How to Organize Your Kitchen

How to Organize Your Kitchen

There are a million tips and tricks on how to organize your kitchen around the internet and in magazines. There are a ton of ways to store things, whether you’re stacking your pans, hanging them from hooks, or utilizing some kind of rack – and that’s just pans! I’m going to give you a look into my kitchen to show you how I organize it and explain why I do it that way. My kitchen isn’t static, either. I move things around if I find that something isn’t working, or if I don’t like the way something looks. That’s the beauty of your kitchen – it’s yours! Do it how you want to do it, and if you don’t like it, change it!

Now, when I’m talking about how to organize your kitchen, I’m referring to cupboards, drawers, and countertops. I’ll be focusing on your tools and equipment for now, but I’ll be covering your pantry and fridge soon!

By the way, if you haven’t already, I recommend checking out my list of essential kitchen tools and equipment. It’s just about everything you’ll need to get started cooking. There are, of course, many other things that I have (or wish that I had!), but those things listed are great for getting started or if you’re looking to simplify!

How to Organize Your Kitchen

This post contains affiliate links, and I will earn a small commission if you purchase something linked. Don’t worry, it comes at no extra cost to you! These are items I LOVE and recommend, for real!

Let me just start by saying I have a tiny kitchen. My husband and I (and our cat Momo) live in a one-bedroom apartment with a galley kitchen. That means one entrance, counters on either side, and it’s a tiiiight squeeze! There isn’t a window, and there’s only a ceiling light and the light above the stove. If the dishwasher is open and you need to get into the fridge, you’ll be doing a balancing act. I have two small counters to work with, and they’re usually mostly taken up by food or utensils.

And I absolutely love it.

How to Organize Your Kitchen - A small galley kitchen in an apartment.

It’s not perfect, but it has everything I need. I make do with what it offers and am thankful for the big cupboards. Sure, I dream of an island with a big bamboo cutting board, a sink with a window above it, and a breakfast bar where I can go from cooking to serving in a snap….but, those things will (maybe?) come with time. For now, I make the best out of my kitchen, and everything works out just fine.

I’m going to list some key points before getting into detail, for those of you who like lists! You’ll see the parallels between my key points and how I put them into action in my own kitchen. Make yours work for you!

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Learn more tips and see examples at SaltandSkillet.com!

The Sink

Let’s take the tour! On the left side, I have my stove, my prep counter, and my sink. To liven and brighten things up, I like to have some flowers and a collection of happy things by the sink. It helps make dishes less horrible. To keep it tidy, I use an OXO Dish Brush for doing dishes. The brush is gentle but strong, and stands upright in its own dish to collect any drips. It has a little button that dispenses soap when I need it, so it’s not continually dispensing (ahem, WASTING!) soap. I love it!!! For more stubborn dishes, I have a brillo sponge being held by my adorable Boston Warehouse fox to keep those drippings off my counter, too. (The fox seems to be sold out right now, but there are other cute animals!)

How to Organize Your Kitchen - The sink area!

Dishes and Glassware

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Dishes and Bowls

 

Above the sink, I keep my dishes! I use a wire rack to separate the different sizes so they are easy to grab. The top shelf has a serving bowl and some random other bowls (from before we got the beautiful dishes from our wedding registry! Thanks, grandma!) Uh, there’s also a box of straws in there. I didn’t do that.

 

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Cups and Mugs, Glassware

As you can clearly see, we have far too much drinkware. Why do we have so many glasses!? There are only two of us, and yet… Still, I love them all and won’t get rid of anything. (Sorry, honey…) Well, the ones on the lower shelf are the ones we use most often. I’m short, so the lower, the better. We usually have a Brita water dispenser next to the sink, but I moved in for pretty photo purposes. This way, I can reach up and grab a cup, reach down and grab some water, and I’m good to go! We keep the mugs we use most often in front, and some travel mugs and other things in back. It’s summer, so we haven’t been using them very much. I have even more mugs above the fridge. I have a plan to display some at my coffee and tea station, but that’s not yet complete, as you’ll see when I post about my pantry!

The Stove

If you check out that big picture up there again, you’ll see my knives and cooking utensils there, too, next to the stove. This counter is usually where I do all of my cutting, so the knives are easily accessible. The spatulas, spoons, and tongs are on the right of my stove. I’m right handed, so when I need to stir or flip, I just grab and go! I have other tools elsewhere, but the ones in this organizer are ones I use most often.

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Pots and pans lids and mixing bowls above the stove.

Above the stove is the cupboard where I keep a couple cook books, like Alton Brown: EveryDayCookHe has some great, easy recipes in there, and several that are more complicated. I also store my mixing bowls in here. Most importantly, though, the lids to my pots and pans are above the stove! But Amy, you ask, where are your pots and pans!? Well, I don’t like to store them together because I can’t find a way to easily access the lids! Instead, I dedicated half of this cupboard to them so that I could grab them quickly and easily. I use this Ikea Lid Organizer. I like it because it’s expandable – it squishes down to almost nothing if you’re not using it, or the whole thing or each section can be expanded to fit wider or narrower lids. And this thing would work for more than just lids, you could use it for muffin tins and cookie sheets!

Cleaning Supplies

I don’t have photos for these, but I store my baking pans and dishes in the drawer beneath my oven. I also have some splatter screens there! Beneath the sink is exactly what you’d expect – cleaning supplies! I keep a small trash can, extra trash bags, extra sponges, and glass and counter cleaners.

I like to use a small trash can in the kitchen because with all of the parts of my food I cut away, I don’t want that sitting in a big garbage and sitting until that bag is full. The waste from my fruits, vegetables, and meats go in the small bag and are taken out at the end of the night. No stinky, rotting food here!

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Countertops

The other side of the kitchen is more interesting. There’s more potential for organization over here. (In fact, it’s my current work in progress, so forgive me for prematurely posting my disaster of a spice cabinet.)

The Counters

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Use shelves to keep counters clear

You can see how, when I’m pretty well stocked with food, there’s not a lot of counter space! Admittedly, we have way too many apples right now. But, still. I like to keep fresh fruit and veggies out on the counter (if they don’t need to be in the fridge) so I know I have them. If I put that mango in a basket somewhere, I would totally forget about it and wonder what the weird smell was a week later. I use a small shelf to keep other things I like to have out all the time, like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. The shelf is tiny, but it keeps these things off the counter!

