Why Zinc Is Vital to Your Health—And 9 Foods to Help You Get Enough

June 16, 2016

What if we told you there’s a little-talked-about mineral our bodies crave—which nearly 1 in 13 of us don’t get enough of? That would be zinc, a trace element found in certain foods that helps maintain a healthy immune system, builds proteins, triggers enzymes, creates DNA, heals wounds, and even maintains our sense of smell.

Here in the North America, as much as 8 percent of the population doesn’t get enough zinc, and that number is close to 20 percent worldwide. This deficiency can lead to stunted growth, skin problems, fatigue, and a disruption in how the body absorbs iron and copper.

In a new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, however, researchers discovered a diet lacking in zinc—and even a slight deficiency—can impact digestion and overall health.

By testing their hypotheses on piglets—whose anatomy closely resembles that of humans—researchers found that a short-term reduction in zinc intake affected the pancreas’s ability to produce digestive enzymes.

“Even short intervals of zinc deficiency in the diet should therefore be avoided,” explained Dr. Daniel Brugger, the lead researcher on the study. “Given the similarities between a pig’s organism and the human organism, we may draw the following conclusion when applying our results to the human body: an egg or two more once in a while can do no harm.”

For this reason, Brugger recommends that vegans and vegetarians take special care to monitor their zinc intake. Besides eggs, here are a few more foods that are rich in zinc:

  • Oysters (265 milligrams per 200-calorie serving)
  • Crab (16 milligrams per serving)
  • Lobster (10 milligrams per serving)
  • Beef (10 milligrams per serving)
  • Lamb (10 milligrams per serving)
  • Spinach (7 milligrams per serving)
  • Mushrooms (6 milligrams per serving)
  • Chocolate and cocoa (6 milligrams per serving)
  • Pumpkin and squash seeds (5 milligrams per serving)

If you think you might not be getting enough zinc, talk to your doctor to find out if a supplement is right for you, too.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

This article is related to:

Educational, Food, Health, Nutrition

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats, TakePart.com, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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