Why Zinc is Important in a Well-Balanced Diet and Supplements
Zinc supports immune function and is involved in cell growth, protein synthesis, DNA formation, and wound healing. It may also help protect against age-related vision loss.
Most people get the zinc they need from a well-balanced diet and multivitamin. But some people need more, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and children and those with conditions that affect zinc absorption.
Eat a Well-balanced Diet
Having a well-balanced diet is important for overall health and helps protect against diseases like Type 2 diabetes. A well-balanced diet includes eating a variety of foods from the 5 food groups daily in the recommended amounts. It is important to limit intake of foods high in saturated fat, added salt and added sugars (discretionary choices) as these can lead to weight gain, increased blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health concerns.
Zinc plays a role in many essential functions, including growth and development, protein synthesis and cell division. It also has antioxidant properties and helps reduce oxidative stress in the body.
Several studies have shown that people with Type 2 diabetes have lower zinc levels than those without the disease. Adding more zinc-rich foods to your diet may help improve your diabetes control and decrease your risk of developing complications like eye disease, heart disease and kidney damage.
Add Zinc-Rich Foods to Your Diet
Zinc boosts immune system function, promotes healthy cells and tissues, helps heal wounds, and supports a healthy reproductive system. Acute zinc deficiency is rare, but even mild deficiencies can slow growth and development, weaken immunity, cause skin rashes and diarrhea, and contribute to eye problems.
Zinc acts as an antioxidant, helping neutralize free radicals that damage cells. It also plays a role in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism and aids nutrient absorption.
Legumes are high in zinc, especially garbanzos (also known as chickpeas). A cup of cooked garbanzos provides 11% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of zinc for adults.
Shellfish are another great source of zinc. A 3-ounce serving of oysters contains over half the RDA for this nutrient. Other zinc-rich foods include dairy products, beef, poultry, pork, eggs, and nuts. To make sure you’re getting enough zinc, check the Nutrition Facts label of your food to see how much is in each serving. Also, check to see if the product is fortified with zinc.
Take a Zinc Supplement
Many people get the recommended amount of zinc in their diet through whole foods, but some may need to take a supplement. Zinc lozenges or syrup can help shorten the duration of a common cold, but more research is needed on their effectiveness for other symptoms. Zinc supplements also seem to reduce the risk of pneumonia in young children. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the right dose for you.
Zinc is involved in brain function and may reduce the risk of dementia, depression, and schizophrenia. It’s also important for eye health and can slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Clinical trials have shown that a combination of copper and zinc reduced the rate of AMD in some people. Zinc also can interfere with some medications, including antibiotics and corticosteroids, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about a safe dosage. Too much zinc can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and a metallic taste in the mouth.
Talk to Your Doctor
Zinc is a trace mineral—meaning your body needs super tiny amounts of it. Most adults need about 8 milligrams of it each day, though pregnant and lactating women require slightly more. Since zinc isn’t produced or stored in the body, it’s important to get it through your diet and supplements.
It’s rare to be deficient in this essential nutrient, but it can happen if you have digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease that prevent you from properly digesting food. Severe or prolonged diarrhea can also cause a zinc deficiency.
Some studies show that people with HIV who take zinc supplements have fewer infections, especially opportunistic infections, and better immune function. But more research is needed. Taking too much zinc (more than 40 mg per day) may interfere with the absorption of another important mineral, copper. That’s why it’s best to talk to your doctor about a personalized recommendation before trying high-dose zinc supplements. (Check out our hassle-free oral sprays to make it easier to encourage daily nutrient intake!) Fortunately, eating a well-rounded diet and taking a multivitamin usually provides all the zinc your body needs.