We have the toaster oven sitting pretty on top of the microwave because they fit pretty perfectly, and, obviously, there’s just no more room. As long as it’s stable and heat safe, stacking life thing is a great space saver!

The Appliances, Food Storage, and Spices

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Small appliances, spices, and storage

In the cabinets above this counter, I keep small appliances, storage, and spices. I really wish I had a better plan for the spices, but for now, I’m using little baskets I got from the dollar store. They’re long and skinny, and the little spice bottles fit great! I can grab the baskets instead of rummaging through and knocking everything over. It works for now, but I see that vertical empty space and think…I can do better.

I think a lot of people have a problem with tupperware containers…and we did, too. When we moved into this apartment, we chucked over half the storage containers we had. We just didn’t use them. My best advice is to only keep what you regularly use, and throw the others out. A small, manageable collection will be much easier to deal with. Plus, once they’re washed, stack them with the others that are the same size! Don’t just throw them in there! That’s when you get tupperware avalanche.

 

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Small appliances, spices, and storage

For storing food without tupperware, plastic wrap is my best friend. I hate the tiny rolls with the blade on the edge of the box, I can’t juggle holding the thing and ripping it without letting it stick to itself. So, I went to my big warehouse store and bought the biggest roll they had, complete with a sliding cutter. Woohoo!! It looks funny, taking up that whole shelf, but I wouldn’t move it (except maybe to swap with the spices. My reasoning? If I need to cover something, I place the dish on the counter, snag my plastic wrap, cut it, and then it doesn’t have to travel far! I just guide it to the top of my dish. Putting it above and near where you’ll be storing reduces the risk of sticky-clingy-ball-of-useless-wrap. Less waste!

I keep my small appliances up higher because they don’t get used every day. I would love to line them up and have them displayed on the counter and ready to go at a moment’s notice, but obviously that’s not an option for me. So, the rice cooker (big white blob above the plastic wrap), the Ninja blender, the mini crock pot (so cute!), the hand mixer, the juicer, the quesadilla maker, and the (Mickey!) waffle maker are all up high. It’s not inconvenient to get them, either! Instead of having them at the ready, they’re 30 seconds away from being ready. Love it.

By the way, my Ninja blender has suction cups on the feet. To prevent it from sticking to the cupboard and being impossible to get down without ripping the shelf out (okay, that’s an exaggeration), I just placed it on a square of paper towel. This way, I can slide it easily!

(We’re almost done here. Just one more cupboard and some drawers. Stay with me!)

The Drawers

Dish Towels, Oven Mitts, Trivets, Storage

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Drawers

I’ve got four vertical drawers next to my  fridge. Here’s where I keep dish towels, oven mitts and trivets, aluminum foil and plastic bags, and a nightmare of a serving set. It’s an awesome set, but there are so many pieces!! I don’t use it very often, so it stays down low.

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Dish towelsHow to Organize Your Kitchen - Trivets and Oven MittsHow to Organize Your Kitchen - Aluminum foil and plastic bags

 

 

Silverware and Other Utensils

The two other top drawers are my silverware and utensils. I use a set of drawer organizers in both of them, but it might be kind of hard to tell with the right drawer. For silverware, these organizers are a must-have. They keep the little spoons separate from the big spoons! We have our little spoons out front and the big spoons tucked in back, because we just don’t really use them. Some special spoons are behind that, even, but the drawer doesn’t pull out that far for the photo…Special spoons are, like, ones with really long handles for stirring a tall glass of iced tea, or really tiny adorable ones for spooning the tiniest amount of guacamole on your bite of enchilada. We keep our chopsticks and meat thermometer here, too, because those get used often and fit in the slot!

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Silverware How to Organize Your Kitchen - Utensils and other tools

The drawer on the right looks crazy, but it’s not. It’s actually a very organized system, but not everything fits in those slots so they sit on top. That’s okay! I have serving utensils like salad tongs and spatulas on the right (two slots). My beloved garlic press, vegetable peeler, and squash seed-remover next. My wonderful can opener almost gets a whole slot to itself. And, finally, some measuring tools, pastry brushes, and some extra paring knives. Sitting on top are a cheese grater, a mandolin slicer, and tucked in there in my zester which happened to fall nicely for the picture.

I know where everything is and (almost) never have to rummage for something, thanks to these organizers. Who has time for that!? (My junk drawer in my office, however…that’s a different story.)

How to Organize Your Kitchen - Pots and pans, crockpot

Pots and Pans

Here’s another semi-work-in-progress. My cookware. I keep these things on the bottom because they’re heavier and would be a nightmare if I dropped them. Plus, the cupboards are huge! Look at all that space!

As you can see, I don’t do anything special with my pots and pans. I stack them, because they fit together nicely and it saves space. A square of paper towel protects them from scratching each other. It’s not pretty, but it works and it’s cheap!

My big crockpot sits down here, too, and there’s a fondue pot behind that. The crockpot gets pulled out often, so it sits in the front. The fondue pot comes out for special occasions, so it sits in the back (with paper towels protecting the pot from the forks!)

Some other great pots that don’t stack as well sit up higher, along with my glass bowl (not pictured, it was in the dishwasher!) and my rice rinsing bowl. You can see those god-awful green strainers sitting gently on top. And, randomly, another serving set that’s just awkwardly shaped and doesn’t fit anywhere else.

That’s it!!

That’s my whole kitchen! For being so small, I sure had a lot to say. If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with me and checking out how and why I organize my kitchen the way that I do! Just to reiterate, things I use most often stay in the front, in areas I can easily reach. Things used less often are higher up or behind other things. I group my items based on their use, like trivets with oven mitts. I put things on the counter that make sense but don’t create a lot of clutter, like my knife block where I usually cut my food, and my spoons and spatulas right next to the stove. Pots and pans are near the stove (they’re on the opposite side, though it’s probably hard to tell), and lids are up above the stove. They aren’t near each other, necessarily, but they’re near the stove! If possible, keep a lot of small items like spices and oils off the counters and on a shelf, so it’s easier to wipe the counters clean without having to move everything!

