Did you know that without zinc, our bodies would be impaired at the cellular level?
Zinc is a trace mineral that aids our immune systems in battling infection and helps create the proteins needed for strong bones, muscles, tissue, and blood. It also helps maintain good eye health.
About a year ago, I learned that I was zinc deficient. I was not surprised, as I suffer from celiac disease and have difficulty with nutrient absorption.
What I didn’t know was the range of symptoms my inadequate supply of this essential trace mineral could induce.
Why Don’t I Feel Like Myself?
Sometimes we just don’t feel right.
A physical usually includes a CBC, or complete blood count, to examine one’s general health.
It may reveal deficiencies in B12 and folate, but doesn’t test specifically for vitamin and mineral levels. Specific tests must be ordered individually, and only if indicated by conditions or symptoms.
According to Jan Patenaude, a registered dietitian and Certified LEAP (Lifestyle Eating and Performance) Therapist (CLT) with Nutrition Services, “… you can pretty much assume anybody zinc deficient is likely deficient in other nutrients as well.”
This was true for me, as I was also lacking in vitamin A, a key ingredient in a healthy immune system that works in tandem with zinc.
She says that a zinc deficiency may produce the following symptoms:
- Altered/loss of taste and smell
- Anorexia (lack or loss of appetite)
- Ataxic gait (uncoordinated movements)
- Decreased immunity
- Excessive hair loss
- Fine tremor (unintentional muscle movement)
- Impaired cognitive function
- Impaired memory
- Poor night vision
- Poor wound healing
- Slurred speech
- Some forms of dermatitis
- White spotting of nails
While the average well-nourished person may never suffer from such a deficiency, this condition does not just plague underdeveloped nations.
People who suffer from chronic autoimmune diseases such as celiac and rheumatoid arthritis need to have their intake and absorption of nutrients monitored, to avoid exacerbating their conditions with the complications of malnutrition.
Patenaude says that for people with digestive disorders who suffer from diarrhea, this is one of the first issues to address when seeking to improve the intake and absorption of zinc. B-12 is also important.
Patenaude also recommends limiting proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medications taken for the reduction of stomach acid, as they may reduce zinc absorption.
And she warns that “… you cannot just willy-nilly supplement zinc, or you can create… more harm [than] good – or a copper deficiency.”
High doses of zinc in the form of mineral supplements may weaken the body’s immune system, adversely affect essential copper, and cause gastrointestinal distress.
Get Your Daily Requirement
The USDA has guidelines for the recommended amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as natural sources from which we should try to get the majority of our nutrition.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of Dietary Supplements, women over the age of 19 require a zinc Daily Value (DV) of 8 milligrams per day, and men require 11 milligrams.
Unfortunately, the only places you’ll find this mineral listed as an actual ingredient are on the labels of fortified foods and vitamins. When eating healthy whole foods, good sources may not always be as clear.
Significant sources of nutrients are those that contain at least 20 percent of the daily value that’s recommended.
The best foods to eat to boost your zinc intake are animal protein sources. But what about grains and plant foods?
Grains and legumes contain phytates, acids known for their anti-inflammatory properties. However, they are also known for inhibiting the absorption of minerals.
For those who are zinc deficient, Patenaude recommends limiting excess high-phytate foods like grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, or soaking them before use to reduce their phytate content.
The best way to get crucial nutrients is to consume a varied and well-balanced diet. When in doubt, refer to the USDA and the NIH for guidance, and consult your family physician or a dietitian.
Here a Trace, There a Trace
Throughout the day, vitamin and mineral intake accumulates in our bodies, based on diet as well as other factors. While the amount of trace minerals we require is relatively small, their presence is essential to our metabolic function.
The following is a list of zinc-rich foods recommended by the NIH, with suggested recipes from Foodal to help you enjoy a varied and nutritious diet.
Oysters are the number one source of zinc. A three-ounce breaded and fried serving provides 74 milligrams for an incredible 493% DV.
I recommend our article Shellfish: 5 Fantastic Ways to Cook Clams, Oysters, and Mussels for great techniques for cooking oysters.
Another excellent source is beef chuck. Serving three braised ounces provides 7 milligrams, for 47% DV.
Alaska King Crab
Another top source is Alaska king crab. This delicious seafood is recommended because a three-ounce serving contains 6.5 milligrams for a 43% DV.
Be sure to read Crabs: Ultimate Guide to Buying, Preparing, and Cooking for more information on serving crab to your family.
Beef Patty/Ground Beef
The lowly beef patty rises to new heights when it is appreciated for its zinc content. A broiled three-ounce portion contains 5.3 milligrams for a 35% DV.
