Did you know that the diets of 1 in 4 Canadians may be low in zinc? This increased risk of zinc deficiency is especially present in populations such as vegetarians, kids, pregnant ladies and breastfeeding moms. And it’s not just our diets. It has also been speculated that our soils have been depleted of this important mineral, thus putting the wider Canadian population at risk for zinc deficiency. But what does this mean? How important is zinc?
Why Do We Need Zinc?
Zinc’s role in human health is often underestimated. Zinc is needed for numerous aspects of cellular metabolism and is required for the catalytic activity of approximately 100 enzymes. It has a strong role in immune function, as well as protein synthesis, wound healing, and DNA synthesis. Zinc is also necessary for the elimination of carbon dioxide and maintaining the acid-base balance of the body. Zinc is crucial at times of growth and reproduction and is therefore extremely important for normal growth during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence. It is also required for proper sense of taste and smell.
What Are The Sings Of Zinc Deficiency?
There are currently no reliable and readily available assessment tools for zinc status. Zinc levels in hair, saliva, and blood can be measured, however all of these methods have limitations. Some symptoms of zinc deficiency include but are not limited to;
- Loss of taste
- Poor wound healing
- Retarded growth
- Loss of appetite
- Impaired immune function
- Delayed sexual maturation
- Hair loss
- Impotence and hypogonadism in males
Many of these symptoms are non-specific and often associated with other health conditions – therefore it is important to seek out a medical professional to ascertain whether a zinc deficiency is present.
How Much Zinc Do We Need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is an average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrients requirements of nearly all (97-98%) healthy individuals. Adult males require 11mg per day, females require 8mg per day. Pregnant women need 11mg per day, and these levels are increased to 12mg during lactation.
Where Do We Find Zinc?
The best and most available sources of zinc are meat and seafood. Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Vegetarian sources such as beans, nuts, whole-grains, dairy products and eggs are also a good source of zinc. Phytates which are present in whole grains, breads, legumes and nuts may inhibit the absorption of zinc by binding to the mineral and increasing excretion from the body.
Sprouting lentils and mung beans, and soaking nuts, seeds, and whole grains greatly increases our ability to absorb zinc from these foods. Sprouting and soaking help to break down phytate, allowing our bodies increased access to the zinc.
Here is a list of some foods containing the highest density of Zinc per 100 calories.
- Aduki beans (cooked, 1 cup) 4.1mg
- Pine nuts (1/4 cup) 3.1mg
- Pumpkin Seeds (1/2 cup) 2.6mg
- Lentils (cooked, 1 cup) 2.5mg
- *Ground beef (2oz/60g) 2.4mg
- Soy beans (cooked, 1 cup) 2.0mg
- Tofu, firm (1/2 cup) 1.3-2.0mg
- Cashews (1/4 cup) 1.9mg
- Wheat germ (2 tbsp) 1.8mg
- Quinoa (cooked, 1/2 cup) 0.8mg
- Mushrooms (cooked, 1/2 cup) 0.7mg
- *Chicken, roasted (2oz/60g) 0.7mg
- Miso (1 tbsp) 0.5mg
- Figs, dried (5) 0.5mg
- *Egg (1 medium) 0.5mg
- *Milk (1/2 cup) 0.5mg
- Mung Bean Sprouts, raw (1 cup) 0.4mg
- Apricots, dried (10) 0.3mg
*animal foods for comparison
How To Increase Zinc If You Are Following A Plant Based Diet
If you follow a plant based diet you may have an increased requirement for zinc due to the lesser bioavailability of zinc from plant based foods. There are some steps you can take to ensure that you are getting the maximum amount of zinc from you diet for optimum health;
- Sprout your lentils and mung beans and add to salads, wraps and sandwiches. See How To & Health Benefits Of Sprouting Foods for more information on sprouting,
- Soak your nuts and whole grains before snacking on them or adding to baking,
- Experiment with fermentation – the lactic acid formed when making sourdough may aid with mineral absorption. Fermentation of soy products may also increase the bioavailability of zinc such as in tempeh,
- Expand your food horizons with yummy high zinc choices such as tahini, pumpkin seeds and mixed legumes,
- Snack on a trail mix (nuts, seeds, and dried fruit) when you are at work or studying,
- If you don’t think you are getting enough zinc look towards zinc fortified foods or talk to your health professional about supplementation.
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