Maybe you’re already implementing some (or all!) of these ideas in your kitchen. That’s awesome! I hope you love yours as much as I love mine! Maybe I even gave you an idea of how you could change something to make it a little easier, or maybe you found a tool that I have that you’d really love. I’d love to hear about your ideas or how you store things and organize your kitchen! Feel free to comment below or let me know on facebook!

I’ll be coming to you guys soon with a look at my pantry and my fridge, and how to keep those things organized, too!

Trace Minerals

Trace Minerals

Are you exhausted yet from the major minerals, the vitamins, and the macronutrients? Bad news, I’ve got eight more trace minerals to cover here! But I’ll keep these a bit more concise, because I’m eager to get to some good stuff here at Salt and Skillet!! If it’s all right with you, I’m going to just jump right in.

Learn about the trace minerals iron, copper, selenium, zinc, iodine, fluoride, chromium, and manganese in this "Nutrition in a Nutshell!"

Trace Minerals

Iron

What does iron do for my body?

Iron has several functions, including acting as a cofactor to certain enzymes (translation: they help chemicals interact with other chemicals). These enzymes are involved in making amino acids, collagen, hormones, and neurotransmitters, and all require iron.

Iron also helps to transport oxygen through our body as part of the protein hemoglobin (in our blood) and myoglobin (in our muscles). Our bodies try to store as much iron as possible so that there’s a healthy supply ready to make new red blood cells (which only live about 4 months, and are made in the marrow of your bones!)

The recommendations for iron differ between men and women because of a woman’s menstrual cycle, where iron is lost from the body. The RDA for men is 8 mg/day, but for women it’s 18 mg/day. There is an upper limit of 45 mg/day.

deficiency of iron can lead to a condition called pica. Someone with pica has a strong craving for nonfood substances like clay, paper, or baby powder.

 

Where can I find iron in my diet?

Meat, poultry, and fish all contain iron, as well as eggs, legumes,broccoli, parsley, and other dark greens. Vitamin C, citric and lactic acids, and sugars all help iron to be absorbed. However, phytates (in legumes and grains), vegetable proteins (in soybeans, legumes, and nuts), calcium, and tannic acid (in tea and coffees) hinder the absorption of iron. Either way, a balanced meal is never a bad choice!

Interestingly, if you cook with a cast iron skillet, it’ll transfer a bit of iron into your food!

Zinc

What does zinc do for my body?

Zinc supports many proteins in the body to help them carry out metabolic processes, including gene expression. It stabilized cell membranes and DNA, strengthening antioxidants. Zinc also plays a large role in growth and reproductive development. It plays a role in blood clotting, thyroid hormone function, and even influences behavior and learning performance! Zinc is no joke.

The daily recommendation for zinc is 11 mg/day for men and 8 mg/day for women. There’s an upper limit of 40 mg/day.

A deficiency of zinc can cause severe growth retardation and sexual immaturity. It hinders digestion and absorption and impairs immunity, and can even damage the central nervous system, leading to poor motor development.

Where can I find zinc in my diet?

Zinc is highest in protein-rich foods like meat, shellfish, poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts. Oysters are ridiculously high in zinc, and can meat your daily needs in less than 3oz!

Iodine

What does iodine do for my body?

Iodine (which becomes iodide once inside the body, but don’t worry about that) is integral in the function of the thyroid hormones. These hormones regulate growth, blood cell production, body temperature, reproduction, nerve and muscle function, and more!

The RDA for adults is 150 micrograms/day, with an upper limit of 1100 micrograms/day (1.1 mg).

deficiency of iodine results in a goiter – an enlargement of the thyroid gland. Interestingly, toxicity has the same effect! Deficiency during pregnancy and childhood can lead to severe mental retardation.

Where can I find iodine in my diet?

Ever heard of iodized salt? Iodine was introduced to table salt to help distribute the mineral to ensure everyone was meeting their needs. Seafood is a great source, as well as vegetables that have been grown in iodine-rich soil (but, really, how can we know that?) Dairy and bread products may also have iodine in them!

Selenium

What does selenium do for my body?

Selenium acts as an antioxidant for our bodies!

The recommended daily allowance for selenium is 55 micrograms/day, with an upper limit of 400 micrograms/day.

deficiency of selenium predisposes people to Keshan disease – a heart disease characterized by a fibrous and enlarged heart.

toxicity results in brittle hair and nails, a garlic breath odor, and nervous system abnormalities.

Where can I find selenium in my diet?

Meats, milk, eggs, nuts, and fruits and vegetables are good sources of selenium. The produce does depend on the soil it’s grown in, like iodine.

Copper

What does copper do for my body?

Copper is a constituent for several enzymes, and is used for energy metabolism, collagen synthesis, and protecting against oxidative damage of free radicals. It is necessary for the absorption and use of iron in the formation of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells.

The RDA for copper is 900 micrograms/day, with an upper limit of 10 mg/day.

deficiency of copper could cause anemia and bone abnormalities. A toxicity can lead to liver damage.

Where can I find copper in my diet?

Legumes, whole grains, nuts, shellfish, and seeds are the best sources of copper. The mineral can also leach into your food when cooking with a copper pot or pan.

Manganese

What does manganese do for my body?

Manganese (not to be confused with magnesium) facilitates the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. Manganese also assists in bone formation.

2.3 mg/day and 1.8 mg/day are adequate amounts of manganese for men and women, respectively. Consumption shouldn’t exceed 11 mg/day, as a toxicity can result in nervous system disorders.

Where can I find manganese in my diet?

Nuts, whole grains, leafy vegetables, and tea are the best sources of manganese.

Fluoride

What does fluoride do for my body?

When building bones and teeth, calcium and phosphorus form crystals. Then, fluoride comes in and finishes the job by hardening and strengthening them! Fluoride is integral to dental health.

An adequate amount of fluoride is a mere 4 mg/day for men and 3 mg/day for women. An upper limit of 10 mg/day has been set.

deficiency of fluoride can cause tooth decay, where toxicity results in pitting and discoloration of teeth.

