Zinc rich foods are one of the best ways to introduce one of the most essential minerals in your diet. Second only to Iron, Zinc is a necessary micro nutrient for our body and brain.
Micronutrients are those nutrients that your body really needs, even if in small quantities. We hear dietitians talking about the percentage of carbs, proteins, and fats, etc. But it is very easy to forget about these micronutrients. Yet, they are so vital.
Zinc, in particular, plays so many roles. For example, zinc is involved in gene expression; enzyme functions; immune function; synthesis of proteins, DNA and RNA synthesis; wound healing; growth and development; cholesterol and glucose metabolism; fertility, etc.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg!
In this post you will learn about the health benefits of zinc, how much zinc do you need to include in your diet, what are the best zinc rich foods for vegetarians and for those who consume animal products.
Also, we will look into the causes and symptoms of zinc deficiency that you should avoid. Let’s get started!
Interesting Facts about Zinc
- It plays an important role in cell growth, differentiation and metabolism.
- More than 300 enzymes are dependent on Zinc.
- Zinc is important for the structure of proteins and cell membranes.
- It is important in gene expression.
- Zinc is vital for proper functioning of the immune system. It stimulates our immune to defend against bacteria and harmful pathogens.
Now, let’s really dive into the numerous zinc health benefits there are.
Health Benefits of Zinc for PCOS
PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is sometimes referred to as PCOD. It is a set of symptoms that can be characterized by the presence of cysts (from immature eggs) on the ovaries.
Thankfully, zinc improves PCOS symptoms in many ways. How? Here’s how.
What does zinc have to do with PCOS and Hormone Balance?
When considering zinc for PCOS, researchers have found some connections between zinc and PCOS. However, one thing is clear: women with PCOS have lower levels of zinc in their bodies. So, what are these connections?
- First, zinc is important for hormonal health. It is involved in the production of sex hormones estrogen (the female hormone) and progesterone. These two hormones cannot be ignored if you’ll have healthy, regular periods.
- Another thing is this zinc inhibits the secretion of prolactin. This helps improve symptoms like irregular periods, hirsutism, and hormonal acne. Also, prolactin would depress estrogen levels in your body, and so disturb hormone levels. That could cause irregular periods. But with zinc, you can prevent this.
- Finally, zinc blocks excess androgens. If you’re familiar with how PCOS works, you’ll understand that androgens (male hormones) are a problem in this case. However, zinc blocks the effect of excess androgens. Thereby, it improves symptoms like hair loss, alopecia, abdominal weight gain, etc.
Benefits of Zinc for Skin, Immunity, Hair and Fertility
What are the health benefits of zinc? It improves the symptoms of hormone imbalance. Here are some of these health symptoms and health conditions that you can improve by taking foods rich in zinc and zinc supplements:
1. Alopecia (Hair Loss)
40-70% of women with PCOS experience hair loss. It is a result of excess androgens. Studies have confirmed that taking 50mg/day of zinc for eight weeks significantly reduces hair loss. Remember that zinc blocks the effects of excess androgens.
Hirsutism is another result of hyperandrogenism(excess androgens). 60-80% of women with PCOS experience this. Excessive hair grows on the face(beards and mustaches), arms, thighs, even neck, and back. Taking zinc for PCOS can improve this too.
3. Thyroid Health
PCOS diminishes the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. On the other hand, zinc improves the metabolism of thyroid hormones. If a person has zinc deficiency, they will have lower rates of metabolism. Taking zinc rich foods can help to avoid this.
PCOS can make it very difficult to get pregnant, though not impossible. After all, PCOS is the number one cause of anovulatory infertility. However, zinc can help to improve the development, maturation, and ovulation of eggs.
5. High blood sugar levels
Zinc has anti-inflammatory properties. Thus, when you include zinc foods in your diet, you also increase your overall health.
7. PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)
Women with hormone imbalances tend to have frequent and severe PMS. For example, they experience painful periods. Simply taking zinc supplements can help to relieve this. 30-50mg of zinc a few weeks before the period helps a lot.
8. Zinc for Fertility
Zinc holds a lot of benefits for women with PCOS. However, every woman can benefit greatly from taking foods high in zinc content.
There are just too many benefits that come with that. Pregnant women particularly have a lot to gain.
Aside from the fact that zinc improves fertility as we established above, here are some more:
- Healthy babies
- Lowered risk of preterm delivery
- Zinc generally supports pregnancy
9. Supports Immunity
Zinc strengthens all the functions of the immune system as generation of immunity cells, communication and memory of pathogens. Hence, regular consumption of zinc rich foods is essential for all age groups, specifically children and expecting women.
10. Prevents Obesity and Metabolic Disorders
Studies show that regular consumption of foods high in zinc is beneficial in controlling metabolic disorders like obesity and insulin resistance in all age groups.
Hence, when you have sufficient zinc levels, you can be sure to have a strong metabolism and detoxification processes going on in the body. This helps to keep your weight in control.
