Far too many people suffer from a zinc deficiency, which is very unfortunate because it’s such an important mineral. You need to eat foods high in zinc for many reasons, chief among them the benefits it can provide to your immune system. Here’s a look at how the mineral helps boost immunity, as well as ways to increase your intake.
Why is Zinc So Important?
Zinc is an essential nutrient that plays a critical role in helping to produce antibodies that fight infections. It also helps protect you from the damage that free radicals can do to your tissues and muscles.
Free radicals, which are a byproduct of oxidation, are molecules that are missing an electron. They move throughout the body, “stealing” electrons wherever they can. Unfortunately, the victims of this type of theft are your cells. When your cells lose an electron, they become damaged and can’t do their jobs correctly.
If you have a zinc deficiency, you won’t be able to fight off colds and other respiratory illnesses as effectively. Zinc is also key to helping us enjoy a speedy recovery from injuries.1 A zinc deficiency not only weakens the immune system, it could also lead to problems with the development of taste and smell in children.2
Signs You Might Have a Zinc Deficiency
How do you know if you need to boost your zinc intake? If you tend to suffer from a reduced appetite on a regular basis, that could be a sign your body is having some sort of problem with zinc absorption. A zinc deficiency could affect the way your body digests food, leading to a sudden loss of weight. It could even result in delayed growth development in children, as well as a lack of testosterone. Other signs of a deficiency include the formation of lesions on the skin and around the eyes, hair loss, lethargy, and recurring diarrhea.3
Foods High in Zinc
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women.4 Here are a few of the foods that are high in zinc that you might want to consider incorporating into your diet if possible.
There are certain vegetables that are high in zinc, especially lima beans, peas, and soybeans. Eating as little as a cup of soybeans can provide you with as many as 9 mg of zinc, while the same amount of lima beans and peas will deliver about 2 mg. Spinach is another good source of zinc, delivering about 1.5 mg. Green beans, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts contain anywhere from .5-1 mg of zinc.
Cashews are extremely rich in zinc – you can get nearly 6 mg in just a half-cup serving. Other good sources of zinc include pecans, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, and pine nuts.
Cereal is not only a great way to get the fuel you need to start your day, it’s also a good source of zinc. Multigrain and whole grain cereals tend to have the highest levels of zinc.
· Pumpkin Seeds
A half-cup serving of roasted pumpkin seeds will provide about 10 mg of zinc.
Mushrooms also have a substantial amount of zinc. For example, a half a cup of dried shiitake mushrooms contains about 8 mg.
Meat is a good source of zinc. Eating a half-cup of lean beef will provide as much as 10 mg. The same amount of lean pork can provide as much as 7 mg. Chicken is another good source of zinc, containing up to 7 mg.
· Baking chocolate
Baking chocolate not only tastes fantastic, it can also help boost your zinc supply substantially. As little as a half-cup square contains nearly 10 mg, while the same serving of cocoa powder has 7 mg.
How Much is Too Much?
While getting the right amount of zinc can help not only boost your immune system but deliver many other benefits, there are some risks to excess zinc absorption. Many types of shellfish, for example, have extremely high zinc content. For example, a half-cup of oysters contain a whopping 182 mg.5
The maximum amount of zinc adults should take in each day is about 100-250 mg – any more than that, and you might be at a risk for certain side effects. Some of the issues associated with excessive zinc intake include:
- Damage to the pancreas
- Reduction in HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- Stomach cramps
In addition, having an excessive amount of zinc (50 g or more per day) could lead to a copper deficiency. This is important because a lack of copper can lead to bone and tissue abnormalities, and even neurologic issues. Copper plays a key role in helping to produce red blood cells and to also ensure that your central nervous system works properly.7 That’s just one of the reasons why is so important to always keep your zinc levels balanced.
While zinc is great for you, it’s very important that you’re careful not to get too much. Talk to your doctor about how to make sure you get the right amount.