From a nutritional point of view, minerals are essential inorganic substances that must be ingest with food, as the body cannot produce them itself. They are differentiated into bulk and trace elements on the basis of their concentration in the organism. The demand for minerals depends on various influencing factors such as gender, age, health situation or physiological status and is therefore an individual variable.

Bulk elements are minerals whose concentration in the human body is higher than 50 mg per kg body weight. Accordingly, the daily intake should be above 50 mg per day 2.

Which elements belong to bulk and trace elements?

The following metals belong to the bulk elements:

  • potassium
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • sodium

As well as these non-metals:

  • chlorine
  • phosphorus
  • sulphur

The concentration of trace elements is only a maximum of 50 mg per kg body weight, which means that humans need less than 50 mg of these elements per day.

An exception is iron, whose concentration is about 60 mg per kg body weight. Due to its function and mode of action, however, iron is nevertheless assigned to the trace elements.

Essential trace elements for the human body are:

  • chromium
  • iron
  • fluorine
  • iodine (iodine)
  • cobalt
  • copper
  • manganese
  • molybdenum
  • selenium
  • zinc

Basic functions of minerals 1

Basically, most bulk elements function as electrolytes and ensure the maintenance of the osmotic pressure in the cells. They are also necessary for the electrical excitability of the cells and the transmission of stimuli. In addition, each mineral has its own specific functions.

The functions of trace elements are also manifold. For example, they can be involved as cofactors in enzyme-catalyzed reactions or perform various other functions in the body (e.g. iron: oxygen transport).

Legal basis

Bulk and trace elements are naturally present in food. Independently of this, minerals are added to foods. In the European Enrichment Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1925/2006), among other things, the addition of minerals to foods is legally regulated, but there are no limits for the addition of minerals either at European or national level.  However, the reference amounts for the daily intake of minerals according to Annex XIII of the Food Information Regulation (LMIV, Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011) must be observed.


The ifp Institute for Product Quality offers the analysis of minerals for food, feed and water. The sample is digested or mineralised with acid in a microwave oven and then minerals are detected by atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS) or ICP-MS (mass spectrometry with inductively coupled plasma).

1 A. Hahn, J.P. Schuchardt; Minerals, metabolism, function, needs, Behr's Verlag GmbH & Co. KG Hamburg 1st edition 2011
2 https://www.dge.de/fileadmin/public/doc/ws/faq/FAQs-Referenzwerte-allgemein.pdf