In the health realm of marketing, we hear a lot about nutrients. How to boost the nutrient content of your food or find the best plant-based nutrient sources and which nutrients are essential. Yes, nutrients as a whole are important. This broad umbrella term refers to all those lovely macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals that keep us alive, healthy, active, functioning and … well … alive and breathing!
With that said, how much do we really know about the breakdown of these nutrients?
For instance, there’s not much talk about minerals as a group, specific minerals, the roles they play, and why we should be paying close attention to our consumption of these vital compounds. Minerals make up a large part of the nutrient kingdom and are essential for bodily health.
Today, let’s start out by taking an in-depth dive into copper!
What are Minerals and Why are they Important?
I could spend a very long time going over all the minerals present in the foods we eat, our environment, and even in the water we drink. Yet, it makes a bit more sense to just take a look at the essential minerals: calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, potassium, sodium, zinc, and, of course, copper.
There are different classifications, such as essential versus non-essential. Essential minerals are necessary for survival. This group is further divided into “major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals),” both of which are equally important. The difference? Trace minerals are simply “needed in smaller amounts than major minerals.”
With that said, no matter the classification, minerals — as well as some metals — are “needed to activate enzymes — molecules with important jobs in the body,” along with roles in hundreds of other bodily functions.
For instance, manganese “helps form bones and helps metabolize amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.” Chromium “assists with metabolizing fuel, making red blood cells, regulating neurotransmitters, and mopping up free radicals.” Molybdenum — most likely a mineral you’ve never heard of, as I hadn’t either! — “activates several enzymes that break down toxins and prevents the buildup of harmful sulfites in the body.”
When it comes to minerals, it’s all about the internal functions that we never think about, but are happening all day every day to keep us healthy, to thwart off sickness and infection, and to keep our brains humming a happy tune!
What is Copper?
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at copper. First off, copper is an essential trace mineral, meaning you need it for survival, but not necessarily in large amounts (such as calcium).
Copper is a cofactor — meaning it’s a necessary component of the process — for “several enzymes (known as ‘cuproenzymes’) involved in energy production, iron metabolism, neuropeptide activation, connective tissue synthesis, and neurotransmitter synthesis.” This mineral is also a player in physiological processes such as immune system functioning, making red blood cells and maintaining nerve cells, pigmentation, brain development, and gene expression, to name a few. It’s also a great agent to help mop up free radicals!
Where does copper live in the body? Most of the copper you consume is transported and stored in the “liver, brain, heart, kidneys, and skeletal muscle.” This means that while you need an adequate intake to support all those wonderful functions I mentioned too much or too little copper leads to issues with how the brain functions.
To be clear, copper deficiency is quite rare. With that said, recent surveys have found that “up to 25 [percent] of people in America and Canada may not be meeting the recommended copper intake.” So, copper deficiency is definitely something to at least be aware of.
What does a copper deficiency look like?
Common symptoms include fatigue and weakness, — caused by iron deficiency anemia and lack of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the “body’s main source of energy” — getting sick often, — as copper plays a role in maintaining a healthy immune system, — brittle bones, memory issues, difficulty walking, — as copper helps regulate signals between brain and body — thyroid gland malfunctions, and vision loss.
Plus, copper can have an effect on your physical appearance, causing pale skin and even premature gray hair given that copper helps with healthy pigmentation.
Make sure to contact a medical health professional if you think you may have a deficiency before beginning any supplement program! This is critical as too much copper can have detrimental effects on your health, especially brain health, and has even been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Health Benefits of Copper
We know what copper does, its importance, and how a deficiency manifests. So, what type of health benefits do you get from the proper intake of copper? Obviously, the first and foremost is a properly functioning and well-balanced body. Yet, there are quite a few other targeted benefits that come from making sure you’re getting this wonderful mineral!
Immune System Support
While the “immune system requires copper to perform several functions,” unfortunately, researchers don’t exactly know why. In short, the “direct mechanism of action” in which copper supports the immune system is not yet identified.
With that said, it’s recognized that without copper, your immune system suffers. When it comes to the immune system and copper, we want to take a closer look at white blood cells. Specifically, a “deficiency of white blood cells, or neutrophils, which fight off infection.” If you suffer from a copper deficiency, then you may develop neutropenia — that white blood cell deficiency — which makes it very difficult for your body to fight off infectious disease.
Boosts Collagen Production
Turns out this little trace mineral plays a big role in collagen production! Why does this matter? Collagen is a — let’s just call it “magical” — protein that is not only essential for your body but can boost your overall health. It’s not only the “most abundant protein in your body,” — playing a major role in “connective tissues that make up several body parts, including tendons, ligaments, skin, and muscles” — but it’s also linked to stronger bones, joint pain relief, and improving skin health.
Researchers have found that “without sufficient copper, the body cannot replace damaged connective tissue or the collagen that makes up the scaffolding for bone.” It’s also been found that the relationship between copper, collagen, and antioxidants may play a role in preventing skin aging.
Helps Iron Absorb
Remember that fatigue and weakness caused by iron deficiency anemia is one of those tell-tale signs of a copper deficiency? This is, in part, due to the fact that copper “is essential for absorbing iron from the gut.”
Proper intake of copper means that your body is also able to more efficiently and effectively absorb iron, while low levels are associate with less iron absorption. This results in that dreaded “iron deficiency anemia, a condition in which the body is unable to carry enough oxygen to its tissue.” This results in feeling lethargic and lacking energy.
