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Chromium: food sources and health benefits

Siski Green / 15 March 2021

Chromium is a trace mineral needed to help transport blood glucose from your bloodstream to the cells using it for energy.

Broccoli, a source of chromium
Broccoli is a good source of chromium

Chromium is probably known to some people simply as an open-source browser related to Google Chrome but in fact it refers to a trace mineral found in a variety of foods.

Why do we need chromium?

Chromium is a mineral that’s used by the body in tiny amounts. It’s used for cellular functioning, insulin-signalling which in turn affects the metabolism and storage of fats, carbohydrates and protein. Chromium works to help transport blood glucose from your bloodstream to the cells where it’s used for energy.

What does chromium do?

Chromium is a type of trace mineral, which means that only tiny amounts of it are used by the body. In fact, most chromium that passes through your digestive system is simply flushed out, only around 2.5% is actually absorbed. For this reason, supplemental chromium is often provided in the form of chromium picolinate which is more readily absorbed.

What’s the best way to take chromium?

As chromium deficiency is rare, it’s unlikely you need to take a supplement. Recommended levels of intake are around 21-25 micrograms per day for women, and 25-35 for men (less as you age). You can get this amount from a varied healthy diet, including broccoli, with just one serving giving you at least half of your daily needs (one cup of broccoli has around 22mcg in total). Oats are also a good source with one serving giving you around 5-8mcg. And the good news is that a a glass of red wine can give you up to 13mcg too.

If you do decide to supplement, researchers suggests that the upper limit should be 1000 micrograms per day.

Does chromium really work?

There are some studies that suggest chromium supplements might help with controlling appetite and with glucose control, but as yet, there haven’t been enough long-range large-scale studies to conclude how much is necessary and whether the benefits will be seen by all.

As with most nutrients that can be obtained via diet, it’s best to try and get the chromium you need via food, such as brewer’s yeast, broccoli and barley, eggs, green beans, sweet corn and apples. Chromium is in a wide variety of foods so it’s relatively easy to get what you need without the need for supplements, and this is why chromium deficiency is so rare.

While chromium is used by the body to help process carbs, fat and protein and affects how insulin acts, there isn’t a huge amount of evidence to suggest that upping your intake beyond eating a healthy and varied diet will show any benefits.

An overview of available studies concluded that supplementation for diabetes patients did have a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels, but this included research where chromium yeast combined with vitamins C and E was given, and another where chromium picolinate plus biotin was given. There are, however, other studies that showed no benefits. More research is needed to ascertain exactly how much shows benefits and with which combinations of other nutrients.

There is some evidence from a small study, too, that chromium supplementation may help reduce food cravings. The study participants suffered with a binge-eating disorder and found that their appetite and cravings were reduced when taking 600 micrograms/day. It’s not known whether these same benefits would be seen in people who do not suffer with binge-eating disorders.

Where can I get chromium?

Chromium supplements are available at healthfood shops and online.

How long does chromium take to work?

Unless you have been diagnosed with chromium deficiency it’s unlikely you’ll notice a difference in your health by taking supplements. If you’ve previously had an unhealthy diet, upping your intake of healthy foods that also happen to contain chromium, such as broccoli or apples, will likely make you feel better after just a few weeks.

What are the side effects of taking chromium?

There have been reports of hypoglycemia and stomach problems when taking chromium supplements.

Are there any contraindications when taking chromium?

See your GP before taking chromium supplements if you take anti-inflammatories, hydrocortisone, and/or beta-blockers. If you have had kidney or liver problems, ulcers, or diabetes, you should also check with your GP.

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.