The human body doesn’t produce zinc, yet it’s an essential mineral for growth, immunity, and various cell functions. This single powerful mineral plays a role in everything from DNA synthesis to healing wounds. Consuming zinc helps keep the body happy and healthy, and a zinc deficiency can lead to severe consequences. If you want to make a more conscious effort to maintain a healthy level of zinc in your system, keep reading to learn more about zinc and its functions.
The Properties and Purpose of Zinc
Zinc plays an essential role in the formation of DNA, which contains genetic information that instructs cells how to function, develop, and reproduce. The body also needs zinc to synthesize the proteins necessary for growth. Without DNA or protein, cells across the entire body could not function or grow.
Aside from these two primary roles, there are numerous other functions and benefits of zinc:
- The immune system needs zinc to help fight off bacteria and viruses
- Taking zinc while you have a cold can reduce the duration of your sickness
- If you have a wound, the body uses zinc to heal the area and synthesize new cells
- Zinc is essential to the growth and development of fetuses, infants, and children
The Damage of Deficiency
Although zinc deficiency is relatively rare, certain people are at higher risk of this ailment. For example, people with gastrointestinal disorders or sickle cell disease, alcoholics, vegans, vegetarians, and pregnant women are more likely to experience a zinc deficiency.
The symptoms of zinc deficiency can include:
- Delayed puberty
- Slowed developmental growth
- Impotence in men
- Discolored nails
- A compromised immune system
- Hair loss
- A loss of taste or smell
While consuming too little zinc can lead to these serious complications, having too much zinc can also have negative side effects. Due to zinc toxicity, consuming too much excess zinc can cause diarrhea, headaches, nausea or vomiting, and a loss of appetite.
Making Dietary Changes
If a doctor diagnoses you with a zinc deficiency, the easiest and most sustainable way to address the imbalance is to add more zinc-rich foods to your diet. Foods with substantial amounts of zinc include:
- Red and White Meats– Beef, lamb, pork, turkey, and chicken
- Seafood– Sardines, salmon, shellfish, oysters, lobster, crab, clams, and mussels
- Dairy Products– Milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Seeds– Chia, pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, and flax seeds
- Nuts– Almonds, peanuts, pine nuts, cashews, soy nuts, and Brazil nuts
- Whole Grains– Wheat, rice, oats, and quinoa
- Legumes– Chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, and lentils
- Vegetables– Kale, mushrooms, and asparagus.
You can use the above foods to come up with innovative, zinc-infused delicacies that will please your palette while replenishing your body’s low zinc reserves. For example, a black bean burger topped with mushrooms is an excellent source of zinc.
Drink Your Zinc
Another great way to consume more zinc is to make mineral-packed smoothies. Using almond milk, soy milk, cashew milk, or yogurt in a smoothie all add significant amounts of zinc. You can also blend in chia seeds or zinc-rich vegetables like kale for an extra boost.
Taking Zinc Supplements
You can also increase your zinc intake by using dietary supplements. If you take a multivitamin, it may already include zinc, or you can take zinc as a standalone supplement. As previously mentioned, you don’t want to consume too much or too little zinc, so be sure to consult with your doctor and research the recommended daily dosages of zinc for your gender and age.
Think Zinc for a Healthy Lifestyle
Unlike other essential vitamins and minerals, the body doesn’t make zinc on its own. For that reason, it’s good to be intentional about your zinc consumption. Fortunately, zinc is abundant in various delicious foods and can be taken as a supplement, making it easy to get the zinc you need to sustain a healthy lifestyle.