Supports Healthy Bones
Copper is an important ingredient for healthy bones. In fact, it’s recognized that a “severe copper deficiency is associated with lower bone mineral density and a higher risk of osteoporosis,” a condition “characterized by weak and brittle bones.”
Researchers have discovered that copper is “involved in processes that create cross-links inside your bones … [which] … ensure bones are healthy and strong.” To add on to the importance of copper for bones, it has been found that copper “encourages the body to make more osteoblasts, which are cells that help reshape and strengthen bone tissue.”
5 Plant-Based Sources of Copper
Like many minerals, copper is plentiful in the plant-based world! With that said, there are a few plant-based foods that offer a higher content of copper per serving than others. These kingdoms of the plant-based-copper world are super easy to integrate into your diet and, most likely, you’re probably already regularly enjoying at least one of them. Let’s take a look at these copper-heavy plant-based foods and you can get them into your body on a regular basis!
Spirulina — a “powdered food supplement made from cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae” — is quickly becoming a popular superfood for strict plant-based eaters. After a lifetime of secrecy, this algae made its way into the limelight as a “dietary supplement for astronauts on space missions.”
A single tablespoon of spirulina contains about 44 percent of your recommended daily intake of copper, along with “[four] grams of protein, 25 [percent of the RDI for vitamin B2 (riboflavin), 17 [percent] of the RDI for vitamin B1 (thiamine) and around 11 [percent] of the RDI for iron.”
If you’re looking for that natural coloring agent for a blue recipe, spirulina is an excellent choice, such as in this Ocean Blue Smoothie, these Minty Blue Cheesecake Bars, or this vegan Gorgonzola cheese. Yet, spirulina can easily be integrated into pretty much any recipe that needs a boost of nutrition such as this Raw Cauliflower ‘Popcorn’, this Raw Cashew Tart With Mango and Spirulina, or this Mind Detox Smoothie!
2. Shiitake Mushrooms
To be fair, shiitake mushrooms are my all-time favorite mushroom! They are super easy to clean, cook, and enjoy in a variety of ways. Chop them up and sautee in some vegan butter and add them as a topping to pretty much anything!
Plus, they’re also a great source of copper!
With a strong umami flavor, these little mushrooms also pack in about 89 percent of your recommended daily intake of copper per 15 grams. On top of that, shiitake mushrooms are a wonderful source of fiber, selenium, manganese, since, folate, and vitamins B1, B5, B6, and D.
Here are a few tasty ways to enjoy some shiitake mushrooms: Shiitake Mushroom Soft Tacos, Jalapeño Mac and Cheese Burger With Shiitake Bacon, Rutabaga Carbonara with Shiitake Mushroom Bacon, or this Coconut Carrot Soup With Shiitake and Spring Onion.
3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a staple of a plant-based diet for a very good reason — they’re loaded with a slew of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and other plant-based goodies, such as antioxidants. You’re guaranteed to boost the overall nutrient value of your diet by simply adding your favorite nuts and seeds to a few of your meals throughout the day.
This is also true for getting proper copper intake!
Of course, if you’re looking for the ultimate copper providers you’ll want to focus on almonds, — offers 33 percent of your recommended daily intake per ounce — cashews, — offers 67 percent of your recommended daily intake per ounce — and sesame seeds, — offers 44 percent of the recommended daily intake per tablespoon.
Almonds are a wonderful ingredient for sweet and savory treats, — such as these Cinnamon Almond Cookies or this Sweet and Savory Spiced Spiced Nuts mix — while cashews are the cream of the crop for creamy recipes, — such as this Garlic Cashew Cream Cheese or this Easy Creamy Mac and Cheese. While sesame seeds are wonderful raw or toasted on top of a salad or sprinkled on baked tofu, they can also play a central role like in this Sesame Seed Milk or this Black Sesame Mochi.
4. Leafy Greens
Along with nuts and seeds, leafy greens are a standard staple of a plant-based diet. They’re loaded with protective antioxidants, as well as “fiber, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, and folate.” Plus, greens are easy to integrate into your diet between your morning smoothie — for those that can’t quite stomach them — to that sandwich or salad at lunch or even a soup or stew for dinner.
Leafy greens are also a great source of copper! While each leafy green offers a varying amount of copper, a great example is dark leafy green Swiss Chard, which “provides 33 [percent] of the [recommended daily intake] for copper in a single cup.”
5. Dark Chocolate
It’s rather surprising how often dark chocolate winds up on the healthy plant-based list of foods. Yet, here it is again!
Of course, the “healthy” scale of dark chocolate depends entirely on the type you purchase, specifically choosing dark chocolate that is at least “70 to 85 [percent] cocoa solids” and without added sugar or milk. This is a bit easier if you go with a vegan-based dark chocolate bar such as RAWAY Vegan Chocolate or Mishti Chocolates Dark Night.
Once you find your healthy dark chocolate, it’s all about the goodies within!
Dark chocolate “boasts antioxidants, fiber, and several nutrients,” including copper. In a 100-gram bar of dark chocolate, you’ll get a whopping “200 [percent] of the recommended daily intake for copper.” Plus, that same bar also offers “11 grams of fiber, 98 [percent] of the [recommended daily intake] for manganese, and 67 [percent] of the [recommended daily intake] for iron.”
Dark chocolate is also super fun to cook with! Try a few of these decadent, copper-rich treats: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Double Chocolate Banana Muffins, 5-Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bark, or this Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Bark.
Looking to get your mineral-knowledge fix? It’s probably best to start with those uber essential minerals. Here are a few articles to get you started!
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Source: Raspberry Coconut Bars
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
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