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Do you ever feel like it's impossible to know if you're getting all the vitamins and minerals that you need? It can seem overwhelming when there are so many different recommendations. Which minerals do you need most? One essential mineral that has incredible benefits is zinc
In your body, zinc is used for a wide variety of purposes. It is one of the most essential nutrients needed for a healthy body.
Let's take a look at how zinc helps your body, how it benefits kids, and some of the foods that can help you boost your natural zinc intake.
How Does Zinc Help Your Body?
There are many different ways that zinc helps your body. However, one of its most essential roles is the work it does in regulating the immune system. Zinc is the primary nutrient that triggers T cells. T cells play two crucial roles in your immune system: control and regulate immune responses and attack infected and dangerous cells (like cancer).
When zinc levels drop below average, your T cells become sluggish and dwindle. Without them, your body can't fight infections as easily. You also may be more susceptible to developing cancer.
Zinc also helps to regulate bowel movements. For years, zinc has been used as an effective treatment for diarrhea.
While diarrhea isn't much of a concern for people who live in developed countries, diarrhea still claims the lives of many children in developing countries. Not only does zinc help stop diarrhea, but it also helps to prevent it from recurring in the future.
Zinc also plays a critical role in our learning and memory. The zinc in our bodies helps to regulate how neurons talk to each other. We develop memories and learn knowledge by creating neural pathways. Without zinc, our neurons would be slow to communicate. As these neural connections generate at a slower rate, it can be more challenging to learn and remember new things.
Because of its essential role as a regulator of the immune system, zinc may also be effective in treating the common cold. Scientific studies show that increasing zinc intake may lessen the duration of the common cold by up to 40%.
It is even more effective if additional zinc is introduced within the first 24 hours of the signs of symptoms. In addition to a shorter duration, the severity of the cold may be lessened as well.
The immune system doesn't just fight off nasty bacteria and viruses; it also plays a role in wound healing. Likewise, zinc also helps to maintain healthy skin and muscle tissue. Often, patients with low zinc levels struggle with chronic wounds and ulcers. When babies get diaper rash, it is usually treated with a zinc-based cream.
How does zinc promote the healing and maintenance of healthy skin?
Studies show that zinc can stimulate new skin growth by decreasing inflammation and inhibiting bacterial growth. Applying zinc topically isn't a superficial solution; in fact, applying a zinc ointment to a wound can lead to increased zinc levels in the body. In this situation, the zinc works externally to promote new skin growth and then is absorbed through the skin into the body.
Zinc may also help reduce the risk and delay the onset of age-related chronic disease. This may be in part due to zinc's anti-inflammatory properties. Many chronic diseases are caused, in part, by chronic inflammation. Zinc helps to reduce inflammation, which may decrease your risk of chronic diseases due to inflammation, such as some cancers or arthritis.
Zinc also helps to promote healthy vision by boosting eye health. Some studies show that zinc can help to prevent cellular damage in the retina. This can reduce the chance of age-related macular degeneration. For those who already struggle with this disease, zinc can help slow the progression and delay vision loss for as long as possible.
Zinc Benefits for Kids
For children, zinc is particularly important. Zinc plays a vital role in kids' growth and development.
The role it plays isn't limited to brain and learning development; it also influences physical growth. Scientific studies show that kids with zinc deficiencies are typically under the weight and height recommendations for their age group.
Children with zinc deficiencies may suffer from:
- Slowed growth
- High rate of colds& infections
- Increased risk of developing learning disabilities
- Reduced attention span
Some studies suggest that zinc may also play a critical role in combating ADHD.
While zinc in red meats, whole-grain breads, beans, or seafood, it can be tricky to get picky toddlers to eat the right foods. It's important to introduce healthy foods early and often, with plenty of healthy choices. This can help your child become excited about new flavors and help you enforce healthy habits. The good news is that studies show that zinc supplements can be particularly helpful in normalizing zinc levels.
Top 7 Foods That Are High in Zinc
Supplements, while effective, can be pricey. Instead of turning to expensive, over-the-counter supplements, there are a wide variety of foods that can help boost your natural zinc levels.