11. Antimicrobial and Antiviral Action
Studies show that daily administration of Zinc enhances the immunity. It reduces the intensity and frequency of health disorders as viral and bacterial infections in the body.
12. Prevents Atherosclerosis
Regular consumption of foods high in zinc has a beneficial effect in the treatment of inflammation and high cholesterol.
Zinc deficiency is related to premature hardening and narrowing of the arteries. It poses the health risks of heart disease.
13. Prevents Age-related vision problems
Macular degeneration can lead to blindness in the elderly. Macula is part of retina that is responsible for central vision. As age increases, Zinc deficiency occurs. Thus enzymes dependent on Zinc in the macula are affected.
Studies indicate that Zinc supplementation or increased intake of Zinc food sources can help to prevent the condition.
Zinc Deficiency and Low Zinc Levels
Low levels of zinc in the body can severely affect the functioning of several body systems such as your skin, fertility, digestion, mental wellness and mood, immunity and hair growth.
Causes of Low Zinc Levels in the Body
- Inadequate dietary intake, as high cereals and legumes intake with less meat intake.
- Poor absorption as in case of inflammatory bowel syndrome.
- Increased fecal excretion of Zinc as in diarrhea.
- Infections can decrease Zinc concentration in the blood.
- Genetic disorders as acrodermatitis enteropathica where impaired Zinc absorption and uptake occur. It is characterized by diarrhea.
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
In general, clinical manifestations of zinc deficiency vary with age:
- In early infancy, diarrhea is a prominent symptom.
- Zinc deficiency also leads to impaired cognitive function, behavioral problems, impaired memory, learning disability, and neuronal atrophy in babies and children.
- Skin problems become more frequent as the child grows older.
- Alopecia, growth retardation and recurrent infections.
- Chronic non healing skin ulcers.
Recommended Dietary Requirement (RDA) for Zinc
|7 – 12 months
|1 – 3 years
|4 – 8 years
|9 – 13 years
|14 – 18 years Male
|14 – 18 years Female
|≥ 19 years Male
|≥ 19 years Female
Interesting Facts About How Your Body Uses Zinc From Foods
- Zinc is liberated from the food as free ions during the digestion process. Then, it binds with other chemicals before it arrives in the small intestine.
- The absorption of Zinc from the small intestine is dependent on its concentration in the foods. Thus foods high in Zinc have better chances of giving you required Zinc.
- However, when you consume zinc in excess then your body’s capability to absorb zinc reduces significantly. Thus, if you are on high zinc diet or pop in zinc pills, you don’t get all the benefit.
- For those struggling with zinc deficiency, it may be a good option to consider zinc supplement or frequent consumption of zinc rich foods (rather than loading them up in few meals only).
- When it is absorbed, about 70% of it is bound to albumin protein. So, any disturbance in albumin in blood will affect Zinc.
Diet Tips and Zinc Rich Foods to Naturally Raise Your Zinc Levels
Meats and animal based Zinc rich foods
Zinc bioavailability (the fraction of zinc retained and used by the body) is relatively high in animal-based zinc foods. This is because animal-based foods contain amino acids (cysteine and methionine) that improve zinc absorption.
Some examples are:
- Seafoods as Shellfish, Oysters, Lobsters, Crabs
- Red meats as beef and liver.
Top Plant Based Zinc rich foods
The zinc in whole grain foods and plant proteins is less bio available. This is due to high content of phytic acid in these foods. Phytic acid reduces zinc absorption in the body.
That’s make sure that whole grains are properly cooked, soaked, milled or sprouted to reduce the effect of phytic acid.
- Brown Rice
- Whole Wheat
- Dried Beans and lentils
- Leafy Greens
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
- Fermented whole grain foods
- Cocoa Powder
Dietary Tip: 4 tablespoons of sesame seeds, or pumpkin seeds, or 2 cups of sprouted beans will cover your daily requirement for Zinc.
Zinc Toxicity | When you have too much Zinc
There is a common saying that ‘too much of everything is bad.’ While chasing foods with high zinc content, it is possible to get too much zinc. That is why you should follow dietary recommendations.
How do you know when you are eating too much zinc? Well, you notice these symptoms of zinc toxicity:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal cramps
- Reduced immune function
- Decreased “good” HDL cholesterol levels
Start eating zinc rich foods today
We tend to ignore micronutrients as we focus on proteins, carbs, fats, and all the other ones we think are important. However, micronutrients are as well important, and they should be included in the diet. Else, we won’t get the best results even from the macronutrients.
Also, minerals and vitamins are best absorbed in your body from your diet and by taking in whole natural foods. This is because natural foods contain the right amount and form of the essential micronutrients that our body needs. Also, natural foods have supporting compounds that boost the absorption of nutrients in our body.
Before you Go!
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How are you trying to get sufficient zinc and essential micronutrients in your diet? What are the foods that you find most helpful?
Wishing you vibrant health!