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Nutrition: vitamins and minerals
Nutrition: vitamins and minerals

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2.2 Major minerals

The major mineral elements, defined here as those where 25 g or more is present in the body, are listed in Table 4.

Table 4 The major mineral elements required by the body. The recommended intakes (RNI) per day for a woman between the ages of 25 and 50 are listed. The approximate adult body content, functions and common food sources of the minerals are also shown.
Element (symbol)RNI/gBody content/gFunctionsMain food sources
calcium (Ca)0.71000major structural component of bones and teeth; necessary for many enzymes, including those of blood clotting, muscle contraction and conduction of nerve impulsesmilk, cheese, bread and flour (if fortified),cereals, green vegetables
chlorine (Cl)2.5100major negative ion (as chloride,C1 ) in body fluids; present in stomach secretions as hydrochloric acid (HCl)main source is salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) used in food processing, cooking,and at the table
magnesium (Mg)0.325present in bone, inside cells and in body fluids; needed for some enzymesmilk, bread and other cereal products, potatoes and other vegetables
Phosphorus (P)0.55700present in bones and teeth; essential for ATP and DNA and many other moleculesmilk, cheese, bread and cereals, meat and meat products, nuts
potassium (K)3.5140main positive ion inside cells; K + also present in extracellular fluids; essential for conduction of nerve impulses, also for the maintenance of ion concentration gradients across cell membraneswidely distributed in vegetables, meat, milk, fruit and fruit juices
sodium (Na)1.6100major positive ion in extracellular fluids; Na + also present inside cells; essential for conduction of nerve impulses and active transport of small molecules across cell membranes (e.g. absorption from gut)main source is salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) used in food processing, cooking, and at the table
sulfur (S)no value set150present in proteinsprotein-rich foods; meat, fish, eggs, milk, bread, cereals

Activity 25

You will see that Table 4 is arranged with the elements in alphabetical order.

  1. If the table were to be arranged based on the recommended nutrient intake values, with the highest at the top, which two elements would appear at the top of the table?

  2. If, alternatively, the elements which occurred in the largest amounts in the body were to be at the top, which two elements would be at the top, and which one would appear at the bottom?


  1. The two elements with the highest reference nutrient intake (RNI) values are potassium (3.5 g) and chlorine (2.5 g).

  2. The two elements that occur in the largest amounts in the body are calcium (1000 g or 1 kg) and phosphorus (700 g). The one in the list that occurs in the smallest amounts in magnesium (though there are many more elements that are present in even smaller quantities in the body as you will see later).