Zinc is an essential element for plants and animals alike. But when it comes to health food recognition, it seems to be an under-appreciated nutrient.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins B and C are much more familiar to most people than zinc is. You must not be content, however, to leave your nutritional knowledge incomplete. Read on to learn about zinc’s function in the body, its health benefits and dietary sources, and one delicious way to prepare zinc-rich foods.
Zinc in Your Body
The human body only needs trace amounts of zinc, but that doesn’t diminish zinc’s importance. It is vital to cellular metabolism, enzyme activity, and healthy immune function. It plays a role in DNA and protein synthesis, cell division, and the body’s ability to heal wounds. Zinc is also essential for healthy growth and properly functioning senses of taste and smell.
Zinc deficiencies, in turn, can cause:
- loss of appetite
- slow-healing wounds
- acne, eczema, and other skin conditions
- slowed growth
- learning and memory difficulties
- increased susceptibility to infections
Inadequate zinc levels may also cause depression and, in pregnant women, long or difficult delivery. However, more research is needed in these areas.
Health Benefits of Zinc
Zinc can benefit your body in many ways, including the following:
Immune Regulation – Zinc regulates immune function. It activates T-cells, which control immune responses and attack infected or cancerous cells. It also drives the function of macrophages, neutrophils, and natural killer cells, all of which aid in eliminating foreign particles and harmful microorganisms from the body.
Treats Diarrhea – Zinc can treat and prevent diarrhea. Diarrhea kills 1.6 million children aged 4 years and under every year. However, according to a study done in Bangladesh, administering a 10-day zinc treatment to children with diarrhea successfully treated the condition.
Increase Memory – Zinc has positive effects on learning and memory. Since it helps regulate neuron communication, adequate zinc levels aid one’s ability to learn and form memories.
Treats Common Cold – Zinc can treat the common cold. Supplements given to people suffering from the common cold decreased the severity and duration of their symptoms. People who took zinc within 24 hours of their first symptoms regained their health faster. Zinc may have the ability to directly inhibit rhinovirus from getting a foothold in the body and reproducing.
Heals Wounds – Zinc helps wounds heal. Zinc plays a vital role in skin structure and is found in many topical salves used to treat wounds and skin irritations. According to a Swedish study, zinc may have the ability to stimulate skin cell regrowth, mitigate inflammation, and prevent bacteria from growing.
Male Fertility – Zinc can aid in male fertility. It may help increase sperm count and quality, thus boosting fertility.
Acne Treatment – Zinc may also be an effective treatment for acne, ADHD, osteoporosis, and pneumonia. Research for these uses, however, is ongoing.
Dietary Sources of Zinc
The United States recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of zinc for women is 8 mg/day. RDA for men is 11 mg/day. Requirements for children 1-8 years of age is 3-5 mg/day, and for children 9 years and older, 8 mg/day is required. Pregnant and lactating women require as much as 11-13 mg/day for the healthy growth of their babies.
Since the body can’t store zinc, daily intake of the mineral is required. Supplements are available over the counter, but getting your daily dose from your food is preferable. Fortunately, zinc is found in many foods including animal meats, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, and dairy. Some of the foods with the highest zinc contents are:
- raw Pacific oysters (14.1 mg per 3 oz)
- braised lean beef chuck roast (7 mg per 3 oz)
- canned baked beans (6.9 mg per 1/2 cup)
- cooked King Alaskan crab (6.5 mg per 3 oz)
- lean ground beef (5.3 mg per 3 oz)
- cooked wild rice (2.2 mg per 1/2 cup)
- cooked green peas (1.2 mg per cup)
- pecans (1.3 mg per oz)
- dry roasted peanuts (0.9 mg per oz)
It is important to know that plant-based sources of zinc also contain phytates, which inhibit the absorption of zinc by the body. Phytates are present in large amounts in whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts, and some tubers; trace amounts are present in some fruits and vegetables.
For this reason, up to 50 percent more zinc-rich food is recommended for vegetarians. However, fermenting foods, partially removing bran from grains, and sprouting seeds can reduce the amount of phytates.
Eat Your Zinc!
Try this delicious recipe made with zinc-rich beef chuck roast.
Classic Beef Pot Roast>
(Jeanne Thiel Kelley, cookinglight.com)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 (3-pound) boneless chuck roast, trimmed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups coarsely chopped onion
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 large carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
- 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- Fresh thyme leaves (optional)
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350º.
Step 2: Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper roast. Add roast to pan; brown on all sides, then remove Add onion to pan; sauté until tender.
Step 3: Return roast to pan. Add red wine, thyme, garlic, beef broth, and bay leaf; bring to a simmer. Cover and bake at 350° for 1 1/2 hours.
Step 4: Add carrots and potatoes to pan. Cover and bake until vegetables are tender. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Shred meat with 2 forks.
Serve roast with vegetable mixture and cooking liquid. Garnish with thyme leaves, if desired.
- Nordqvist, Joseph. “What are the health benefits of zinc?” Medical NewsToday, 5 Dec, 2017. Web. 11 May, 2018
- Office of Dietary Supplements. “Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2 Mar, 2018. Web. 11 May, 2018
- Nagel, Ramiel. “Living with Phytic Acid.” The Weston A. Price Foundation. 26 Mar, 2010. Web. 11 May, 2018