Where can I find fluoride in my diet?

The good news is, fluoride is in your drinking water! Seafood and tea also serve as great sources to keep your teeth strong.

Chromium

What does chromium do for my body?

Chromium participates in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and helps to maintain glucose homeostasis. It enhances the activity of insulin.

Intake is adequate at 35 micrograms/day for men and 25 micrograms/day for women. A deficiency results in a diabetes-like condition with raise glucose levels and glucose intolerance.

Where can I find chromium in my diet?

Meats, whole grains, and brewer’s yeast are your best sources of chromium.


Even though those descriptions were brief, that was a TON of information. Especially if you’re following the Nutrition in a Nutshell page alllll the way from top to bottom.

Minerals are probably the nutrient that gets overlooked the most, but as you can see, they are so important for so many of our bodies’ functions! While no one expects you to count the little micrograms of trace minerals, it’s still good to know what they do for you and where you can get them.

Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, and Sulfate

Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, and Sulfate

We’ve already covered Sodium, Chloride, and Potassium, but there are four remaining major minerals that we need to talk about! Three of them are important for bone health, and the last one…well, he is just along for the ride. Let’s jump right in to calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfur!

Learn about calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfate in this "Nutrition in a Nutshell!"

Calcium

What does calcium do for my body?

“Milk builds strong bones!” is a phrase we’ve heard our whole lives, and we know that it’s the calcium in milk that offers such an amazing promise! Well, it’s true – calcium’s main function is to build strong bones while we’re young, and maintain strong bones when we’re older. In fact, 99% of the calcium in our body is in our bones and teeth.

A quick lesson on bones, to tie everything together. A bone starts as a thin “web” of collagen – a protein. Calcium forms crystals on this web, hardening and solidifying the tissue to become bone. By childhood, the bones are so rigid that they can support the weight of the child! But bones aren’t solid, as most people people. They still have a web-like structure, to allow for shock absorption (like when you’re running) and to continuously remodel themselves. Bone is always being broken down and rebuilt, so it’s important to have a steady intake of calcium each day to keep up!

The bones act like a bank for calcium. They stores calcium and uses it as part of their structure, but if calcium is needed elsewhere in the body, the bones will break down their structure and donate calcium to the blood. The blood always needs a certain amount of calcium, so if it’s low, it’ll take some from bones. If blood is always taking calcium from the bones, they are breaking down more than they are being rebuilt, and after years this could result in brittle bones.

The remaining 1% of calcium in our body is located within fluids. Here, it binds to proteins and activates them to allow them to perform their duties, such as breaking down glycogen to give energy for muscle contractions, nerve impulses, and hormone secretion. Calcium also assists Vitamin K in blood clotting.

How much calcium do I need?

As adults, our bodies only absorb about 30% of the calcium we ingest, and Vitamin D is required for absorption. Children whose bodies are still growing can absorb up to 60% of the calcium taken in! Vitamin D, stomach acid, and lactose (in infants only) enhance the absorption rate of calcium. A deficiency of Vitamin D, fiber, phytates (in seeds, nuts, and grains) and oxalates (in beet greens, spinach, and sweet potatoes) actually inhibit the absorption of calcium! Phytates and oxalates don’t have a huge impact, though, so don’t limit these whole foods thinking you’re hindering your calcium intake too much!

The RDA for calcium takes this absorption rate into consideration, and is 1000mg for adults. 1200-1300 mg is recommended for children and for women over 50, who are more likely to develop osteoporosis.

Deficiency

A low intake of calcium during childhood can prevent the bones from becoming strong, resulting in stunted growth. Unfortunately, adults won’t have any symptoms of deficiency until later in life, when they have osteoporosis, which could also have been a Vitamin D deficiency.

Toxicity

Too much of anything isn’t a good thing, and the same is true for calcium. If more than 2,500 mg of calcium is consumed each day, soft tissues could begin to calcify or kidney stones could form.

Where can I find calcium in my diet?

Calcium is found predominantly in milk and milk products, like yogurt and cheese. However, many people choose not to drink milk, or can’t because they are lactose intolerant. Don’t fret! There is a variety of other sources of calcium!

Some nuts and seeds (like almonds and sesame seeds), breads, bok choy, kale, parsley, and broccoli are all great sources of calcium! Oysters and sardines are good seafood choices. Dark green, leafy vegetables do have calcium, but they contain phytates and oxalates that prevent absorption, so they aren’t considered good sources.

Phosphorus

What does phosphorus do for my body?

Like calcium, phosphorus is a large part of creating strong bones, but it also does so much more! It’s part of DNA, and therefore required for growth. It’s an integral part in phospholipids, which create every cell membrane. It even assists in energy metabolism, attaching to enzymes and B Vitamins to allow them to become active.

The RDA for phosphorus for adults is 700 mg/day, with an upper limit of 4000 mg/day.

Deficiency

Since phosphorus is found widespread throughout our diets, deficiency is not common. However, symptoms would include muscular weakness and bone pain.

Toxicity

Like calcium, too much phosphorus can lead to calcification of soft tissues, especially the kidneys.

Where can I find phosphorus in my diet?

Phosphorus is widespread throughout almost all foods, but it especially high in animal-derived foods. Sunflower seeds, broccoli, and milk are great sources, too!

Magnesium

What does magnesium do for my body?

Magnesium is an important mineral for bone health, but it is also in all cells of soft tissues to help with energy metabolism. It helps to build proteins, fats, and DNA. Where calcium promotes muscle contraction and blood clotting, magnesium inhibits them. The two working together help to regulate blood pressure. Finally, magnesium supports the functioning of the immune system.

The RDA for men is 400 mg/day, and for women is 310 mg/day.

Deficiency

Low intakes of magnesium can lead to brittle bones later in life, and could even contribute to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. Central nervous system function can also be affected negatively. Hallucinations and convulsions are symptoms of deficiency.

Toxicity

Magnesium toxicity is rare, but it is very serious and can be fatal. Dehydration and alkalosis are symptoms of a magnesium toxicity. An upper limit has only been set for magnesium from non-food sources. Supplements should not be consumed in amounts greater than 350 mg/day to avoid toxicity!

