Chemical analysis shows that the human body is made up of specific chemical elements. Four of these elements—oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen— make up 96% of body weight. All the remaining elements are minerals, which represent only 4% of body weight. Nevertheless, these minerals are essential for good health.
A mineral is an inorganic (non-carbon-containing) element that is nec-essary for the body to build tissues, regulate body fluids, or assist in various body functions. Minerals are found in all body tissues. Any abnormal concen-tration of minerals in the blood can help diagnose different disorders. Minerals cannot provide energy by themselves, but in their role as body regulators, they contribute to the production of energy within the body.
Minerals are found in water and in natural (unprocessed) foods, together with proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins. Minerals in the soil are ab-sorbed by growing plants. Humans obtain minerals by eating plants grown in mineral-rich soil or by eating animals that have eaten such plants. The specific mineral content of food is determined by burning the food and then chemically analyzing the remaining ash.
Highly processed or refined foods such as sugar and white flour contain almost no minerals. Iron, together with the vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, nia-cin, and folate, are commonly added to white flour and cereals, which are then labeled enriched foods.
Most minerals in food occur as salts, which are soluble in water. There-fore, the minerals leave the food and remain in the cooking water. Foods should be cooked in as little water as possible or, preferably, steamed, and any cooking liquid should be saved to be used in soups, gravies, and white sauces. Using this liquid improves the flavor as well as the nutrient content of foods to which it is added.