Micronutrients like zinc are only needed in small amounts, but they are essential for survival. In the wild, animals journey from miles around to visit mineral licks to zinc and other vital nutrients direct from the soil. Luckily, you don’t have to eat dirt to get your recommended intake of zinc!
Zinc enables your body to fight off bacteria and viruses by maintaining a healthy immune system. It is also needed for building and repairing proteins and DNA. It helps your cells communicate, is beneficial for prostate issues and it even helps you taste and smell. Zinc is needed for healing wounds and cuts, and is essential for healthy skin, hair and cell repair.
In Sync with Zinc
Everyone needs zinc, but some need it more than others. Extra zinc and other trace minerals are needed in pregnancy – which could be why some women crave dirt while they are pregnant (True! Craving dirt even has a name = geophagy). As zinc is essential for making cells, it is no surprise infants, children and adolescents, who are all growing, are most at risk of zinc deficiency. Pregnancy, lactation, endurance sports and some medications can also put strain on zinc levels.
Vegans and vegetarians have a higher risk of deficiency as the zinc in meats is easier to absorb. Also, legumes and wholegrains contain phytates which inhibit zinc absorption. Gastrointestinal, digestive and other diseases can contribute to zinc deficiency. Alcohol consumption also has a major impact on zinc levels, and it is thought 30-50% of alcoholics are deficient.
As it is a micronutrient and the body doesn’t store zinc, there is no easy way to determine whether you are deficient. If you believe you fall into any of the risk categories, it could pay to be aware of the signs of deficiency. If you have concerns, consult a medical professional. A qualified dietitian or nutritionist can help work out a diet to suit you.
Zinc deficiency can lower immunity, impair appetite, impede growth and healing, and cause impotence, hair loss, stunted growth and dermatitis. Too much zinc can also be detrimental and cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, headaches, and impact copper and iron absorption. So how much is enough?
It is suggested women and men, consume 8 and 11 milligrams of zinc every day, respectively. The daily intake may need to be adjusted for elderly individuals. It’s important to eat zinc daily as the body does not keep stores like it does with iron and Vitamin D.
The Zinc Top Ten
This mineral is found in a range of foods. The following are listed in order of the amount of zinc they contain, from highest to lowest. Cooked oysters (78.6mg per 100g) have almost 100 times more zinc than spinach (0.8mg/100g).
- Seafood – especially cooked oysters, crab and lobster
- Beef and Lamb
- Pumpkin and squash seeds
- Cocoa Powder – dark chocolate rates higher than beef!
- Pork and Chicken
- Beans – chickpeas, broad beans, kidney beans
- Spinach, endives, amaranth
It’s not hard to keep in zinc. Including a range of fresh produce in your daily diet is really all you need. Remember, zinc is even more important when we are growing. Be sure your kids are eating some of the above each day so they can be taller than you one day!
To help you with some healthy eating ideas...