Zinc is an element that has a wide range of roles in our body. It helps hundreds of different enzymes function. One of these enzymes is called superoxide dismutase (SOD). This enzyme is what helps keep the superoxide molecule, which is oxygen that has been energized to become highly reactive (and destructive), from causing havoc in your cells. Zinc, is involved with enzymes that digest proteins and carbohydrates, enzymes that support the immune system, and enzymes that help sperm and fetuses grow.
Zinc helps all of your five senses function. It also helps regulate how fast you release vitamin A from your liver, regulate your insulin levels, and helps your thyroid produce hormones.
Zinc has been traditionally used to help heal wounds and especially burns. It may also help heal a variety of skin conditions like eczema. Here is a list of other diseases zinc may help ward off: ADHD, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, herpes, immune disorders, infertility, sensory disorders, ulcers and Wilson’s disease.
The Common Cold
Zinc may help fend off the common cold as well. However, studies are split on how effective this is. Zinc lozenges may help if you take it before the cold hits but you would have to take several lozenges per day in order for it to be effective. On top of that, the amount of zinc you would be ingesting is far above your daily requirement.
Vegetarians and Vegans
Vegetarians and vegans are most at risk for being zinc deficient because zinc is mainly found in meats and dairy foods. Men, who are vegetarian or vegan are most at risk for developing prostate cancer since studies show a link between low zinc levels and prostate cancer. The good news is that you can find zinc in foods that are not animal based such as breakfast cereals and beans. Most, if not all, cereals are fortified with 25% of your daily value of zinc per ¾ cup serving. Most beans contain around 2.9 grams of zinc per serving.
There is a downside to relying on beans and whole grains, which are the next best sources zinc besides meat and seafoods. Beans and whole grains contain a compound called phytic acid, which binds to zinc and can prevent your body from absorbing it. This is why vegetarians and vegans may need to get up to 50% more zinc than those who are not vegetarians or vegans. In order to remove phytic acid from beans, soak them for 3 hours in water that is 140 degrees farenheit. This will remove about half of the phytic acid from beans. Soaking them longer or at a different temperature may actually decrease the amount of phytic acid that is removed.
Zinc seems to play a very important role in prostate cancer. This type of cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men. The prostate gland has the highest concentrations of zinc in the male body. Zinc levels in the prostates of men who have prostate cancer, are lower than those without normal prostates. It’s not clear how zinc plays a role in preventing or possibly fighting off cancer but it’s especially important that men get 100% of their daily value of zinc. Men who are vegans or vegetarians are at an even greater risk of developing prostate cancer than men who are not because these diets lack zinc.
Too Much or Too Little Zinc?
About 12% of the population in the U.S is deficient in zinc. Our bodies are not very good at storing zinc so it may be likely to become zinc deficient especially if we are eating a diet lacking this element. Signs of being zinc deficient include chronic infections, skin irritation or conditions like eczema, rashes, hair loss, poor appetite, weight loss or slow healing wounds. Vegans and vegetarians are most at risk as well as alcoholics or those who ingest excessive amounts of caffeine.
Some symptoms of getting too much zinc in your diet may include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headaches, brain fog or felling lethargic, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting. You may experience these symptoms if you are an excessive meat or seafood eater or take more than the recommended amount of zinc lozenges daily. Too much zinc can also interfere with your ability to absorb copper.
How Much Zinc?
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of Zinc
|Age||Male||Female||Pregnant||Lactating||Vegan or Vegetarian||Upper Limits|
|0-6 Months||2 mg||2 mg|
|7-12 Months||3 mg||3 mg|
|1-3 Years||3 mg||3 mg|
|4-8 Years||5 mg||5 mg|
|9-13 Years||8 mg||8 mg|
|14-18 Years||11 mg||9 mg||12 mg||13 mg||11-18 mg||40 mg|
|19+ Years||11 mg||8 mg||11 mg||12 mg||11-18 mg||40 mg|
Vegans and vegetarians should aim for up to 50% more than the normal RDA.The amounts listed for infants 0-6 months are Adequate Intakes (AI) of zinc. The upper limit is the largest amount deemed safe enough for consumption. Going beyond this limit may cause the side effects associated with getting too much zinc.
Foods High in Zinc
Oysters top the list by far providing 74 mg of zinc per serving. For adults, this is over 490% of the recommended dietary allowance for zinc.
This section of beef comes from the shoulder portion of the cow. It can be used to make burgers, steaks, or cut into chunks to make beef stew. A 3 oz serving of this portion of beef contains about 7 mg of zinc per serving.
These crabs can have about 6.5 mg of zinc per 3 oz serving, which is a little over 40% of the daily value for adults.
The amount of zinc in cereals can vary greatly depending on whether they have been fortified or not. Fortified cereals can have over 100% of your daily value of zinc in a standard 3/4 cup serving. Please note that the percent of your daily value is calculated for adults and not children. Therefore, it’s important to look at the actual amount of zinc in the cereal. A partial list of cereals that are fortified with zinc (and other vitamins and minerals) includes:
- Kellogg’s All Bran (15 mg per serving)
- Kellogg’s Complete Oat Bran Flakes (15.5 mg per serving)
- General Mills Multi-Grain Cheerios (15.5 mg per serving)
- Kellogg’s Product 19 (15 mg per serving)
- General Mills Total Corn Flakes (15 mg per serving)
- General Mills Whole Grain Total (15 mg per serving)
Beans are another good source of zinc. A half cup of cooked beans can contain around 3 mg of zinc. This is roughly 19% of the daily value for adults.
Our bodies are not good at storing zinc so it’s important that we get our daily requirement. Zinc supplements can be helpful in this case although your diet should always be your number one source. If you choose to take zinc supplements or must take them, look for supplements that have been inspected by a reputable third party company. Do not go for mega doses of zinc, stick to supplements that provide no more than 100% of your daily value. As of August 2014, all brands tested by Consumerlab.com have passed their tests. Some brands provide zinc supplements that are also safe for vegans and vegetarians. Read the labels first before selecting a supplement. The best forms of zinc are zinc chelate, zinc gluconate, and zinc citrate. Of these forms, zinc chelate seems to have the best absorption rate. Zinc sulfate is an inorganic form of zinc and it may not be absorbed as well as the other forms of zinc.