Where can I get magnesium in my diet?

Magnesium is actually a component of chlorophyll, so many dark, leafy greens are rich in magnesium! Legumes, nuts, and seeds are also great sources, such as pinto beans, peanut butter, and cashews. Halibut and artichoke are also high in the mineral.

Sulfate

Sulfate is the oxidized form of the element sulfur.

What does sulfate do for my body, and where can I find it in my diet?

Sulfate is an important part of the structure of proteins. Without it, our bodies wouldn’t be able to synthesize proteins. Skin, hair, and nails are high in the proteins that contain sulfur. There is no recommendation for daily intake of sulfate, since normal protein intake will meet the body’s needs.

Deficiency and toxicity are not a big concern for sulfate!

Most protein-containing foods provide the sulfate we need, since it’s literally part of the structure of the proteins! Meats, legumes, eggs, nuts, and milk are great sources of sulfate.


There you have it, folks! The major minerals, broken into two parts for you. Sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfate. Necessary for muscle contraction, nerve impulses, fluid balance, bone mineralization, energy metabolism, and much more!

Minerals aren’t off the hook yet, though! We’ve still got trace minerals to cover.

An Introduction to Minerals, and Sodium, Chloride, and Potassium

An Introduction to Minerals, and Sodium, Chloride, and Potassium

What are minerals?

Like vitamins, minerals don’t provide our bodies with energy. They have no caloric value. Unlike vitamins, minerals aren’t molecules of multiple elements linked together into compounds. Rather, minerals are elements! They can’t be changed into anything else. Minerals also cannot be destroyed by heat, acid, or oxidation like vitamins can. The only way to lose minerals during cooking is for them to leach into cooking water, which you might then pour down the drain!

Minerals are required in small amounts, but these small amounts make a huge difference in the way your body functions. There are two different classifications of minerals based on how much we actually need – major minerals and trace minerals. As you’d expect, we need more of the major minerals than the trace minerals, but that doesn’t mean they’re more important!

The major minerals include sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfur. The trace minerals include iron, zinc, iodine, copper, manganese, and selenium.

I’ll be breaking up these posts on minerals by function, mostly. I’ll start with those that largely influence fluid balance in the body – sodium, chloride, and potassium.

Learn about minerals, sodium, chloride, and potassium in this "Nutrition in a Nutshell!"

Sodium

What does sodium do for my body?

Sodium is the main positive electrolyte (cation) in the fluid surrounding our cells. It regulates the fluid volume, maintains our acid-base balance, and – because it has a charge and carries electricity – is essential to nerve transmission and muscle function.

When you eat salty foods, it makes you thirsty, right? That’s because the fluids in your body get so bogged down with sodium, your body asks for more water to dilute it! The kidneys do a great job filtering excess sodium out, but you’ve got to give them some water to help them out!

The recommended intake according to nutrition labels is 2,400 mg of sodium per day – but the acceptable intake according to the US and Canada is actually 1,500 mg for adults! In fact, these countries say that the maximum amount of sodium you should consume in a day is 2,300 mg – 100 mg less than the amount of nutrition labels! Not only that – the average amount of sodium consumed in the US is 3,400 mg per person. To put this into relatable terms, 2,300 mg is about 1 tsp of table salt. It’s recommended to limit salt intake to 3/4 tsp per day in order to meet your sodium and chloride needs.

Because of the high consumption of sodium in the American diet, most of us are developing hypertension. But sodium isn’t the only culprit! It’s actually shown that table salt (sodium chloride) has more of an effect on blood pressure than sodium or chloride alone. While there are other factors that cause hypertension, it’s recommended to keep salt intake low.

Deficiency

We consume this mineral in excess of what our bodies need, so deficiency does not come from consuming too little. However, we can lose sodium from excessive vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating. The good news is, consuming a regular diet replenishes our sodium needs easily! It’s important to replenish liquids and sodium when ill or after a good workout. (And you don’t need sports drinks to do that!)

Where can I get sodium in my diet? How can I keep my intake low?

Sodium is most prevalent in processed foods, and – as you’d expect – unprocessed, whole foods contain the least amount of sodium. Sodium acts as a preservative, so processed foods use a lot to prevent spoilage. And it’s not just as salt! Sodium can also be in your food as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or other additives.

Processed foods not only have higher sodium content, but a drastically lower potassium content! Either potassium is lot in the processing, or the high sodium alters the ratio.

The best way to get sodium is through whole foods and seasoning. Table salt, soy sauce (the low sodium variety is still a good idea!), meats, milk, cheese, bread, and fruits and vegetables are your best bets. Opt for sweet potato, spinach, collard greens, carrots, and apples for the biggest sodium content in fruits and veggies.

Chloride

While the element chlorine is a poisonous gas, it changes properties when it reacts with sodium or hydrogen, and forms the negative ion chloride.

What does chloride do for my body?

Chloride works closely with sodium, especially since they’re often packaged together in table salt. Chloride is the main negative electrolyte (anion) in the fluids surrounding our cells. Like sodium, it helps with fluid balance.

Chloride is also a part of hydrochloric acid, or stomach acid! It works to break up our food and keeps our stomach acidic.

The recommendation for adults is 2,300 mg daily, with an upper limit of 3,600 mg. 3/4 tsp of table salt will provide the correct amounts for sodium and chloride, even though they’re different amounts! That’s because chloride is a bigger component, chemically, than sodium. Even still, it’s best to get your chloride from foods before adding table salt to your meals.

Where can I get chloride in my diet?

Chloride is almost exclusively found in our diet as sodium chloride, so you’ll find it in the same foods as sodium! However, you can also consume it from potassium chloride – a bitter-tasting additive found in processed foods or supplements.

Potassium

What does potassium do for my body?

Potassium is the main positively charged ion within our cells.  It functions much like sodium, maintaining fluid balance and allowing nerve impulse transmission and muscle contractions to go smoothly. Potassium is especially important for the contraction of the heart.

Low potassium intake is often associated with high sodium intake, because sodium replaced potassium in processed foods. High sodium and low potassium raise our blood pressure and can lead to hypertension, as we’ve heard. However, a high potassium intake can lower blood pressure and even reverse hypertension, especially if combined with a low sodium intake. High potassium in the diet also lowers your risk of stroke.

