What Are Trace Elements? Easily Explained

What are trace elements? A simple explanation

In addition to carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, trace elements are essential for a healthy diet.

  • Trace elements, also called microelements, are inorganic nutrients and belong to minerals. They are essential for the body, but they cannot produce them themselves. They must therefore be ingested through food.
  • Trace elements are so called because they only occur in small traces or concentrations in the body, usually less than 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. The only exception is iron: It is required in higher concentrations but is still one of the trace elements.
  • As important as trace elements are for the body, too much can be unhealthy. Some trace elements such as arsenic are toxic in higher concentrations. Arsenic is not essential, but small amounts enter the body through food intake.
  • A distinction is made between essential, i.e. indispensable, and non-essential, i.e. dispensable, trace elements.

Essential trace elements

The body needs essential trace elements to be able to live. We present the most important ones:

  • Iodine: Without iodine, the thyroid cannot produce thyroid hormones. A deficiency can result in goiter. In addition to iodized table salt, saltwater fish also contain this trace element. However, iodine is toxic in higher concentrations.
  • Iron: The main sources of iron are meat, green leafy vegetables and grains. The body needs iron primarily for oxygen transport.
  • Manganese: As a component of over 60 enzymes, manganese plays an important role in various physiological processes. It contributes to wound healing and is involved in bone development and blood clotting. In order to absorb enough manganese, oatmeal, nuts, legumes, and vegetables should be on the menu.
  • Selenium: Selenium protects the body from environmental toxins, free radicals, and heavy metals. The trace element is also involved in the activation of numerous enzymes, improves the immune system, and increases fertility. Selenium is ingested through the consumption of offal, fish and meat, cereals, nuts, and legumes.
  • Chromium: This trace element increases the effect of insulin. It influences carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. Chromium is found in brewer’s yeast, legumes, sprouts, and chocolate.
  • Copper: As part of very important enzymes, copper is essential for the body. It is involved in blood formation and energy production. Copper also influences the immune system. Copper enters the body through foods such as cocoa, offal, nuts, and grains.
  • Zinc: The body needs zinc for numerous metabolic processes and for wound healing. It is also an activator for numerous enzymes and hormones. Offal, meat, dairy products, oysters, eggs, and oatmeal contain a lot of zinc.
  • Molybdenum: Similar to manganese, molybdenum is also a component of enzymes. Whole grain products, offal, legumes, dairy products, and vegetables, in particular, contain this trace element.
  • Cobalt: Cobalt is a component of cobalamin. Cobalamins are better known as the vitamin B12 group. You take this trace element with spinach, tomatoes and fish.

Non-Essential Variants

In addition to essential trace elements, there are also non-essential ones that the body does not necessarily need. We have summarized for you which foods contain some of these trace elements. The function of most non-essential trace elements has not yet been clarified

  • Silicon enters the body through potatoes and whole grain products. It is known that this trace element is involved in connective tissue metabolism and bone development.
  • You get nickel by eating cocoa, nuts, cereals, fruit, and vegetables.
  • Found in vegetable oil, legumes, seafood, and mushrooms, vanadium supports the mineralization of teeth and bones.
  • Lithium is mainly found in eggs, milk, butter, and meat.
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Written by John Myers

Professional Chef with 25 years of industry experience at the highest levels. Restaurant owner. Beverage Director with experience creating world-class nationally recognized cocktail programs. Food writer with a distinctive Chef-driven voice and point of view.

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