Zinc deficiency mistakes you might not realize you are making
- By Reuben Chow - April 06, 2014
While severe deficiency in zinc isn't very common, particularly in developed nations, many people in the United States actually have marginal deficiencies, especially elderly persons. And there is a number of reasons and causes behind why deficiency in this essential mineral could be quite prevalent now.
One big reason for zinc deficiency is that food consumed today has less zinc than in years past -- soil demineralization due to modern farming methods and food processing are two culprits for today's reduced dietary zinc intake.
As zinc is water-soluble, canning foods or cooking them in water can cause the removal of zinc.
Other food-related issues are high calcium:zinc and iron:zinc ratios in the diet, as excess calcium and iron can affect the absorption of zinc.
Dietary habits and lifestyle choices which can also contribute to zinc deficiency include:
• consumption of fiber or phytates (compounds found in grains and legumes), as they bind to zinc and reduce the amount of the mineral which is absorbed by the body
• drinking of hard water
• strict vegetarianism, as such a diet would usually contain high amounts of fiber, phytates and oxalates, which affect zinc absorption; generally speaking, zinc in animal-based foods, which is bound with proteins, is more bio-available to the body than the zinc found in plant-based foods
• high copper intake, as it lowers zinc levels in the body; copper can be found in supplements, birth control pills and water which runs through copper pipes
• alcohol consumption -- alcohol flushes zinc out from the liver
• heavy perspiration, for example through regular sports, as zinc is lost in sweat
• stress, which raises the body's zinc usage.
Other situations which could result in zinc depletion or an increased need in zinc include dialysis, diuretic therapy, hospitalization and surgery.
Specific groups of people need more zinc
Broadly speaking, elderly persons, pregnant and lactating women, children undergoing growth spurts (e.g., infancy and puberty) and women using oral contraceptives have higher zinc requirements.
Indeed, it has been found that infants, adolescents, women and the elderly are more likely to suffer from zinc deficiency, due to their intakes not matching their increased needs.
Health conditions linked to zinc deficiency
Further, there are numerous health conditions which are implicated in zinc deficiency, contributing either to lowered zinc absorption by the body or elevated zinc needs. Some of these ailments include:
• blood loss (chronic)
• burns, injuries and wounds
• celiac disease
• chronic diseases such as cancer
• infections or inflammation, whether acute or chronic
• inflammatory bowel disease
• intestinal resection
• kidney disease
• liver cirrhosis
• liver disease
• malabsorption arising from pancreatic insufficiency or post-gastrointestinal surgery
• short bowel syndrome.
Learn about what foods you can eat to obtain more zinc in your diet here.
Sources for this article include:
Balch, Phyllis A., CNC. Prescription for Nutritional Healing: A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements. 5th ed. New York, NY: Avery, 2010. Print.
Haas, Elson M., MD, and Levin, Buck, PhD, RD. Staying Healthy With Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. New York, NY: Celestial Arts, 2006. Print.
Murray, Michael T., ND. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements: The Essential Guide for Improving Your Health Naturally. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1996. Print.
About the author:
Reuben Chow has a keen interest in natural health and healing as well as personal growth.
His main health websites Insights on Health and All 4 Natural Health focus on being healthy naturally, while his other health websites cover topics such as cancer, depression, holistic depression help, as well as omega 3 fatty acids. He also owns self improvement and inspirational websites like Inspiration 4 Living, allinspiration.com, Life Changing Quotes, and 101 Inspirational Ideas. Through his network of sites at The Journey of Life, he hopes to help improve people's lives.
Natural Food Sources Containing Zinc
One of the best known food sources of zinc is oysters. At the same time, other shellfish, fish and red meats also have relatively high levels of zinc.
Some plant-based foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds have good levels of zinc as well.
However, zinc in plant-based foods is less bioavailable to the body – this is because the zinc in such foods binds to a fiber compound called phytic acid to form an insoluble zinc-phytate complex that the body does not absorb; phytic acid could combine with zinc in the small intestine before it is absorbed, while zinc also binds to oxalates found in vegetables and grains. Generally speaking, zinc in animal foods, which is bound with proteins, is better absorbed by the body.
However, a person can consume less animal food products and more whole grains and beans and still get enough zinc in his or her diet.
One thing to note is that when food is cooked, much of the zinc in them may go into the water (as zinc is water-soluble) (the same applies to other minerals and vitamins), so the cooking fluids should also be consumed, particularly when cooking vegetables.
Absorption of consumed zinc can range from 12% to 59%.
Listed below are some good food sources of zinc. The figures in brackets indicate zinc content in milligrams per 100 grams (3.5 oz) (mg/100g).
Plant-based food sources of zinc
Black beans (0.4)
Brazil nuts (4.2)
Ginger root (6.8)
Green peas (1.6)
Hazel nuts (2.4)
Lima beans (3.1)
Nuts (pecans and brazil nuts being best)
Pumpkin seeds (7.5)
Split beans (dry) (4.2)
Whole wheat (3.2)
Whole wheat bread (0.5)
Animal-based food sources of zinc
Dairy products (may not be as well absorbed by the body)
Egg yolks (may not be as well absorbed by the body)
Oysters (fresh) (148.7)
Red meats – beef, lamb, pork
Herbs containing zinc
In general, vegetables and fruits are not good sources of zinc, although beets, cabbage, carrots and peas contain some of the mineral.