The word mineral is used so often in daily life and yet it has so many different meanings. For people working in the mining industry, it’s the geological deposits being mined from the earth. At the dinner table, it becomes something you need to eat as part of a healthy diet. Even a humble glass of water, H2O can contain dissolved minerals.
So what is a mineral?
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid that is formed from geological processes. It has a characteristic chemical composition and despite the appearance of some minerals looking like rock they have an ordered atomic structure. Rocks don’t have this sort of ordered structure as they are a jumble of a collection of minerals in a solid mass. This leads to specific physical and chemical properties.
Minerals can be simple salts like sodium chloride, (NaCl), which is commonly known as table salt. Sometimes minerals are pure elements and examples of these are gold and copper which can be both found naturally in metallic form as nuggets. Other minerals still are complex and come in many different forms which is a characteristic of the mineral group silicates.
When it comes to our diet, the use of the word minerals is referring to the chemical elements other than carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen that are needed for us to be healthy and besides humans, many living organisms also need them. Some of these chemical elements are:
- Calcium – Needed for a healthy heart, muscle and digestive system as well as for bone growth
- Magnesium – Needed for processing chemical energy in the body and it is also needed in bones
- Potassium – Works with sodium to regulating the transport of chemical energy around the body
- Sodium - Works with potassium to regulating the transport of chemical energy around the body
- Iron – Needed by many enzymes and proteins to function. The most notable is that of haemoglobin, a protein that has an iron atom in it for the transport of oxygen.
A normal healthy diet will mean that the body’s requirements for minerals although supplements are used when these requirements are not met by a diet or when a deficiency occurs due to an event like an injury.
Water can have dissolved minerals and other dissolved substances in it, particularly mineral water that has been sourced from a natural mineral spring or lake. These substances can change the taste of the water.