The first example of zinc deficiency was discovered in an Iranian male in 1961 who exhibited symptoms of anemia, dwarfism, and hypogonadism. The 21-year-old farmer subsisted on a diet of potatoes, flatbread, and milk. Shortly after, similar symptoms were discovered in young Egyptian males with the same dietary intake.
Health organizations have since become aware that zinc deficiency is a global problem. Malnutrition develops not because the diet is low in zinc but is more related to the bioavailability and absorption rates of zinc.
Phytic acid, a compound found in all edible seeds, legumes, and nuts, inhibits zinc absorption. However, it will only impede absorption during the meal, not throughout the rest of the day, and not during other meals where no foods containing phytic acids are eaten.
Zinc absorption rates are only affected if each meal contains phytic acid. Unfortunately, this is often the case for many developing nations where grains and legumes make up a significant portion of the diet.
Should You Reduce Phytic Acid Consumption to Increase Zinc Levels?
Phytic acid inhibits the absorption of iron and zinc, but avoiding foods containing the substance is not recommended, because it does provide some health benefits. The body can benefit from phytic acid’s antioxidant properties, and it is also thought to have beneficial effect against kidney stones and cancer. [*2] [*3]
Additionally, many foods that contain the nutrient make up a vital portion of the diet. It is relatively easy to reduce phytic acid content of food by using a variety of methods, including:
- Soaking the food overnight
- fermenting promotes the breakdown of phytates such as when making sourdough
- Sprouting beans, seeds, and legumes causes phytate breakdown
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
It’s a common misconception that zinc deficiency in the western diet is rare. However, with the prevalence of highly processed foods and soil depletion, it is now thought to be more of a problem than it was 60 years ago. If you are zinc deficient, these are some of the most common symptoms you may experience:
- Slow wound healing, dermatitis
- Hair loss
- Poor immune function, frequent infections
- Sleep problems
In severe cases, zinc deficiency can cause growth retardation in children.
Ten Reasons to Include a Zinc Supplement in Your Diet.
There are many health benefits provided by ensuring there is enough zinc in your diet. If you think your food choices may be zinc deficient, then a high-quality supplement could cover any shortfall.
Zinc Benefit #1: Supports Immune Function
Zinc is a component of just about every immune function in the body. Without zinc, there will be fewer immune cells, and white blood cell function may become compromised. Zinc also has antiviral properties because it binds to cell receptor sites that have the function of activating viral reactions to reduce viral activity. When you are fighting off a cold your white blood cells absorb higher amounts of zinc than usual, and a little extra zinc in your diet could help you fight off the disease.
Zinc Benefit #2: Promotes Healthy Skin
Zinc plays a vital role in healthy skin. The skin is the body’s largest organ and it’s first line of defense against foreign body’s like viruses and bacteria. When the skin is injured, the immune system activates to close and heal the wound. If the immune system is compromised, the wound will heal slowly and put the body at greater risk of infection.
Zinc Benefit #3: Zinc Helps with Food Digestion
Zinc is vital to many digestive functions, including the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Enzyme reactions in the body rely on the availability of zinc to perform these functions, which is why zinc deficiency is linked to leaky gut disorder and poor nutrient absorption.
Zinc Benefit #4: Promotes Prostate Health
Zinc is important to prostate health. Without it, the prostate may become enlarged and at greater risk of cancer. If you have a prostate disorder, then medical intervention is necessary, and zinc should be taken under close supervision. Research has revealed that prostate tumors have shown reductions in growth when zinc is brought to normal levels within the body. [*8]
Zinc Benefit #5: Zinc Can Help With Weight Control
Obesity can impact your immune system and put you at a greater risk of developing other complications such as heart disease and diabetes. Studies have shown that low levels of zinc in the body may lead to an increase in appetite and overeating. Bringing zinc levels to optimal limits seemed to help suppress the appetite. The weight reduction may be related to zinc’s ability to influence the production of leptin, which is a hormone that regulates hunger.
Zinc Benefit #6: The Role of Zinc in Protein Synthesis
Zinc has antioxidant properties, and apart from its many other roles in the body, it is also involved in protein synthesis, carbohydrate function, and enzymatic function. In short, zinc helps your body absorb essential nutrients your body needs for growth and repair.
Zinc Benefit #7: May Help Ward off Cancers
While there have been a lot of studies conducted on the anticancer properties of zinc, most were inclusive of other micronutrients and none have singled out zinc specifically. However, zinc supplementation has been linked with reduced oxidative stress. It is this immune strengthening property that researchers think could be responsible for zinc’s cancer fighting ability. [*5]
Zinc Benefit #8: Zinc May Help with Energy Levels
Zinc is necessary for normal muscle function. Researchers believe that decreased muscle function may be one of the main causes behind chronic fatigue. Whichever way you look at it, if you are feeling fatigued, you are unlikely to be motivated to exercise and keep fit, which is integral to a healthy and strong immune system.