Deficiency

Potassium deficiency increases blood pressure, can cause kidney stones, irregular heartbeats, weak muscles, and glucose intolerance.

Where can I get potassium in my diet?

Potassium exists in living cells, so fresh food is going to be your best source. It’s almost nonexistent in processed foods. The recommendation is to consume 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables combined each day. Greta sources of potassium include broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, watermelon, milk, pinto beans, nuts, acorn squash, and artichoke, to name a few. Take your pick!

 

Electrolytes

Electrolytes

Just like antioxidants, “electrolytes” is another buzz word that gets thrown around in the food marketing industry! We associate electrolytes with sports drinks, and we know they’re good for us – but what actually are they? Do we need to be getting them from sports drinks?

Learn about Electrolytes in this "Nutrition in a Nutshell!"

What are electrolytes?

Mineral salts are common in the diet, the most popular being table salt – sodium chloride. When these salts are dissolved in water, they separate into ions – a fancy word for an element with a charge. Sodium chloride, for which the chemical symbol is NaCl, is then broken into sodium, Na+, and chloride, Cl.

While water is a poor conductor on its own, ions dissolved in water carry electrical current, because they are charged! Therefore, the ions are given the name electrolytes.

The essential minerals in our diet can become ions. Positively charged ions, also called cations (because cats are positively great! . . . Well, that’s how I remember it.), include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Negatively charged ions, anions, include chloride, phosphate, sulfate, and a few others.

Positively and negatively charged ions must be in balance in electrolyte solutions. As well, water is attracted to the ions. Water molecules like to stick to them! So, if there is an imbalance of electrolytes within or outside of a cell in your body, the electrolytes will move in order to maintain balance, carrying water with them. Electrolytes help water get around in our system this way.

What do electrolytes do for my body?

Because electrolytes carry a charge, they conduct electricity. Our body uses electricity in order to twitch our muscles into moving, as well as send thoughts to our brain. Electrolytes are important for proper muscle function and control, as well as nerve impulses traveling throughout your body!

Bicarbonate, an anion, also helps with digestion by maintaining the acid-base balance in your small intestines.

How do we lose electrolytes?

We all know that after a great workout, it’s important to replenish with water and, in very rigorous exercises, electrolytes! But building up a sweat isn’t the only way electrolytes can be lost. While sweating is probably the way we are most familiar with losing water (and electrolytes within it), being sick can cause losses, too. Extreme vomiting or diarrhea causes dehydration, and with it those ions are being expelled. Even traumatic wounds and burns can cause an imbalance.

In severe cases of dehydration like these, it’s important to replenish fluids and electrolytes. An emergency fix is called oral rehydration therapy, and it’s ridiculously easy to concoct. Heat up 2 cups (1/2 L) of water and add 4 tsp of sugar and 1/2 tsp of salt. Just that small amount will help someone who is severely dehydrated get back on track, and give them the energy (via sugar) to recover.

Where can I get electrolytes in my diet?

Sports drinks are great if you’re an athlete, but the majority of those who drink them don’t really need them. Your kids at little league are not losing so much fluid that they need Gatorade. Plus, those drinks are loaded with added sugars, and that’s a whole different discussion! For casual sports games or a normal workout, water is your best fuel. You can replace your electrolytes just by eating healthy foods afterward!

The foods that provide you with the major and trace minerals provide you with electrolytes – that’s what they are! A well-balanced, healthy diet will provide all of the minerals that are essential to our bodies. Use a reasonable amount of table salt to season your home cooked meals. Get a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, eggs, and meats (if you eat it!). You can find great sources for each individual mineral on their respective posts on the Nutrition in a Nutshell page! (Minerals are coming this week!)

Next time you are feeling dehydrated, rather than reaching for a sports drink for your electrolytes, try a glass of water and a healthy meal! I guarantee you’ll feel even better!

The Importance of Water in Our Diet

The Importance of Water in Our Diet

Water! H2O! We all know what it is, and maybe even have a bottle of it at your side all day, every day! You might not think of it as a nutrient, but it’s an essential component in our diet! It serves many functions that you might not have thought of. Let’s talk about water for a bit, just to give you an idea of how important it is (without getting too sciency!)

Learn about the importance of water in our diet in this "Nutrition in a Nutshell!"

What does water do for my body?

Water makes up the fluids in your body. It’s the primary component in blood, lymph, and the fluid within and between cells. It’s everywhere in your body, and it does so much more than just lubricate!

In our blood vessels, water maintains blood volume and affects blood pressure. It keeps blood fluid so that the nutrients traveling in the blood can get to the cells that need them. Conversely, it helps to carry wastes to the kidneys, lungs, and through our pores to excrete them.

In (and outside) our cells, water maintains electrolyte balance. Electrolytes are minerals that exist as ions in our cells – they have a charge. Sodium (Na+) and Chloride (Cl) come from table salt (NaCl) in our diets, and are very important to the functioning of our cells. Water makes sure that the correct concentrations of these electrolytes exist both inside and outside of cells, to avoid them from rupturing or collapsing.

Water acts as a solvent for nutrients so that they can participate in metabolic reactions. It also participates in some of these reactions!

Water is a lubricant for our joints, within the eyes, and in the spinal cord. Without water, there would be a whole lot of friction going on! Ouch.

Water is also great at regulating our body temperature, even through more than just sweating. It regulates where in the body blood can travel to provide heat. If you find yourself out in the arctic (why are you out there?!), blood will tend to stay in the abdomen to keep your vital organs alive, knowing that you can keep living without those extremities of yours! Bye bye, toes!

There’s more than a few good reasons to drink water throughout the day!

How much water do I need?

