Zinc is one of the trace minerals we need in our diet to stay healthy. We only require it in small amounts, but it has many important functions in our bodies.
Zinc is essential for supporting our immune system; we need it to help fight infection.
It’s also important for normal growth and development, wound healing, maintaining our eyesight and sense of taste and smell.
How to tell if you're lacking zinc
When we don’t get enough zinc, we call that zinc deficiency, and can begin to experience health problems. Signs of a zinc deficiency include:
loss of appetite, changes in taste
problems with sexual function, particularly in men
wound healing problems
These signs can also indicate other problems; therefore it’s best to get a medical assessment to determine whether you might have a zinc deficiency.
How much zinc do you need?
We can’t make or store zinc, so it’s essential to consume it daily. The amount we require differs according to age, sex, and nutritional needs.
In Australia the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of zinc per day for adults is 8mg for women and 14mg for men. Men have a higher requirement than women because it plays a crucial role in the regulation of male sex hormones, especially testosterone.
The RDI is slightly higher during pregnancy to help the baby develop normally, and also when breastfeeding.
Where can you get zinc?
Red meat and certain types of seafood such as oysters, crab and mussels are excellent sources of zinc. Dairy products are also high in zinc. Some dairy alternatives and cereals are fortified with zinc, among other nutrients.
There are also good plant-based sources; these include cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, and whole grain oats. The absorption of zinc from plant sources is less reliable than from animal foods, so those on strict plant-based diets may need to consider this when planning a balanced diet.
Zinc is available in supplements, but taking too much could cause side effects and interfere with other nutrients you need.
Eating a healthy balanced diet that includes zinc-rich foods should meet most people’s requirements.
5 ways to include more Zinc in your diet:
Add whole grain oats to apple crumble topping
Toss some seeds and beans into your salad or stir-fry