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Why you need zinc

Sarah Kelsey is a lifestyle writer, editor and spokesperson based in Toronto. She was the editor of AOL/The Huffington Post Canada’s StyleList, Style and Living sites. Today, she's a freelancer writing for some of North America’s top pub...

Benefits of zinc

Are you getting enough zinc? This important mineral is not only essential for many bodily functions, it may also prevent dozens of conditions like acne, Alzheimer's, epilepsy and psoriasis. Keep reading for the benefits of zinc and easy ways to get enough.

Healthy Woman

Why zinc is important

Zinc is an important mineral your body needs for survival. Without it, all sorts of bodily functions would be thrown out of whack. Notable health conditions include: imbalanced blood sugar levels, slow metabolic rate, impaired sense of smell and taste, and the way your body divides cells and synthesizes DNA would be compromised.Zinc also boosts your immune system. When it comes to colds, researchers believe zinc lozenges may help cut the average length of a virus in half (the mineral may stop the replication of a cold's cells). And in various other studies, zinc has been used to heal wounds, prevent diarrhea and slow macular degeneration (a condition that leads to vision problems).

Signs and symptoms of a zinc deficiency

Zinc deficiencies are rare but they do happen (largely because the body doesn't have reserve stores of the mineral). Some signs and symptoms of a deficiency include:· Loss of appetite
· Impaired immune system function
· Hair loss
· Diarrhea
· Impotence
· Eye and skin lesions
· Weight loss
· Wounds that heal slowly or poorly
· An odd sense of taste or smell
· Abnormal or slow growth rates in babies or childrenHowever, don't megadose on this important mineral. Zinc toxicity can occur, particularly when supplements or cough and cold medicines are overused. If you have overdosed on zinc, you might notice a metallic, bitter taste in your mouth, or you may experience stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramps.

Who's at risk of a zinc deficiency?

Because a daily intake of zinc is required to maintain a healthy level in your body, some people may be at risk of becoming zinc-deficient.Vegetarians. The majority of zinc from food comes from meat products. As a result, vegetarians (especially vegans) will need up to 50 percent more zinc in their diet than non-vegetarians.People with gastrointestinal disorders. People who suffer from sprue, Crohn's disease, chronic renal disease or short bowel syndrome will have a harder time absorbing and retaining zinc from the food they eat.Pregnant and lactating women. In order to keep up with a fetus's zinc requirements, pregnant women, especially those with low zinc stores to begin with, will need more zinc on a daily basis than others. (Click for more on a breastfeeding mother's diet)Older infants who are breastfed. Until they're seven months old, babies can meet their daily dose of zinc from breast milk. After that, their daily requirement increases by 50 percent and breast milk alone won't do the trick.People with sickle cell disease. Recent research suggests 60 to 70 percent of people who suffer from sickle cell disease have lower levels of zinc (this is especially true of children), because their bodies have a harder time absorbing it.Alcoholics. Half of all alcoholics have low zinc levels because they either can't absorb the nutrient (because of damage done to the intestinal tract from chronic overdrinking) or because they excrete more in their urine.

How much zinc do you need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is as follows:· Infants (0-6 months): 2 mg per day
· Infants (7-11 months): 3 mg per day
· Children (ages 1-3): 3 mg per day
· Children (ages 4-8): 5 mg per day
· Children (ages 9-13): 8 mg per day
· Males (ages 14 and older): 11 mg per day
· Females (ages 14-18): 9 mg per day
· Females (ages 19 and older): 8 mg per day
· Pregnant women (ages 18 and older): 11-12 mg per day
· Lactating women (ages 18 and older): 12-13 mg per day

Good food sources of zinc

Because your body can't produce this important nutrient, it's essential to eat lots of zinc-rich foods on a daily basis. Some of the best sources include:Oysters, raw, six medium = 76.7 mg
Crab, Alaska king, cooked, 3 oz = 6.5 mg
Beef tenderloin, lean, broiled, 4 oz = 6.33 mg
Pumpkin seeds, raw, 1/4 cup = 2.57 mg
Shrimp, steamed/boiled, 4 oz = 1.77 mg
Crimini mushrooms, raw, 5 oz = 1.56 mg
Spinach, boiled, 1 cup = 1.37 mg

Tips on getting more zinc into your diet

Getting more zinc from your diet is easy. Here are a few quick and easy tips:1. Limit alcohol and coffee. Both increase your body's urge to urinate. The more you urinate, the more zinc your body will excrete.2. Don't overcook your food. Over-steaming, baking or boiling foods will cut their zinc content in half. Beans are particularly susceptible.3. Eat unprocessed foods. Up to 75 percent of the zinc content in wheat is lost when it's processed. Consider staying away from white bread.4. Get zinc-fortified formula for babies. If you'd like to breastfeed your baby after he or she is six months old, consider augmenting with fortified formula along with your breast milk.5. Eat lean meats. If you're not vegetarian, the best way to get your daily dose of zinc is by eating meat. Fish is a particularly good source of the mineral.6. Beans are best. If you don't eat meat, adding canned beans to your salads or meals will boost the amount of zinc you get in your diet (just remember to avoid overcooking them).

More on zinc

Low on zinc and zing
10 Tips to prevent PMS — naturally (getting enough zinc is one of them)
Healthy beef recipes
Nuts: The perfect health and fitness food
Crab recipes

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