You’ve probably heard of the “8 glasses a day!” recommendation for water, which isn’t a bad rule! It’s actually not easy to make one solid recommendation due to the differences in height, weight, activity level, and your environment. There is a rule of thumb that says you should consume 1 to 1.5 mL of water per calorie you burn throughout the day. There’s an easy way to find out how many calories you burn throughout the day (or, at least, a good estimation). But if you’re not interested in that, let’s make it simple: If we can assume 1/2 C (120mL) of water is required for every 100 calories, and the average person burns 2,000 calories, that means we should be drinking about 10 cups of water per day. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to be measuring mL and portioning out my water – I have enough to keep track of! Here’s my recommendation:

If you’re thirsty, you’re already a bit dehydrated. Drink water until you’re no longer thirsty. Keep drinking water to avoid the sensation of thirst from returning. Drink it throughout the day as you want. Keep a bottle or glass nearby so it’s always there, and not a chore to have to go alllll the way to the kitchen to get some. Take a bottle with you when you leave the house so you don’t have to buy a drink while you’re out.

Here’s the thing – we get water from more than just water itself! It’s in our diets in the form of other beverages and foods. Fruits and vegetables can be up to 90% water! Even meats are 50% water. You’re getting water even when you’re eating – but you still should be drinking it by itself to keep yourself totally hydrated.

Water is awesome!

I know! It’s such an important component of our bodies, more so than people think. Make a conscious effort to drink more water to keep your body balanced and happy. Think of it as an essential nutrient like protein or vitamins, and you’ll (probably) never be thirsty again!

Antioxidants

Antioxidants

How often do you hear the word “antioxidants” in commercials, or see it on bottles of juice? It’s a buzz word that’s being thrown around lately, but what does it mean? We know they’re good for us! Let’s delve a bit deeper into what antioxidants actually do, and how to get them in our diet.

Learn about antioxidants - Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta carotene, selenium, copper, manganese, and zinc - in this "Nutrition in a Nutshell!"

What are free radicals?

Before we can talk about antioxidants, we need to talk about the culprit that makes them so important! Free radicals is the term given to an unstable molecule with one or more unpaired electrons. (That’s right, we’re talking chemistry!) In order to stabilize itself, the free radical will react with another compound and steal electrons…But, now that new compound is unstable and has become a free radical. It’s a domino effect!

Free radicals are generated from cigarette smoke, air pollution, UV radiation, and normal body processes. Yep, your body is generating them just from the chemical reactions going on – but it’s okay! That’s where antioxidants come in.

What are antioxidants?

While free radicals are searching for compounds to steal electrons from, antioxidants are the martyrs that are willing to donate their electrons. Antioxidants willingly give up an electron to stabilize the free radicals. Plus, antioxidants re stable with or without that extra electron, so they stop the domino effect! They just become a slightly different compound, like ascorbic acid becoming dehydroascorbic acid. (If you’re chemistry savvy, dehydro means without hydrogen. Donating electrons is literally donating hydrogen atoms. It all adds up!)

So, why are free radicals so bad?

We want antioxidants to stop the domino effect of free radicals because free radicals are destructive. They attack polyunsaturated fatty acids, causing destruction to cell membranes and disturbing its ability to allow nutrients to pass through. They attack DNA, RNA, and proteins, which impairs the functions of cells.

This damage causes aging and disease progression, including inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

(Free radicals can be helpful in the destruction of viruses and bacteria introduced to our bodies, but for the most part, we don’t want (a lot of) them in our system!)

Where can I find antioxidants in my diet?

The great news is that antioxidants are abundant in a healthy diet! Vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals (chemicals in plants) all act as antioxidants, and sometimes have specialties!

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is especially known for protecting against certain cancers, including cancer in the esophagus. It protects the skin and blood from free radicals.

Vitamin E protects the lipids in the body, such as in the cell membranes. It is expected that Vitamin E helps to inhibit cancer by protecting DNA. It also prevents heart disease and hypertension by preventing fatty plaque from building up, a result of free radicals.

Beta-carotene is another antioxidant that protects cell membranes, and, by extension, our DNA.

Enzymes in our bodies also protect from free radicals, but the enzymes can’t function without the minerals selenium, copper, manganese, and zinc.

The best source of antioxidants is through food. While it is tempting to want to reach for a supplement in order to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts of each nutrient, the research doesn’t support the fact that supplements provide the same benefits as food. The highest source of these great nutrients are fruits and vegetables – just another reason to get enough of both!

Vitamin K

Vitamin K

Our fourth and final fat-soluble vitamin is K. It probably gets overlooked the most, but plays a unique and vitally important role in our bodies. Let’s take a look at this nutrient in this short and sweet overview!

Learn about Vitamin K in this "Nutrition in a Nutshell!"

What is Vitamin K, and what does it do for my body?

This fat-soluble vitamin is one that can be supplied by the diet, but can also be produced by our bodies (like Vitamin D!) Bacteria in our GI tract are capable of synthesizing Vitamin K, where it’s then absorbed and stored in the liver. Our bodies can make up to half of our daily needs!

The RDA for men is 120 micrograms/day, and 90 micrograms/day for women. There is no upper limit set, because there are no known toxicity symptoms!

Vitamin K has one main function – blood clotting. It works by activating proteins that assist in the clotting of blood, as well as calcium. Clotting is important to stop bleeding from wounds, internal or external.

The vitamin does also assist in creating strong bones by allowing bone proteins to bind with minerals. Without the vitamin, bone density is low.

Deficiency

As you would expect, a deficiency in Vitamin K would result in an inability to properly clot blood. This could cause hemorrhaging and blood loss. As well, bones would not be able to mineralize and become strong, making fractures more possible.

Vegetables oils are a great source of Vitamin K!Since our bodies can synthesize Vitamin K and store it easily, a deficiency is not common. Malabsorption of fat would result in lower levels of the fat-soluble vitamins, including K.  Taking drugs like antibiotics (which kill gut bacteria) or blood thinners also affect Vitamin K’s production and ability to perform.

Where can I find Vitamin K in the diet?

On top of the vitamin being synthesized in our guts, there are great food sources to get the nutrient. Dark green, leafy vegetables like brussels sprouts, spinach, and collard greens are excellent sources of Vitamin K. Vegetable oils are also a good choice!

Dark leafy greens like collard greens and brussels sprouts are great sources of Vitamin K!

Vitamin E

Vitamin E

Learn about Vitamin E in this "Nutrition in a Nutshell!"

What is Vitamin E?

