Is chromium an essential mineral? The understanding nutrients series

We’re continuing the understanding nutrients series with the mineral chromium. You can see all the other nutrients I’ve covered here.

What is chromium? 

Chromium is a trace mineral. A trace mineral means it’s key for the functioning of the body, but it’s needed in small amounts.

There is some debate about whether chromium is actually essential, as there’s no reliable way to test for the amount the body needs. But it’s still an important mineral and you should be able to get all you need from a healthy balanced diet.

Roles of chromium: 

Chromium has many roles in the body.

cartoon  drawing of red blood cells

Supports blood glucose control: chromium has a key role in the activity of insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps to lower our blood sugar levels when we need it, e.g. after a meal. Scientists aren’t exactly sure how chromium works with insulin, but it’s thought to form another compound that activates the insulin receptor. This increases the action of insulin and so helps get our blood sugar levels back down. 

You may have seen chromium being sold as a way to manage type 2 diabetes but unfortunately, we’re not there yet to recommend it as a sure fire way to treat diabetes.

Macronutrient digestion and absorption: chromium also plays a role in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It forms parts of enzymes that are needed to metabolise these nutrients. Also, it’s role in activating insulin helps with carbohydrate metabolism and glucose tolerance.

Chromium might not be an ‘official’ trace mineral, but it still has important roles in the body!

How much chromium do we need? 

Unlike some of the more common vitamin and minerals, chromium doesn’t have specific numbers for daily intakes. The government says a safe intake is more than 25ug (micrograms) a day.

Chromium is also poorly absorbed, with up to 5% of the amount available in food actually being absorbed in the small intestine. But it’s known that vitamin C increases the uptake of chromium, with vitamin C being found in most fruit and vegetables.

a bowl of salad

What foods are sources of chromium? 

a loaf of bread, sliced on a chopping board
The amount of chromium in food can vary greatly due to farming, growing conditions, and processing; but cereals, grains, nuts, some fruit and vegetables, and meat are generally good sources of chromium. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but to give an idea:

  • 150ml of grape juice has 4.7ug         
  • 80g of broccoli has 11ug
  • 2 medium slices of wholemeal bread have 2ug 
  • 100g of beef has 2.4ug
  • 1 medium apple has 1.4ug
  • 80g of green beans has 1.2ug

What happens if we don’t get enough chromium?                

A deficiency in chromium is rare and not well documented. But it can occur if someone is very malnourished or has an illness that then causes malnutrition.

A chromium deficiency can lead to elevated blood glucose levels and increased levels of fat in the blood. This is due to increased insulin intolerance. So, the body is not able to bring its blood sugar levels back down.

It’s treated with high dose chromium supplementation.

a container of pills

Key points: 

  • Chromium is a trace mineral that has roles in regulating insulin activity and the breakdown of macronutrients.
  • Adults need at least 25 micrograms of chromium a day.
  • A deficiency in chromium is rare but can lead to high glucose levels.
  • Meat, vegetables, and grains are sources of chromium.

I hope you found this useful, it’s not a nutrient that’s often talked about!

Bye for now 👋



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