Zinc Benefit #9: Zinc Helps with Cell Growth
The body needs to be able to produce immune cells when warding off or fighting disease. A steady supply of zinc is required to support this growth and replacement of depleted cells. Zinc is an essential component for building new cells including DNA construction, hormonal levels, and protein synthesis.
Zinc Benefit #10: Benefits Thyroid Health
When zinc levels are low, the body cannot produce enough Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). The result is low levels of T3 and T4. These are hormones responsible for regulating the body’s metabolism, energy levels, and cell production. Low levels of anti-thyroid antibodies are related to increased levels of autoimmunity.
15 Foods That Contain Zinc
Including the following in your diet will boost your nutritional intake of zinc
If you have noticed a sudden craving for sweet or salty foods, then it might be a sign you need to include more zinc into your diet. There’s sure to be something you like in the following list of 15 foods that are high in zinc.
Natural Source of Zinc #1: Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate might not be your favorite variety for satisfying a sweet tooth, but for every 100 grams of chocolatey goodness, your body will benefit from around 9.6 milligrams of zinc. Go for the highest quality, as these will contain fewer calories and will also be a good source of antioxidants.
Natural Source of Zinc #2: Potatoes
One large potato is good for around 1mg of zinc, which is a not too shabby 9% of the daily value (DV). Sweet and regular are both excellent sources of zinc.
Natural Source of Zinc #3: Whole Grains
Wheat, oats, rice, and quinoa have some zinc, but their phytates bind to the zinc to make less of it available. Still, whole grains are fantastically healthy for you in general.
Natural Source of Zinc #4: Cashews
A healthy snack that will net you just over 5.35 milligrams of zinc is cashews. You can eat them on their own, throw a few in your stir fry, or roast with a little olive oil.
Natural Source of Zinc #5: Seeds
Watermelon seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds all contain high levels of zinc, so mix them up for a healthy snack you can eat anytime.
Natural Source of Zinc #6: Legumes
Legumes include chickpeas, beans, and lentils. However, a few legumes also contain phytates but are still an excellent source of zinc for vegetarians and vegans.
Natural Source of Zinc #7: Mushrooms
There are more than 100 different mushrooms, but just 100 grams of the popular shiitake variety can supply you with 7.66 milligrams of zinc.
Natural Source of Zinc #8: Kale
At around 3% of the DV for every 100g, kale isn’t the biggest source of zinc on this list, but eating a variety of vegetables comes with its own extensive list of health benefits.
Natural Source of Zinc #9: Lentils
One hundred grams of cooked lentils will supply around 12% of your DV and be an excellent source of protein and iron.
Natural Source of Zinc #10: Spinach
Spinach is one of the healthiest foods because of its high concentrations of vitamins and minerals. With less than 1 milligram of zinc per 100g, it’s not top of the list for zinc content, but spinach’s many other nutritional qualities help to make it a worthwhile addition to your diet.
Natural Source of Zinc #11: Avocado
Avocados have around the same proportion of zinc as spinach, which is 0.8mg per 100g. They are also a rich source of many other vitamins and minerals, like B-6, C, E, and K, as well as magnesium and potassium.
Natural Source of Zinc #12: Chickpeas
There is 1.5mg of zinc in 100g of chickpeas, and they are also an excellent source of protein for plant-based diets.
Natural Source of Zinc #13: Almonds
Most nuts are a good source of zinc, including almonds. One hundred grams of almonds provides over 3 mg of zinc, which is around 20% of the DV. Plus, you are also getting a healthy supply of fats and fiber, and quite a few other vitamins and minerals.
Natural Source of Zinc #14: Quinoa
A serving of 100g of quinoa has just over 1.09 mg or about 7% of the DV of zinc. A typical serving of quinoa is one cup (around 200g), which will give you around 2 mg of zinc and about 13% of the DV.
Natural Source of Zinc #15: Brussel Sprouts
Brussel sprouts aren’t the best source of zinc. Raw Brussel sprouts have 0.42mg per 100g (3% of DV). Cooked Brussels have about 0.33 mg of zinc, which is 2% of the DV. However, they are also an excellent source of protein as far as vegetables go, as well as vitamin C and other antioxidants.
Best Supplements that Contain Zinc
Zinc is a critical and valuable mineral affecting many organ systems and conditions in the body. Ultimately please note that while Zinc may help with these issues, if you have any of the aforementioned symptoms or conditions it is highly recommended you seek medical advice.