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Dietary minerals (also known as mineral nutrients) are the chemical elements required by living organisms, other than the four elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen present in common organic molecules. Examples of mineral elements include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, zinc, and iodine. Most minerals that enter into the dietary physiology of organisms consist of simple chemical elements. Larger aggregates of minerals need to be broken down for absorption. Bacteria play an essential role in the weathering of primary minerals that results in the release of nutrients for their own nutrition and for the nutrition of others in the ecological food chain. Scientists are only recently starting to appreciate the magnitude and role that microorganisms have in the global cycling and formation of biological minerals. Plants absorb dissolved minerals in soils, which are subsequently picked up by the herbivores that eat them and so on, the minerals move up the food chain. Larger organisms may also consume soil (geophagia) and visit mineral licks to obtain limiting mineral nutrients they are unable to acquire through other components of their diet.
Dietitians may recommend that dietary elements are best supplied by ingesting specific foods rich with the chemical element(s) of interest. The elements may be naturally present in the food (e.g., calcium in dairy milk) or added to the food (e.g., orange juice fortified with calcium; iodized salt, salt fortified with iodine). Dietary supplements can be formulated to contain several different chemical elements (as compounds), a combination of vitamins and/or other chemical compounds, or a single element (as a compound or mixture of compounds), such as calcium (as carbonate, citrate, etc.) or magnesium (as oxide, etc.), chromium (usually as picolinate) or iron (as bis-glycinate). 
The dietary focus on chemical elements derives from an interest in supporting the biochemical reactions of metabolism with the required elemental components. Appropriate intake levels of certain chemical elements have been demonstrated to be required to maintain optimal health. Diet can meet all the body's chemical element requirements, although supplements can be used when some requirements (e.g., calcium, which is found mainly in dairy products) are not adequately met by the diet, or when chronic or acute deficiencies arise from pathology, injury, etc. Research has supported that altering inorganic mineral compounds (carbonates, oxides, etc.) by reacting them with organic ligands (amino acids, organic acids, etc.) improves the bioavailability of the supplemented mineral.
Many elements have been suggested as essential, but such claims have usually not been confirmed. Definitive evidence for efficacy comes from the characterization of a biomolecule containing the element with an identifiable and testable function. One problem with identifying efficacy is that some elements are innocuous.
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