How And Why To Make Sure Your Diet Contains Zinc
Keeping an eye on your zinc intake is one of those small adjustments that can make a big difference in your health and how you feel day to day, especially if you are in an at-risk category for zinc deficiency. The most common trace mineral in the body after iron, zinc helps your cells grow, keeps your immune system strong, heals tissue damage, and is involved in nearly one hundred enzyme systems, more than all of the other trace minerals combined.
That’s why your zinc intake is so important to feeling well day to day: it plays a role in the critical processes that make you strong, in more ways than one. See how much a trace amount of zinc can do for your body in just three of its many vital roles keeping you at your best.
Zinc Health Benefit #1: Zinc Builds Strong Muscles
All muscles need zinc for repair and regeneration, and the soleus muscle can’t function at all without it. If your diet is low in zinc, you may notice the difference when you exercise, especially if you have trouble building muscle or notice you’re straining from your calf.
Zinc Health Benefit #2: Zinc Boosts Your Immune System
Zinc supports growth and performance of immune cells, so even a slight deficiency in zinc can impact your body’s ability to protect itself from viruses and bacteria by slowing the activity of lymphocytes, neutrophils, and macrophages. Crucially, zinc keeps the thymus gland in working order, and that’s key to a healthy and strong immune system because the thymus produces T cells, the white blood cells that fight infections and viruses.
If you don’t get enough zinc, the thymus gland can atrophy, reducing your T cell count and the antibodies available to ward off infections. The result: infections last longer because you have a harder time fighting them off. That’s why some people take zinc lozenges at the onset of a cold, which some studies suggest may shorten the duration of the cold.
Zinc Health Benefit #3: Zinc Protects Against Disease
The pancreas has the second-highest concentration of zinc in your body, where zinc plays a pivotal role in maintaining your insulin levels and the insulin binding to your liver cells. As a result, getting the right amount of zinc in your diet can protect against diabetes and help prevent insulin resistance, which increases risk of stroke, heart attack, and obesity,
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Zinc?
Due to its key roles supporting cell growth, muscle growth, and immunity, zinc deficiency can have wide-ranging effects, including but not limited to:
- Hair loss
- Stunting of growth
- Vision problems
- Infections that take longer to heal
- Lack of alertness
- Loss of sense of taste or smell
How To Get Enough Zinc In Your Diet
Your body can’t produce zinc on its own or store it, so all of the zinc in your body comes from what you eat, and you need to replenish the supply regularly. Like other trace minerals, you don’t need much zinc in your diet to stay healthy, but you do need to be mindful of some of the trace mineral’s quirks to get the right amount in your food.
Foods rich in zinc include meats (red more than white), poultry, fish, shellfish, and dairy. Though fortified breakfast cereals, legumes, and whole grains are also high in zinc, many grains have a chemical called phytic acid that blocks your absorption of zinc, iron and calcium.
At-Risk Groups For Zinc Deficiency
People Experiencing Periods of Rapid Growth
Zinc is especially important during key times when your body is growing rapidly and needs zinc’s power to help cells multiply and grow. Make sure your family is getting enough zinc during growth spurts in childhood and adolescence, and during pregnancy.
People on Medications or With Medical Conditions That Impact Appetite
People with diseases or on medications that result in reduced appetite, particularly the elderly, have an elevated risk of contracting infections and ulcers due to zinc deficiency.
Vegans, Vegetarians, and People With Diets That Avoid Red Meat
Since meat and dairy provide the most zinc in most diets and red meat contains four times as much zinc as white meat, people who stick with white meats, along with vegetarians and vegans, should keep an eye on their zinc intake from other sources —and remember not to rely on grains, which may work against you by blocking your absorption of the zinc they contain.
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