Trace elements: essential components of nutrition

Trace elements are nutrients that the body needs in tiny amounts. They are essential for the metabolism as well as for many other body functions. Which foods contain trace elements and what they use.

Article content at a glance:

Zinc in foods: these contain a particularly large amount!

What are trace elements?

Trace elements are vital for numerous functions of the body and have a great influence on physical and mental development as well as on health and well-being. For example, they are relevant for blood and hormone formation, oxygen transport or wound healing. If too few trace elements are absorbed over a longer period of time, this can lead to health problems.

Differences in minerals, bulk elements and trace elements

Trace elements are minerals. Since the body needs minerals in different amounts, they are divided into bulk elements and trace elements.

Bulky elements are substances that the body needs in larger quantities of over 50 milligrams per day. These include calcium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, and sulfur. The body only needs trace elements in small concentrations of less than 50 milligrams per day.

Minerals are among the vital (essential) nutrients that the body cannot produce itself. They must therefore be taken in with the diet. While all bulk elements are essential, not all trace elements are considered essential. For some of the micronutrients it has not yet been conclusively clarified whether they fulfill a function in the body.

What trace elements are there?

The essential trace elements include:

The non-essential trace elements include:

  • Arsen
  • Bor
  • cobalt
  • Lithium
  • Nickel
  • silicon
  • Zinn

Trace elements: this is what the body needs

Trace elements take on a multitude of important functions in the body. For example, they strengthen the immune system, help with blood formation or protect teeth from tooth decay. The most important tasks at a glance and the symptoms by which a lack of these useful helpers can be recognized:


Trace element Task in the body Deficiency symptoms
chrome Maintains blood sugar levels and supports the utilization of carbohydrates, fat and protein.
Requirements Is involved in blood formation, stores and transports oxygen in the blood and supports muscle performance. It also plays an important role in the immune system.
fluoride Part of bones and teeth, hardens the structure of bones and teeth and inhibits the formation of caries.
iodine Is important for the formation of thyroid hormones and thus influences many different body processes such as growth, brain development, blood pressure and energy metabolism.
  • Increased growth of the thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Decreased efficiency
  • fatigue
copper Contributes to blood formation and energy production, is part of numerous enzymes, supports the formation of collagen and elastin in connective tissue and melanin in the skin. It strengthens the immune system and is anti-inflammatory.
Mangan Involved in building bones, cartilage and connective tissue. Important for the production of melanin, dopamine, urea and the body’s own fatty acids and proteins.

(Currently no deficiency symptoms known.)

molybdenum Contributes to the breakdown of sulphurous amino acids and uric acid. Is important for energy production.

(Currently no deficiency symptoms known.)

Selene Protects cells from free radicals, environmental and radiation exposure. Is a building block of sperm as well as part of enzymes and regulates the thyroid hormones.
  • Impaired sperm production
  • Weak immune system
  • Impaired muscle function
Vanadium Important for the mineralization of bones and teeth. It is involved in the metabolism of fats and iron.

(Currently no deficiency symptoms known.)

Zink Important for the immune system, hormone metabolism and part of numerous enzymes. Supports normal growth as well as bone formation and wound healing.
  • Weak immune system
  • Impaired wound healing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Hair loss
  • Inflammatory skin diseases

Nutrition: main supplier of trace elements

Minerals and trace elements are found in plant and animal foods. Many products even contain a large number of different trace elements. But foods with a low percentage of minerals also help to meet the nutritional requirements. The following table shows an example of the foods in which, among other things, selenium and zinc are present in significant quantities:

  • Chrome: Lentils, whole grains, chicken

  • Requirements: Beef and pork, legumes such as peas, soybeans and chickpeas, green vegetables such as lamb’s lettuce and Swiss chard, whole grain products, pistachios and cashew nuts

  • Fluoride: Fluoridated table salt, mineral and tap water, black tea, sea fish, mussels, shrimp, walnuts

  • Iodine: Iodized table salt, haddock, herring, tuna, cod, plaice, milk and dairy products, eggs

  • Copper: Shellfish, cocoa, offal, legumes such as lentils and peas, nuts, hard cheese

  • Mangan: Cereal products, legumes, oatmeal, hazelnuts

  • Molybdenum: Legumes, potatoes, spinach, green beans, red cabbage, cereal products, pasta, rice

  • Selene: Meat, fish, eggs, whole grain products, nuts, legumes

  • Vanadium: Legumes, mushrooms, shellfish

  • Zink: Beef and pork, poultry, shellfish, cocoa, oatmeal, eggs, milk, cheese, whole grain products

Cover nutritional requirements for trace elements with nutrition

An undersupply of trace elements is very rare in Germany. As a rule, the requirement for essential trace elements can be met through food. Those who eat a varied and balanced diet ensure a sufficient supply of essential trace elements.

A wholesome diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain products, dairy products and meat and fish once or twice a week is ideal. Additional food supplements are then not necessary for healthy children and adults. Even during puberty there is no increased or additional requirement for trace elements. Adolescents need the same amount as adults and can cover this through a healthy diet.

When does a nutritional supplement with trace elements make sense?

Certain groups of people such as pregnant women, breastfeeding women and the sick may have an increased need for certain trace elements. For pregnant and breastfeeding women these are iron and iodine, for breastfeeding women additionally selenium. Iron supplements usually only need to be taken during pregnancy if there is iron deficiency anemia. Iodine and selenium, on the other hand, should be taken in addition, because the increased need cannot be adequately covered by diet.

Trace elements as well as vitamins and other nutrients are particularly important in the diet of seriously ill people. Food supplements may therefore be necessary for them. Ingestion and needs should always be based on a doctor’s recommendation.

In contrast, people who have a one-sided diet or who completely do without animal products can suffer from a deficiency in certain trace elements. Dietary supplements can also be useful for them. However, the actual need should be clarified by a doctor.

Is it possible to overdose with trace elements?

An overdose of trace elements is impossible with a normal diet. However, those who also take high-dose dietary supplements can risk an overdose and thus health impairments.

For example, too much selenium can cause what is known as selenosis. This leads to neurological disorders, fatigue, joint pain, nausea, diarrhea, hair loss and impaired nail formation. Excessive zinc intake also carries risks. It can have a negative effect on the iron metabolism and lead to anemia. In addition, a zinc overdose leads to nausea, vomiting, headaches and circulatory disorders.

Selenium: These 15 foods are particularly rich

Source: Lifeline | Das Gesundheitsportal by www.lifeline.de.

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