Zinc: What You Need To Know

Zinc is an essential mineral as it cannot be produced by the body. It has many vital roles in maintaining your health. This article explains its functions, benefits and potential side effects.

Photo by Adalia Botha on Unsplash

Key Facts

Zinc:

* An essential nutrient, so needs to be obtained from food.

* It is involved in a number of processes in the body:

  • Sense of taste and smell
  • Expression of genes
  • DNA synthesis
  • Over 300 enzyme reactions
  • Immunity
  • Protein synthesis
  • Wound healing
  • Growth and development

Zinc rich foods

This mineral is found in both plant and animal foods.

Good sources include:

  • Shellfish: Oysters, mussels, crab, and lobster.
  • Meat: Beef, lamb, and pork.
  • Poultry: Chicken and turkey.
  • Fish: Salmon, sardines and flounder.
  • Legumes/ Pulses: Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, tofu, tempe etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: Pumpkin seeds, cashews, walnuts etc.
  • Eggs.
  • Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa oats etc.
  • Some vegetables: Mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, asparagus and peas.

The absorption of zinc from animal foods is higher than plant sources, but levels can be maintained with plant-based eating patterns.

Research suggests that well planned vegetarian diets can provide sufficient amounts of zinc.

It appears that people who have vegetarian styles of eating, increase their absorption and retention of this minerals.

Zinc requirements

During our lifetime we require different amounts of this mineral. You can find the nutrient reference values here.

Deficiency

Zinc levels are tightly monitored and regulated by the body. Stress, acute injury and trauma, poor diets and infection can cause levels of zinc to drop.

Mild deficiency can impair rate of growth, impact negatively on pregnancy outcomes and reduce immune responses.

Severe deficiency impairs growth, and can lead to alopecia (hair loss), diarrhoea, and delayed sexual development and impotency. Eye and skin lesions and a loss of appetite can also occur.

Supplements

Since zinc is found in a wide range of foods, supplementation is not usually required.

Supplements are often recommended for the treatment of a common cold. There is some research suggesting that supplements reduce the length of the cold. Discuss dosage with your healthcare practitioner.

Take care with supplementation as zinc can lead to deficiencies of copper. It also reduces the absorption of iron.

Toxicity can occur with high levels of supplementation. Symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Reduced immune function
  • Decrease in levels of “good” HDL cholesterol
  • As with most nutrients, it is definitely better to obtain zinc from a balance of whole foods.

If you have any concerns about your intake of nutrients please discuss them with your healthcare practitioner.

For more information on creating a balanced way of eating, see the Eating for You book.

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