-rich tissues and carbohydrate (or fat stores) have dissolved into the air or evaporated as water, leaving only the minerals. These “mineral ashes,” weighing approximately five pounds, might be small in quantity, but they would represent a vital role played out in all body tissues.
Minerals are involved in a variety of functions. They are necessary to promote growth and regulate body processes. They provide structure to bones and participate in muscle contraction, blood formation, protein building, energy production, and lots of other bodily processes. They are found in soil and water and are ingested via food and drink.
There are at least twenty-two minerals essential to human health (over sixty-five minerals have been found in the body), and these nutrients are divided into two categories: major minerals and trace minerals. Major minerals are present in the body in amounts greater than a teaspoon, while a trace mineral can total less than a teaspoon. The terms “major” and “trace” do not reflect the importance of a mineral in maintaining optimal health, as a deficiency of either major or trace minerals produces equally harmful effects. Henry Schroeder, M.D., Ph.D., of Dartmouth College has said, “Your mineral needs are even more important than your vitamin needs, since your body cannot make minerals.”
Minerals work either together or against each other. Some minerals compete for absorption, so a large intake of one mineral can produce a deficiency of another. This is especially true of the trace minerals, such as copper, iron and zinc. In other cases, some minerals enhance the absorption of other minerals. For example, the proper proportion of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus in the diet enhances the absorption and use of all three minerals. Absorption is also dependent on body needs. A person who is deficient in a mineral will absorb more of it than someone who is adequately nourished. The three minerals that tend to be low in the average Western-world diet are calcium (utilization may be the big problem here), iron and zinc.
Commercial food processing definitely reduces the nutrient content of food and can be dangerous to human health. The refining of whole grains (including wheat, rice and corn) has resulted in a dramatic reduction of their natural-food-complex nutrition. The milling of wheat to white flour reduces the natural-food complex vitamin and mineral content by 40-60 percent. Food refining appears to reduce trace minerals such as manganese, zinc and chromium, as well as various macro-minerals (magnesium). The treatment of canned or frozen vegetables with EDTA (a preservative) can strip much of the zinc from foods. High rates of calcium-metabolism disorders suggest that the forms of calcium many are consuming simply do not agree with the body, or are not assimilated properly, resulting in calcium loss.
Organically grown produce contains higher levels of some essential minerals than does conventionally (non-organically) grown produce, and appears to contain lower levels of toxic heavy metals. Even if modern food practices did not affect nutrition (which they do), all minerals that humans need for optimal health do not exist uniformly in soils. Soils that are deficient in certain minerals can result in low conceptrations of major or trace minerals in drinking water and plant crops, which contribute to marginal or deficient dietary intake. Luckily, we are able to draw from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs from all parts of the world.