Our Cheap and Easy Hamburger Soup is an especially nutritious way to satisfy the hamburger lovers at your house.
Fortified Breakfast Cereal
When buying breakfast cereal, check the side of the box for a listing of nutrients. Fortified cereals are an excellent source of zinc. A ¾-cup serving contains 3.8 milligrams for a DV of 25%.
Looking for new ways to get your day off to a great start?
Our Breakfast Basics for Busy Days offers useful information for turning the most hectic meal of the day into the most enjoyable.
Lobster used to be a rare treat at my house, but considering its nutritive value, I justify the expense as an investment in good health.
Three ounces of cooked lobster meat contains 3.4 milligrams for a 23% DV, making it another excellent source of zinc.
Discover 4 Delicious Ways to Cook Lobster, and treat yourself as often as the budget allows.
A recipe that’s a favorite in my house is Grilled Lobster Tails with Herbed Butter and Baby Potatoes.
Why not fire up the gas grill tonight?
If pork is a hit with your family, you’ll appreciate knowing that a three-ounce loin chop has 2.9 milligrams for a DV of 19%, making it a very good source of zinc.
Our Guide to Roasting Times for Various Types of Meat has everything you need to know to roast a pork loin to mouth-watering perfection.
Baked beans are another very good source. Half a cup of a canned plain or vegetarian style contains 2.9 milligrams, for a DV of 19%.
Hearty and filling, the Slow-Cooker Baked Beans recipe in our Cookout Side Dish Round Up is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Chicken (Dark Meat)
Another good source is three ounces of dark meat chicken, for 2.4 milligrams and a DV of 16%.
This recipe for Chicken Thighs with Lemon Slices, Oregano, Garlic, and White Wine is a flavorful way to serve up a healthy dose.
Yogurt is not only a great snack on the go, eight ounces of the low fat variety contains 1.7 milligrams for 11% of your DV.
Or, try our recipe for Frozen Yogurt Popsicles with Oats and Blueberry Jam for a chilled out and nutritious breakfast.
The next time you need something to nibble, consider cashews. Nuts are excellent for snacking. And a one-ounce serving of dry-roasted cashews contains 1.6 milligrams, for a DV of 11%.
They’re also delicious in vegan-friendly dishes like Roasted Broccoli Soup with Healthy Cashews.
One-half cup of cooked chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, contains 1.3 milligrams for a DV of 9%.
And what better way is there to enjoy chickpeas than in hummus?
If you’re a pumpkin fan, try our recipe for Pumpkin Hummus with toasted pepitas on top. The seeds are another good source of zinc, with about 10 milligrams per 3.5-ounce serving.
Chickpeas are also amazing as a crunchy snack! Try our oven-roasted spicy and smoky chickpeas!
Ryan Whitcomb, RD, CDN, CLT of Gut RXN Nutrition works with patients with digestive disorders. He says, “… there are many negative side effects from not having enough zinc, which really highlights the importance nutrition plays in our everyday lives. Nutrition should never be underestimated!”
For those with autoimmune diseases, it’s not just a matter of taking a dose of zinc and calling it a day. We who suffer have what is referred to as a “leaky gut,” and we need help to keep our nutrients inside and on the job.
Whitcomb recommends the following to aid in the absorption of essential nutrients, including zinc:
- Rebalance external stressors with adequate sleep and relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation
- Remove allergic/sensitive foods from the diet
- Replace missing digestive enzymes
- Address and remedy nutrient deficiencies
- Restore microbiota with proper pre- and probiotics
A healthy gut that is equipped to receive and absorb nutrients is the way to go!
Eat a Variety of Foods
Trace minerals like zinc play a vital role in our bodies at the cellular level.
For most, a balanced diet provides such micronutrients effortlessly. For others, like those on severely restricted diets, maintaining healthy levels is a critical challenge that’s often compounded by absorption issues.
Enjoy the most varied diet you can, consisting of nutritious fruits, vegetables, and proteins. Consuming foods rich in nutrients provides the fuel to face each day with strength and vigor.
For more information on the sources and benefits of zinc in a healthy diet, or if you are experiencing symptoms of zinc deficiency, consult a physician or registered dietician before attempting to supplement or change your diet.
Do zinc-rich foods make up an adequate part of your diet? How do you incorporate healthy eating into your busy day? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments section below.
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assumes no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
Beef Stew and Pumpkin Hummus photos by Felicia Lim, Frozen Yogurt Popsicle photo by Kendall Vanderslice, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.