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What you need to know about the minerals in your diet.

The foods we eat contain nutrients that provide energy and other things the body needs.
Most of the nutrients in food fall into three major groups; carbohydrates, fats and proteins and three minor groups; vitamins, minerals and water.

  • Minerals are inorganic elements that cannot be synthesized by the human body but needed on daily basis to form tissues and other chemical substances.
  • Minerals assist in nerve transmission, muscle contraction and help regulate fluid levels and the acid – base balance of the body.
  • Minerals are either macro or micro.
  • Macro minerals are needed in large amounts (i.e. in milligram to gram quantities). E.g. Calcium, Phosphorous, Magnesium, Sodium, Chloride, Potassium and Sulphur.
  • Micro minerals on the other hand are needed in the body in smaller quantities (i.e. in microgram to milligram quantities). E.g. Iodine, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Fluoride, Selenium, Chromium, Cobalt, Molybdenum and Manganese.
  • Minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and sodium are contained in almost every food.
  • Most people can obtain sufficient quantities of essential minerals by eating a variety of foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.
  • The major micro minerals of public health importance in Ghana are iron and iodine. The deficiency states are associated with morbidity and mortality of children and women especially pregnant and lactating women.

Beneficial effects of minerals

  1. Iron
    • Importance / Benefits
      Iron (Fe) is a component of red blood cells and assists in;.
      • Transportation of oxygen throughout the body.
      • Formation of hemoglobin and certain enzymes.
      • Metabolism, cell growth regulation and differentiation.
      • Immune activity.
      • Proper functioning of the liver.
      • Protection against the actions of free radicals.
      • Child's brain development during pregnancy and early childhood.
    • Iron deficiency causes and effects:
      • Iron deficiency is mostly caused by poor dietary intake of iron.
      • Malaria.
      • Helminthes (worm) infestation.
      • Excessive bleeding.
    • Iron deficiency may lead to;
      • Anaemia in children, menstruating females, pregnant and lactating women.
      • Premature deliveries and low birth weight babies.
      • Slow cognitive and social development in children.
      • Increased risk of maternal mortality due to reduced ability to survive bleeding during and after birth.
      • Decreased immune function, which increases susceptibility to infection.
    • Common symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia:
      • Fatigue
      • Weakness
    • Iron Intake Recommendations:
      • For a healthy and productive life, both men and women, including the aged must eat iron-rich or fortified foods together with Vitamin C- rich fruits or foods.
      • Children 0-6 months of age should be exclusively breast fed. Those on formula should be given iron fortified formula.
      • Children from 6 months to 2 years, in addition to breast milk should be fed with iron-rich complementary foods or foods fortified with iron. Examples are soy and other forms of beans, liver, kidney, fish, groundnuts, fortified flour, green leafy vegetables, etc. These can be used to prepare recipes/meals such as weanimix porridge, groundnut cake, (kulikuli) fried bean cake (koose), soy bean milk, grilled liver and others.
      • Pregnant and Lactating women should ensure sufficient dietary intake of iron by consuming iron-rich / fortified foods in order to meet their demand and that of the growing fetus.
      • Pregnant women should attend antenatal clinics regularly and take the iron folate supplements given to them.
      • Lactating women who are anemic as a result of blood loss during delivery need to take vitamin supplements and an adequate dietary supply of iron as prescribed by their health care providers.
      • Women of reproductive age (Women who menstruate) lose blood every month which makes them vulnerable to iron deficiency anemia, thus must consume foods rich in iron as well as fruits rich in Vitamin C because Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron during digestion.
      • Heavy bleeders and women that cannot ensure adequate dietary intake of iron can take vitamin supplements prescribed by their doctors.
  2. Iodine
    • Importance / Benefits
      Iodine is essential for the production of thyroxin which is one of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland, an endocrine gland situated in the lower neck.
      • Thyroid hormones are important for regulating metabolism.
      • In children they help to regulate growth and development, including mental development.
      • Iodine is also important in reproduction and
      • Regulation of body temperature.
    • Iron deficiency causes and effects:
      • Iodine deficiency occurs in areas where the soil is deficient in iodine. This may be due to soil nature, flooding, etc., which result in low levels of iodine in locally grown foods and vegetation.
    • Iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) may lead to;
      • Increased number of child deaths, including neonatal deaths, stillbirths, and miscarriages.
      • A deficiency of iodine during early fetal life which in turn leads to impaired fetal brain development and poor cognitive functioning of varying degrees in children. The most severe form is cretinism.
    • Common symptoms of iodine-deficiency:
      • The commonest sign of iodine deficiency is goiter.
      • Other symptoms of iodine deficiency are;

      • Chronic fatigue
      • Reduced immune function
      • Dry skin
      • Puffiness of the face
      • Moderate forms of iodine deficiency cause mental retardation
      • Severe forms result in cretins.
      • The damage caused during pregnancy may be permanent in the child. It is vital to ensure that all women of child bearing age are not iodine deficient.
    • Iron Intake Recommendations:
      • All segments of the Ghanaian population, especially children and women, are affected by iodine deficiency disorders thus need to consume iodine-rich foods.
      • Sea foods are the richest sources of dietary iodine.
      • Another source is salt that is fortified with potassium iodate (iodated salt).

General Recommendations for Micronutrients

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in anti-oxidants.
  • Anti-oxidants neutralize the effect of free radicals. Examples include foods rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc and Selenium.
  • Do not smoke or abuse alcohol since this may interfere with nutrient absorption and may cause other complications.
  • Exercise regularly to maintain strength, bone density, balance, flexibility, mobility and general well-being. Examples are brisk walking, jogging, and body weight exercises (squats, leg lifts and arm raisings.)
  • Take up activities that are good for the heart and lungs such as swimming and gardening.
  • Micronutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc and Selenium have anti-oxidant effects that keep the cells and tissues in the body healthy and slow down aging.
  • Oxidation and other metabolic processes in the human body produce a lot of free radicals that damage cells or cause them to degenerate. This degeneration of cells causes the tissues and organs to age by reducing their efficiency.
  • Free radicals, therefore, accelerate aging and make the aged more vulnerable to diseases and other related conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, stroke, and fractures.


  1. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids (macronutrients). National Academy Press.
  2. Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source
  3. WHO dietary and physical activity guidelines for Ghana, Ministry of Health, December 2009.

Written By :

Mrs. Salome Annoh

National Healthy Lifestyle Advocate