You may already know that iron is a precious metal for the body, but zinc deserves some attention too. They are often paired together because they are found in similar foods, such as red meat and poultry. But zinc is currently in the spotlight for its potential role in immune boosting, fighting colds and helping with impaired vision. Here’s a closer look at this important nutrient.
Zinc is a mineral that’s essential for a healthy diet. All adult females over age 18 require eight milligrams per day, while men need 11 milligrams. That’s an easy amount to get for people who regularly enjoy beef, seafood, pork and chicken. Zinc is also found in smaller quantities in some nuts, seeds, legumes and dairy products. Oysters have more zinc than any other food, but red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in the North American diet.
Phytates, which are found in whole-grain breads, cereals and legumes, can bind zinc and inhibit its absorption. Because of this, the availability of zinc from grains and plant foods is lower than that from animal foods. So, while pork tenderloin and pumpkin seeds both contain zinc, the body has an easier time absorbing zinc from the pork.
Here is the zinc content of select foods:
of zinc (mg)
|Oysters, 6 medium||76.7|
|Beef shanks, cooked, 3 ounces||8.9|
|Crab, Alaska king, cooked, 3 ounces||6.5|
|Beef, flank steak, 3 ounces||5.0|
|Turkey thigh, 3 ounces||4.0|
|Pork shoulder, cooked, 3 ounces||4.2|
|Chicken leg, roasted, 1 leg||2.7|
|Pork tenderloin, cooked, 3 ounces||2.5|
|Pumpkin seeds, 1 ounce||2.2|
|Baked beans, ½ cup||1.7|
|Cashews, 1 ounce||1.6|
|Chickpeas, ½ cup||1.3|
|Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce||1.2|
|Almonds, 1 ounce||1.0|
The human body requires zinc for many important functions. Zinc is an assistant to about 100 different enzymes, which carry out many physiological functions. It also has an important role in helping wounds heal, making protein and for the proper development of senses such as taste and smell.
Zinc plays a crucial role in immune function, which is the part of the body that defends against illness. It is the immune system’s job to keep viruses out of the body or to destroy viruses and other germs that do enter. With this role in mind, zinc is often added to throat lozenges and cough syrups that help fight common colds. Studies show that taking zinc within 24 hours of getting a cold may help lessen the symptoms and shorten the duration of the cold. While the average adult needs just 8-11 mg of zinc per day, the dose required when you have a cold is about 25 mg per day. It’s important not to excess 40 mg per day.
Zinc may help with eyesight too. When combined with antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, studies show that zinc may help delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and vision loss, possibly by preventing cellular damage in the retina. A large clinical trial evaluated the effect of high doses of vitamins C, E and beta-carotene with or without zinc on advanced AMD in older adults. After a follow-up period of 6.3 years, supplementation with antioxidants plus zinc, but not antioxidants alone, significantly reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD and reduced visual acuity loss.
Tips for increasing zinc intake in foodservice
Offer a variety of beef, pork and poultry options to ensure that foods with zinc are a dietary staple. For everyday nutrition, people can get enough zinc by following Canada’s Food Guide and having 2-3 servings of meat and alternatives each day.
For treating common colds or AMD, supplements may be required, which your customers can discuss with their doctors.