Zinc is a significant component in many of the body's most important functions – our immune system, in particular – so ensuring we get the recommended intake of this mineral is essential. We spoke to Trent Watson, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, to find out how to include zinc in our diets, up our ability to absorb it and the signs we might not be getting enough.
How much zinc should be be getting each day?
The recommended daily intake for women is eight milligrams per day and for men it’s 14 milligrams per day.
How can we ensure we hit our zinc requirements?
“Zinc is predominantly found in grains, dairy and meat products,” Trent says. "So by choosing foods such as cereal, milk, cheese, yoghurt, lean meats, fish and poultry, you can achieve your zinc requirements reasonably well. Most of those foods also provide a good source of protein, and that helps boost our zinc absorption as well.”
Compared to animal proteins, plant-based foods can contain less zinc so those following a vegetarian or vegan diet might fall short on the advised intake. Plus, plant based diets are often high in phytates – found in legumes and whole grains – which can inhibit the absorption of zinc.
Trent recommends incorporating sprouted beans, grains and seeds into your diet as well as soaking legumes, grains, nuts, seeds and soy foods before consuming them.
“That can increase the availability of the zinc to the body to absorb.”
Foods high in zinc:
- Raw oysters
- Baked beans
- Wild rice
- Pumpkin seeds
How common is zinc deficiency?
The most recent stats on zinc deficiency in Australia show that it’s experienced by one in three males and one in ten females, but some experts say the figure is much higher.
What are the signs you might be zinc deficient?
- Hair loss
- Changes to your vision, hearing, sense of smell and sense of taste
- Low immunity and slow wound healing
- Loss of appetite
- Altered cognition
Trent advises against turning to supplements before chatting to a medical professional.
“If anyone is concerned about their zinc levels, it’s best to see a GP and get tested for any deficiencies, or sit down with an accredited practicing dietitian, who can help optimise their intake,” he says.