Zinc is a key chemical element for human beings at practically all ages of life, and although it is abundant in most foods that we usually consume, its biological availability (bioavailability) is not the same in all cases, since we cannot assimilate it in the same way, for example, in an animal product than in another vegetable.
For this reason, in many areas of the planet where there is little chance of eating foods of animal origin, the risk of moderate zinc deficiency is tripled compared to the richest areas, as highlighted by the WHO in a 2002 report.
The importance of zinc
The consequences of this deficiency are many and range from problems in bone, muscle and sexual development of the person, especially if it is a man, to immune system problems, wound healing problems, fertility, osteoporosis , depression or increased risk of Alzheimer’s, according to various studies.
The reason why it is so important to avoid any type of zinc deficiency is that this element is a very important part of many of the enzymes that regulate our physiology. In other words, without it, most of the proteins that make us up could not be synthesized, nor could it regulate most of the processes by which we make food, nor create the complex structures that characterize us (zinc is essential for the synthesis of DNA ), or create the cells that regulate our defense system, etc.
In addition, zinc is an essential part of testosterone, a hormone. very important in the case of men, since it is what defines our sexual differentiation both at the level of gonads and bone structure, the beautiful, the deep voice, etc.
Testosterone, whose blood levels decrease with age, also influences mood. Moreover, according to some studies low levels of testosterone in the blood could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Low levels are also involved in the loss of muscle mass in the elderly.
Recommended Zinc Intake Levels
In short, zinc matters to our body and we should not neglect it. The recommended levels for adults are around 40 mg per kilo of weight, and to maintain these amounts, the following daily intakes are recommended by age groups:
- Babies up to 6 months of age: 2 mg
- Babies 7 to 12 months old: 3 mg
- Children 1 to 3 years of age: 3 mg
- Children 4 to 8 years of age: 5 mg
- Children 9 to 13 years of age: 8 mg
- Adolescents (males) 14 to 18 years of age: 11 mg
- Adolescents (girls) 14 to 18 years of age: 9 mg
- Adults (men): 11 mg
- Adults (women): 8 mg
- Pregnant teens: 12 mg
- Pregnant women: 11mg
- Breastfeeding adolescents: 13 mg
- Breastfeeding women: 12 mg
What foods contain zinc?
As we pointed out at the beginning, a serious zinc deficiency is very rare and its consequences are serious dysfunctions in normal development and in the immune system, so that the affected person’s life has little viability. It is more frequent, but in areas where nutrition is not balanced, a moderate and sometimes hidden deficit.
This may entail According to the US National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements“a slowing of growth in infants and children, delayed sexual development in adolescents, and impotence in men.”
The same body also warns that zinc deficiency also causes “hair loss, diarrhea, eye and skin lesions, and loss of appetite” in men and women. Additionally, it can lead to weight loss, impaired wound healing, decreased sense of taste, and reduced concentration levels.
To avoid these unwanted effects, the best way to maintain our zinc levels is to consume foods rich in this element and that are also highly bioavailable, meaning that our body can absorb and use this zinc in its metabolism without major problems.
Among the foods with the highest bioavailability for zinc are:
- red meats, especially lamb
- poultry meat
- shellfish, especially oysters and mussels
- the viscera of mammals and birds
- dairy products, especially Gruyère cheese
- the eggs
In a lower bioavailability range are:
- Moisturized, skinless legumes, especially pinto beans
- Nuts, especially almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts
- avocados, bananas
- cereal grains with gluten, especially brown rice and whole-grain bread
- Sesame paste or tagine, which is widely used in North African cuisine.
Bioavailable zinc and vegans
It is recommended to avoid mixing these sources with green leaf. The problem in the case of green leafy vegetable sources is the high presence of phytates, compounds derived from phytic acid that block the absorption of zinc by the body. In the case of legumes, precisely treating them. in water 13 hours before, removes the skins and with them the phytates.
Although vegetable sources may provide less bioavailable zinc, with a proper diet, that is, doubling the intake, a vegan person can maintain their levels of this element in the body just like an omnivore.
On the other hand, it has been observed that people who switch from an omnivorous diet to a vegan one initially suffer a certain decrease in zinc levels, but in the medium term they recover, since there seems to be an adaptation of the intestinal absorption capacity of zinc to the vegan diet.
Zinc supplements, yes or no?
In some very specific cases, of people with problems or eating disorders that are difficult or slow to resolve, such as morbid obesity and excessive consumption of only ultra-processed products, the consumption of supplements may be recommended. In the rest of the cases, it is only necessary to observe a correct diet.
Almost all multivitamin/mineral supplements contain zinc, but zinc is also sold in single supplements or combined with calcium and magnesium. Supplements come in a variety of forms, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate.
However, it should be noted that the use of these supplements in amounts higher than the recommended level could cause excessive levels of zinc and insufficient copper. this excess, called hypercincaemiahas been associated with low levels of copperalterations in the function of the irondecreased immune capacity and levels of cholesterol Okay (HDL), as well as vomiting, diarrhea, kidney damage, or mental depression.
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