It is important to be aware of the different types of foods containing zinc, because zinc in an important mineral in our diets. As with most vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, there are biological consequences to too little zinc intake and too much zinc intake.
Zinc is needed for a healthy immune system, to help the body produce around 100 enzymes, and it helps maintain the senses of smell and taste. Zinc also plays a role in the synthesis of proteins and wound healing. Adequate zinc intake is especially important during pregnancy and childhood as it helps with cell division and growth. Zinc is not stored in the body and therefore daily intake of zinc through foods or supplements is necessary.
Foods containing zinc are plentiful and most people do not need to supplement their diets. Foods containing the most zinc per serving include oysters, beef shanks, crab, and pork shoulder. As you can see, animal proteins are the best source of zinc. For vegetarians, a partial list of foods containing zinc includes fortified breakfast cereal, beans, cashews, chickpeas, and almonds.
An interesting fact about zinc absorption is that zinc from animal proteins is better used by your body. Only about 40 percent of zinc from plants is absorbed and able to be used by the body. This is due to other nutrients in plants that bind to the zinc and make it less available to your body. There are ways to prepare vegetarian foods which make zinc absorption easier.
Zinc is beneficial to the immune system. There are several products on the market containing zinc that are advertised to shorten the duration of the common cold. While it is established that zinc deficiency depresses the immune system, there is no consensus within the scientific community that additional zinc supplementation will help fight the common cold. In fact, zinc products that are in nose sprays, intranasal, have been called into question due to safety reasons by the Food and Drug Administration. There are numerous reports of loss of smell, sometimes permanent, linked to these sprays.
Zinc deficiency can cause several problems. Retarded growth in children, lack of appetite, and as already noted, compromised immune function are also hallmarks of zinc deficiency. Severe deficiency of zinc can cause diarrhea, eye and skin lesions, and hair loss among other symptoms. In developed countries it is rare to find zinc deficiency due to adequate diet and fortified foods. Zinc deficiency is more common is countries where foods containing zinc are not readily available and commonly eaten.
People with digestive disorders are more susceptible to zinc deficiency even with sufficient diets of foods containing zinc. Crohn’s disease, short bowel syndrome, and chronic liver disease are examples of medical conditions that make it harder for the body to absorb and properly use zinc. Older adults are also susceptible to minor zinc deficiency.
For vegetarians and others with problems absorbing and using zinc due to various medical problems can take zinc supplements. Vitamins C, E, and B6 also can be taken as they have been found to increase the absorption of available zinc in the body. Additional magnesium could also be useful.
As stated earlier, most people in developed countries get enough zinc in their diets and do not require supplementation. There are risks to excessive amounts of zinc in the body. Toxic amounts of zinc in children can be as little as 12 mg and in adults toxic amounts begin at around 40 mg. High zinc intake can result in vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and cramps. Long-term excessive zinc intake can cause low copper levels, decreased immune status, and decreased levels of high-density lipoproteins, HDL – the good cholesterol.