Thinking about zinc

Let’s think about zinc! Zinc is an essential mineral that is naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. According to a new study, low or deficient zinc levels in the body increase the risk of severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in patients who are ill with the coronavirus. However, studies of giving extra zinc to people who are not deficient in zinc have not shown a benefit. So to be very clear, zinc is NOT a substitute for the COVID 19 vaccine.

Frequent intake of zinc in our diets is required to maintain a steady state because the body has no specialized zinc storage system. It is involved in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism, and also supports normal growth and development. Zinc deficiency is characterized by growth retardation, loss of appetite, and impaired immune function.

Zinc is available from many plant foods and protein increases zinc absorption. Because of this, foods high in both protein and zinc, such as legumes and nuts, are good choices. If a food doesn’t have much protein, it can still be accompanied by one that does in order to enhance absorption.

Now, zinc is a mineral and an important one that we all need. But let’s not overdo it either. Well-planned vegetarian diets can provide adequate amounts of zinc from plant sources. Vegetarians appear to adapt to lower zinc intakes by increased absorption and retention of zinc. Studies show vegetarians have similar serum zinc concentrations to, and no greater risk of zinc deficiency than, non-vegetarians despite differences in zinc intake.

There has been a somewhat misplaced concern that minerals, such as zinc, are not well absorbed in those following a vegetarian diet because of the presence of a substance known as phytate. However, there was little evidence of deficiency commonly occurring in practice. Part of the answer lies in the fact that the bacteria in the intestines of vegetarians are able to degrade almost all the phytate in plant foods, so there really is no worry in that regard.

The RDA for zinc for adults 18 and older are 11mg for men and 8mg for women. Here are some foods that are good sources:

FoodServing SizeAmount of Zinc
Wheat Germ1 ounce3.4 mg
Baked beans, canned, plain or vegetarian½ cup2.9 mg
Pumpkin seeds, dried1 ounce2.2 mg
Tofu½ cup2.0 mg
Cashews, dry roasted1 ounce1.6 mg
Chickpeas, cooked½ cup1.3 mg
Oatmeal, instant, plain, prepared with water1 packet1.1 mg