Meat-eaters, you're in luck. Red meat is an excellent source of zinc. But if you'd prefer, you can also opt for lamb, pork, or dark-meat chicken. A 3.5-ounce serving of ground beef contains almost 5 mg of zinc. This is nearly half of the 11 mg daily recommendation for men.
If you prefer seafood over red meat, shellfish are a great way to get your daily dose of zinc. Unlike red meat, they are low in calories and high in good fats – like Omega-3 fatty acids. Oysters contain the highest amount of zinc out of all shellfish, but there is a wide variety of options that you can choose from. In a 3.5-ounce serving of Alaskan crab, there is almost 8 mg of zinc. How's that for a delicious dose of zinc?
For vegetarians and vegans who don't consume meat, legumes are an excellent source of zinc. Try chickpeas or lentils. A 3.5-ounce serving of cooked lentils contains 12% of the daily recommended zinc. However, you will probably need to consume more legumes than meat. This is because legumes typically have anti-nutrients that prevent your body from absorbing all of the zinc. While it is easier to get zinc from animal products, legumes provide a meatless alternative to satisfy your zinc needs.
Believe it or not, seeds can boost your daily zinc intake. Try opting for hemp, squash, pumpkin, or sesame seeds. A simple three tablespoons of hemp seeds contain almost 40% of your daily zinc needs. In addition to zinc, seeds are also a good source of fiber, healthy fats, and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
5. Dairy Products
Did you know that some dairy foods are excellent sources of zinc? Your body can absorb almost 100% of the zinc present in milk and cheese. A 3.5-ounce serving of cheddar cheese contains nearly 4 mg of zinc. Dairy foods are also typically rich in calcium and vitamin D, which both play an essential role in maintaining bone health.
Eggs also contain a good amount of zinc. A single, large egg is only 77 calories and packs a whopping 6 grams of protein plus other healthy fats and minerals. It also contains almost 1 mg of zinc. Although eggs don't provide a massive amount of zinc, they are an easy way to incorporate more zinc into your diet.
Mushrooms are an excellent source of zinc and are easy to enjoy in a variety of recipes. Stock up and add them to your favorite dish!
Are Nuts High in Zinc?
Similar to seeds, nuts can also provide a healthy dose of zinc. Nuts are the perfect convenience snack. Nuts are also packed full of fiber and may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
But which nuts contain the highest amount of zinc?
Hemp seeds provide the highest amount of zinc per serving. In one ounce, hemp seeds contain 3 mg of zinc. You can incorporate hemp seeds into cereals, salads, or yogurts for a quick and easy way to get more zinc in your diet.
Squash and pumpkin seeds are also a great source of zinc. In a one-ounce serving, these tiny seeds pack a whopping 2 mg of zinc. Try roasting them and salting them lightly for a great salty snack alternative.
Have you heard of pine nuts? These nuts contain 2 mg of zinc in a one-ounce serving. Try toasting some pine nuts and sprinkling them on a salad.
A 1-ounce serving of cashews contains 2mg of zinc. Try a handful of nuts (3.5 ounces) to get over half of your daily zinc need. That's a powerful handful of nutrients!
You could also try:
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Flax seeds
All of these are good options to quickly and easily get your daily dose of zinc.
Who is Most At Risk for Zinc Deficiency?
While zinc deficiency is rare in developed countries, some people are more susceptible than others. In the U.S., the most at risk are:
- Pregnant women
- Breastfeeding infants
- Elderly adults
It is essential that women who are pregnant get enough zinc daily. Balanced zinc levels are vital for the development of a healthy baby.
Those who struggle with alcoholism are also at increased risk because alcohol may make it more challenging for your body to absorb and digest zinc.
To keep your body healthy and fight off disease, make sure you are getting enough zinc in your diet daily. If you need to, you can supplement your diet with over-the-counter pills. However, there are many convenient and tasty ways to get all the zinc you need. So go ahead – indulge in that handful of roasted pumpkin seeds.