Vitamin E comes from a group of chemicals called tocopherols. This variation, alpha-tocopherol, is the only one that has the effects of Vitamin E as we know and love it today. This fat-soluble vitamin has mainly one function, and can has recommendations set for USA and Canada.

RDA: 15 mg/day, with an Upper Limit of 1000 mg/day

Vitamin E as an Antioxidant

The vitamin’s only role in our bodies is to act as an antioxidant. An antioxidant donates electrons to free radicals – rogue electrons causing damage to our tissues – in order to stabilize them and cease their rampage. More specifically, Vitamin E stops free radicals from creating even more free radicals, halting any domino effect that may occur. This way, the vitamin protects our cells against damage, and keeps red blood cells and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) from oxidation.

Deficiency

Not getting enough of this nutrient isn’t a common occurrence. In fact, it’s most likely related to diseases like cystic fibrosis that inhibits the absorption of fat (and therefore fat-soluble vitamins). However, a lack of the vitamin causes red blood cells to rupture, most likely caused by the oxidation of the PUFAs in the cell membranes. Neurological effects may occur, as well, like muscle weakness and impaired vision and speech.

Toxicity

Nuts and oils are great sources of Vitamin E!

Just as in deficiency, toxicity is a rare concern. Still, overconsumption of the vitamin, most likely from supplementation, could inhibit the blood-clotting done by Vitamin K. If a person is taking blood thinners, their effects would be enhanced, and hemorrhaging would occur.

Where can I find Vitamin E in the diet?

As you’d expect, Vitamin E is found in foods that contain lipids. Vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, and wheat germ are rich in the nutrient. (Wheat germ is part of the whole grain. Processed, “white” flours and grains do not have the germ, and therefore don’t have the nutrients!) Vitamin E is just another great reason not to be afraid of fats in the diet!

 

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D

Comes from milk and builds strong bones! Sure, but there’s much more to Vitamin D than you’d think! Let’s dive right in…

Learn about Vitamin D in this "Nutrition in a Nutshell!"

What is Vitamin D?

A fat-soluble vitamin, Vitamin D is a little different in that our bodies are able to synthesize it from cholesterol, making it a nonessential nutrient. That means we don’t technically need to get Vitamin D from our diet, but it certainly doesn’t hurt!

There are two forms of the vitamin – Vitamin D2, which comes primarily from plant foods, and Vitamin D3, derived from animal foods or by our body’s own creation. Once the body has synthesized Vitamin D to its active form, it is actually a hormone (a compound that causes other parts of the body to act)!

Lots of research shows that Vitamin D3 is far superior in that the body can utilize it better than D2. Many foods might be fortified with Vitamin D or claim to be a good source, but are actually providing D2. Soy milk is notorious for this claim, and our bodies are hardly getting any benefit from the levels of the inferior form of this vitamin. (Read the label on the back to see which form of Vitamin D with which the product is being fortified!)

The RDA for adults up to age 70 is 15 micrograms/day (600 IU/day), and for adults over 70, 20 micrograms/day (800 IU/day). (IU is the term usually found on supplements.)

What does Vitamin D do in the body?

The vitamin plays a large role in the health of our intestines, kidneys, and of course our bones.

The bones require many nutrients working together, including Vitamin A and Vitamin K, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and fluoride. Vitamin D assists by increasing the absorption of calcium and phosphorus into the bloodstream. The abundance of these minerals in the blood allow the bones to keep their stores as well as take from the blood, which causes growth and maintenance of the bones.

If these minerals are not being taken in in large enough amounts, Vitamin D will enforce reabsorption by the kidneys, or – in the case of keeping the other body parts healthy – taking these mineral stores out of the bones.

Deficiency

Because 90% of our Vitamin D supply comes from our own body – which requires the sun – there are some factors that could increase your risk for deficiency, including having dark skin or a low exposure to sunlight. Breastfeeding without supplementation can also lead to a Vitamin D deficiency.

The absorption of calcium is affected negatively, even if consumption is adequate. This will lead to a low concentration of calcium in the blood, and so the bones’ mineral stores will be depleted.

Rickets is common in children, and is a condition where the bones do not calcify normally. This results in abnormal growth and deformities of the bones. Bowed legs are a result of soft bones attempting to support the weight of the child’s body. Ribs with what appears to be beads on them is another symptom, as the bones fail to attach to cartilage properly.

Osteoporosis and osteomalacia are issues that older adults face, where the bones become brittle and soft due to the loss of mineral stores. These bones fracture easily.

Toxicity

While very difficult to consume toxic levels of Vitamin D through food and the body’s synthesis, supplementation of the vitamin can cause harmful effects. With a high consumption of Vitamin D comes a high concentration of calcium in the blood. The body will look for places to store the excess calcium, and will turn to the soft tissues of the body, calcifying them. This leads to stones, especially in the kidneys, and hardened tissues. Hardened blood vessels are a cause for concern, especially in the major arteries.

Where can I find Vitamin D in the diet?

Fortified milk is a good source of Vitamin D, but there are other sources for those who choose not to drink milk. The best natural food sources of the vitamin include salmon, sardines, and egg yolk. These high-fat foods have high concentrations of the fat-soluble vitamin.

 

The sun is your best source for Vitamin D.

Still, only about 10% of your Vitamin D intake will be coming from foods. The best source of the vitamin is made by your body, with the help of the sun.

While too much sun can cause sunburn, you won’t overdose on Vitamin D. That’s because its precursor will be killed off with overexposure to the sun, so the conversion rate to active Vitamin D will stay at safe levels. Only 5-10 minutes of sun exposure three times per week is enough to meet your Vitamin D needs! Remember, if your skin has a darker tone or you’re using sunblock, you’ll need to stay out a little longer.

The 40° Latitude Issue

While the sun is our best source for Vitamin D, it isn’t a perfect system! Due to the way the sun’s rays hit the earth, there is a “sweet spot” between 40° north latitude and 40° south latitude where synthesis occurs year-round. However, above and below these lines and toward the poles, creation of Vitamin D basically stops for four to six months out of the year! (I’m looking at you, Canadians!) In this case, supplementation of Vitamin D is essential.