Top 7 health benefits of zinc (plus the best zinc-rich foods)
09/03/2020 / By Joanne Washburn / Comments
Top 7 health benefits of zinc (plus the best zinc-rich foods)

Noticing unusual lesions, sudden loss of appetite and frequent diarrhea? You might be missing out on zinc.

This trace mineral is essential for sustaining good health. In fact, zinc plays a huge role in a multitude of biological functions, including healing, immune response to infection and metabolism of carbs.

But despite its significance, a lot of people still end up missing out on this important micronutrient. Moreover, although extreme cases of insufficient zinc intake are rare in the United States, those that have diets lacking in nutrients can be classified as mildly deficient. But mild zinc deficiency isn’t to be taken lightly.

Experts caution that even mild to moderate degrees of zinc deficiency can impair the functions of our immune cells and render us susceptible to disease, among other adverse side effects.

But on the bright side, avoiding the adverse side effects of insufficient zinc intake isn’t all that complicated to do. Eating the right foods and taking zinc supplements should help keep our zinc levels up in the long run.

Health benefits

Zinc supports various functions in our bodies. It is considered one of the most essential nutrients for human development and optimal health, in general. Below are some of the health benefits of zinc.

Boosts immune health

One of the reasons zinc is so essential for immune health is it helps activate immune cells that scour our bodies for foreign substances that could cause infection or disease. Therefore, insufficient amounts of zinc can lead to a poor immune response to infection, resulting in a greater risk of getting sick or developing chronic diseases.

Existing research has linked inadequate zinc intake to an increased risk of viral infections like pneumonia in children and older adults in developing countries. More recent studies on zinc also attest to its beneficial effects on the duration of the common cold and the flu.

Supports child development

Infants, toddlers and children stand to benefit the most from sufficient zinc intake. Zinc is essential for the creation of DNA, cells and proteins. These processes are crucial for infants and children’s proper mental and physical development. In fact, even adolescents and teenagers could benefit more from increased zinc intake.

Zinc is so crucial that, according to earlier studies, even a mild deficiency in children could lead to significant behavioral problems, shorter stature, cognitive or motor delays and an increased vulnerability to infection due to an underdeveloped immune system.

Improves skin health

Unusual lesions on the skin tend to appear in people lacking adequate amounts of zinc. Moreover, zinc deficiency could also delay the healing of existing skin conditions like acne, ulcers, diaper rash and even herpes infections.

Eating more zinc-rich foods or taking zinc supplements can help treat these skin conditions from the inside. But topical zinc oxide can also accelerate the healing of painful lesions and inflamed or irritated skin. Doing so can also help keep the lesions from becoming infected.

Prevents gastrointestinal problems

Feeling nauseous or getting unexplained abdominal cramps? These might be more signs of zinc deficiency. Even mild to moderate zinc deficiency can affect the gut and impair nutrient absorption in our intestines.

In effect, poor nutrient absorption can lead to a host of problems like other nutrient deficiencies, numbness, poor mental health and diarrhea.

These effects might not sound that bad, but diarrhea, for instance, can be debilitating in infants and toddlers. Poor nutrient absorption also affects your overall quality of life as it can lead to feeling tired, sluggish and sick.

Reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration

Recent studies suggest that zinc can stall the progression of age-related macular degeneration. This is a kind of eye disease that can blur vision and lead to eventual vision loss in later life. While it tends to occur in older adults, it isn’t a natural part of aging.

Experts speculate that zinc is able to do this by protecting the retina, the part of the eye that receives light and sends it to the brain as signals, from cellular damage. Over time, then, zinc should be able to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration in older adults.

Boosts mental health

Being deficient in zinc could also translate to poor mental health and a greater risk of mental disorders like depression. For this reason, zinc supplements might be recommended as a treatment for depression.

Experts speculate that zinc has such a huge influence on mental health because it aids in the production of serotonin, our so-called “happy chemical” responsible for regulating mood.

Enhances male fertility

In men, zinc deficiency could manifest as poor sperm motility. This means that the sperms’ movements are impaired such that they have a harder time reaching the egg. If left untreated, this can lead to male infertility.

Fortunately, maintaining sufficient levels of zinc should help prevent this adverse outcome. Just eat more foods rich in zinc or take zinc supplements in case of severe deficiency.

Best sources

Because of the numerous, important roles of zinc in our bodies, it’s essential to maintain adequate levels of this micronutrient.

Healthcare professionals might recommend taking zinc supplements for those in immediate need of zinc. If not, just eating foods rich in zinc as part of a balanced diet should do.

Not quite sure about the right amount of zinc you should be consuming on a daily basis? Health authorities recommend eight milligrams (mg) of zinc a day for the average female adult and 11 mg for the average male.

Here are some of the richest, natural sources of zinc, in descending order. Remember to eat them on a regular basis to ensure adequate zinc intake.

  1. Oysters – Oysters are the richest natural source of zinc, clocking in at 74 mg per three-ounce (oz.) serving. This is equivalent to 673 percent of the recommended daily value (DV).
  2. King crab – Red king crabs are one of the largest and most valuable crab species. These crabs also contain a considerable amount of zinc for each three oz. serving at 6.5 mg or more than half of its recommended DV.
  3. Lobster – Yet another popular shellfish, a three-oz. serving of cooked lobster offers 3.4 mg of zinc.
  4. Beans – Beans are one of the handfuls of plant-based zinc sources for vegans and vegetarians. Half a cup of baked beans offers 2.9 mg of zinc or 26 percent of its recommended DV.
  5. Chicken – Dark meat cuts of chicken, like the drumstick and thighs, contain most of the zinc in the chicken. The same three-oz. serving size offers 2.4 mg of zinc or 22 percent of its recommended DV.
  6. Pumpkin seeds – Dried pumpkin seeds, another vegan option, offers 2.2 mg of zinc per one oz. serving.
  7. Chickpeas – Half a cup of cooked chickpeas provides 1.3 mg of zinc.
  8. Almonds – A one-oz. serving of roasted almonds offers 0.9 mg of zinc.
  9. Cheese (cheddar or mozzarella) – One oz. of either cheese offers 0.9 mg of zinc.
  10. Green peas – Fresh, frozen or cooked, half a cup of green peas contains 0.5 mg of zinc.

Zinc is an essential mineral that is abundant in some foods, added to others and available as supplements. Incorporate these foods and supplements into a balanced diet to keep important biological processes up and running.


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