Zinc is an essential trace mineral, which means that your body only requires small amounts. Nevertheless, it remains a vital nutrient for human health.
Zinc plays an important role in:
- Encouraging wound healing
- Your sense of taste and smell
- Cell proliferation (helping your cells to divide and grow)
- Supporting your immune system
Symptoms of zinc deficiency include:
- Delayed wound healing
- Diminished sense of taste and smell
- Loss of appetite
- Poor immune function
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
If you suspect that you have zinc deficiency, you can get a blood test done to confirm this.
The daily recommended intake of zinc for adults aged between 19 and 64 years old is 9.5mg amongst men and 7mg a day for women (NHS). Frequent consumption of zinc is required because the body is not able to store it.
Those considered at risk of being zinc deficient include:
- Those on a restricted diet such as vegans and vegetarians
- Those with gastrointestinal diseases e.g. Crohn’s disease (which limits absorption of nutrients)
- People who abuse alcohol
- Kidney disease sufferers
- Pregnant women as well as breastfeeding women
- People with sickle cell anaemia
- Those who are malnourished, including sufferers of bulimia and anorexia
- Older infants who are only breastfed
So, how can you ensure that you get enough zinc into your diet? The place to start is by understanding what foods are high in zinc.
Zinc-rich foods include:
- Seafood – oysters are particularly high in zinc
- Meat such as beef, chicken, pork
- Pumpkin seeds
- Cocoa powder
- Whole grains and fortified cereals
Some food sources contain more zinc than others as well as having a higher absorption capacity which are better utilised in the body. For example, it is beneficial to consume foods that are both high in protein and zinc because protein increases zinc absorption and uptake, therefore seafood and meat options are most favourable.
Vegans and vegetarians typically tend to have lower zinc levels overall compared to those that consume animal foods, as for the reason above. However, a further reason for this is because many of the plant-based sources of zinc such as legumes, nuts, seeds and grains contain phytates (aka phytic acid) which can inhibit the absorption of zinc (Gupta et al. 2013). In this case, it would be worthwhile consulting with your health practitioner to see if they recommend you take a zinc supplement.
If for whatever reason your healthcare practitioner suggests that you supplement with zinc, then you might want to consider what type of zinc you take. There are many different forms such as zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, to zinc acetate and much more. Research has not yet determined if one of these is more beneficial than the other.
However, it is widely believed that ionic zinc is much more bioavailable than non-ionic zinc (bioavailable simply means the rate at which something can be absorbed and utilised by the body). Ionic minerals are those which have a positive or negative charge to them and so are thought to easily bond with water, providing seamless distribution of that nutrient throughout the body.
You can encounter zinc supplements in various forms, too (from liquid drops to capsules and it is even found in nasal sprays). If you come across zinc nasal sprays, it is best to avoid these, because they have been known to interfere with taste and smell.
Precautions when supplementing with zinc
When supplementing with zinc, you should never consume it on an empty stomach because this can result in nausea. Wellness Factory Core Nutrition Ionic Zinc liquid drops should always be diluted in water and consumed with food.
It is also worth noting, that if you are also supplementing with copper, it could be worthwhile taking this no less than two hours apart from your zinc supplement. This is because copper and zinc compete for absorption from the intestine into the bloodstream, and so one can diminish the effects of the other.
Maares, M. Haase, H. (2020). ‘A Guide to Human Zinc Absorption: General Overview and Recent Advances of In Vitro Intestinal Models’, Nutrients,
Gupta, R. Gangoliva, S. Singh, N. (2013). ‘Reduction of Phytic Acid and Enhancement of Bioavailable Micronutrients in Food Grains’, J Food Science Technology, NCBI [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325021/ (Accessed 31 August 2021).
(2021). ‘Zinc’ National Institute of Health, [Online]. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/%20Zinc-HealthProfessional/ (Accessed 3 September 2021).