Being healthy takes work. It also takes knowledge. Too many of us are finding that ignorance isn’t truly bliss. It’s often our ignorance of the things we need that cause problems we don’t always recognize.
Keeping good sanitary habits such as using alcohol wipes before eating your lunch is vital to staying healthy. But zinc is also a key component to keeping yourself healthy and stopping yourself from getting sick. Getting a cold sucks, but a healthy amount of zinc can stop that cold or at least shorten it. However, how often does anyone think about their zinc levels?
Really, you should always be aware of your zinc levels as it has direct impacts on your immunity and overall health. The easiest way is through a well balanced diet.
What is Zinc?
Put simply, zinc is an essential mineral. That is to say, it is not made or stored in the body; it has to come from outside sources. These sources typically mean food and supplements.
We need zinc to have happy and healthy bodies, and this is for a variety of reasons. However, that doesn’t mean we should overload our bodies with it as that can lead to undesirable effects. It’s essential, but only in trace amounts. We don’t even need that much to be healthy: 8 milligrams (mg) for women and 11 milligrams for men.
Why you need Zinc
Being in a zinc deficiency can have many consequences both on your physical health and your mental functions.
Zinc helps immune function
Because of the global pandemic, many of us are more aware of our immune systems than we were before. Whether that means cleaning our hands more often with alcohol hand wipes or making sure we are getting all the nutrients we need for a healthy system. Zinc is a key factor in having that healthy system.
Zinc helps assist Th1 immune responses, which are what fight against the unwanted viruses entering our body. Having those Th1 cells ready and healthy are key to preventing illness.
Even while sick, zinc is vital for fighting off the infection. Studies have shown individuals with higher zinc concentration in their blood get sick less often and for less amount of time.
Zinc helps wound healing
Now zinc won’t give superhuman healing qualities, but it will help with cell regeneration and growth. When we are healing from an injury, our bodies are going through a complex process of rebuilding the damaged area. Zinc is a vital element in this process, helping the cells and platelets needed for this process to be successful and faster. Plenty of studies have confirmed that proper amounts of zinc will help the healing process.
Helps with aging
Healthy levels of zinc can help put off certain aspects of aging, such as macular degeneration. Deficiency in zinc can lead to dementia setting on earlier. It also can help with learning and memory, which is to say it’s important in children as well. Good levels of zinc also helps with healthy skin.
It might not be keeping away the birthdays, but it will help keep your mind sharp.
What happens if you don’t have enough zinc?
There is an unfortunately long list of things that can happen when we are zinc deficient. According to a zinc fact sheet from NIH, “It causes slow growth in infants and children, delayed sexual development in adolescents and impotence in men. Zinc deficiency also causes hair loss, diarrhea, eye and skin sores and loss of appetite. Weight loss, problems with wound healing, decreased ability to taste food, and lower alertness levels can also occur.” On top of this, you’re likely to catch a cold that hits harder than it should.
How to get your Zinc
The best way to get zinc is through a healthy diet. Supplements can be an option if there are certain dietary/allergy related limitations or if you’re looking for a short term boost. Because high levels of zinc are not needed, it is actually pretty easy to get all the needed amounts through diet.
Getting Zinc through Food
Animal based products tend to have higher levels of zinc and because of specific compounds in many plants, the human body is less able to digest and process all the available zinc in plant foods. However, studies show that vegans and vegetarians are at no greater risk of deficiency than those with an omnivorous diet.
Animal based foods
Surprisingly, oysters are the number one source of naturally occuring zinc. Two oysters can get you your daily intake at about 5.5 mg in each one. Couple this with the fact that they are a low calorie option, this can be a great source of zinc and a boost to your immune system.
Coming in second for the amount of zinc present is beef. One 5oz steak will have your daily zinc levels set at 15mg, which is above the needed amount. The fact that it’s packed with protein is an added benefit. Do keep in mind that a diet with too much beef can lead to higher than normal levels of zinc, not to mention the other health issues that could arise, including getting sick more often.
Not far behind beef is poultry and pork chops. One cup of chicken or pork chops can provide about 2mg of zinc. This comes to be about 2mg of zinc per 200 calories.
Plant based foods
Tofu is a popular staple of many vegetarian and vegan diets, and the good news is that it provides about the same amount of zinc as chicken and pork. It comes in at 2mg per 200 calories as well. This makes it a healthy alternative.
Certain vegetables have a strong amount of zinc as well. Mushrooms and kale are two great sources of naturally occurring zinc. The numbers are a bit lower with mushrooms and kale, about .35mg of zinc per cup. However, both of these are very low in calories making 200 calories of mushrooms equating to about 5mg of zinc. This makes both of these a great addition to any diet to get an extra boost of zinc.
Legumes are also a great source of plant-based zinc. Chickpeas, lentils, and beans are all well fortified with zinc as well. They have an average of 2mg per 200 calories. These make a great addition to a meal to add a bit more zinc.
Many nuts and seeds also add a healthy dose of zinc to your diet. At about 4mg per 200 calories, hemp seeds are a wonderful source of zinc. Pumpkin seeds and pine nuts are also a wonderful source and easy to add to many dishes.
Artificially fortified foods
While zinc might not naturally occur in breakfast cereal, they still provide a good dose of zinc to anyone’s diet. Cereal is often fortified with many minerals and vitamins, which makes them wonderful for getting many essential minerals and vitamins. However, it’s important to be aware that many cereals in the USA are filled with sugars, which can offset many benefits.
There are many reasons why someone might not be getting enough zinc through their diet. Dietary restrictions and allergies might limit many of the best food groups. Personal preference is also a factor.
There are plenty of supplements that someone could take, but a doctor should always be consulted before taking supplements to treat a deficiency. Having too much zinc in the body can lead to issues as well.
Get your zinc and be healthy
Overall, the right balance of zinc is necessary to be healthy. Having healthy habits such as keeping your hands clean are a necessity for keeping out pathogens, but for the viruses that do get in your system, you want to make sure you have the immunity built up that can fight back and keep you healthy. Zinc is vital for building up that immunity.