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Zinc is a trace mineral, which means that we need very small amounts of it in our daily diet: adult men need just 11 mg of zinc per day and adult women, 8 mg. Despite this, the World Health Organization data show that some 31% of the world population gets inadequate zinc.

There are at least three reasons for this:

  • First, getting an adequate amount of zinc is more complicated than simply eating foods rich in the mineral. Zinc from plant-based sources is not absorbed as easily in the body as zinc from animal sources like shellfish. Zinc absorption may also be hindered in someone whose diet comprises mainly grains and other plant-based foods containing phytates (plant compounds).
  • Second, people with underlying conditions like malabsorption syndrome and ulcerative colitis (chronic gut inflammation and ulcers) cannot fully absorb the zinc from the food they eat.
  • And third, certain medicines like tetracycline antibiotics also hinder the absorption of zinc. Alcoholism is another reason for poor absorption of zinc in the body.

Additionally, researchers have found that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may also be reducing the amount of zinc in crops.

Zinc deficiency has been linked to health problems like growth retardation, smaller testes and testosterone deficiency, delayed sexual development, diarrhoea, rough skin and poor immunity. It’s important to try and get an adequate amount of zinc daily, to avoid these conditions.

To do this, you must eat well. This means adding a range of different foods to your diet. Not just depending on rice or wheat to fill you up but eating a balanced diet with five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Here are a few cues on how to do this:

  • If you eat shellfish, then oysters and lobsters are the best sources of zinc.
  • If you eat non-vegetarian food, then red meat, chicken and eggs are also good sources of zinc.
  • If you are a vegetarian, you may have to be extra vigilant. Make smart substitutions like replacing butter with avocado on toast. And add nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds and cashews to your breakfast or snack routine. Some traditional cooking hacks like adding amchur to garbanzo beans or choley and citric acid to foods also increase the bioavailability (body's ability to absorb) of zinc from the food we eat.
  • If you have a sweet tooth, try satisfying it with dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa).

Here are some foods you can add to your meals, to get a good amount of zinc in your daily diet:

  1. Food sources of zinc
  2. Takeaways
  3. Doctors for Zinc rich foods

Typically, meats are a better source of zinc than plant-based foods. That said, read on to know about the best ways to include zinc into your diet*:

  1. Oysters are the richest source of zinc
  2. Animal proteins are a good source of zinc
  3. Zinc rich foods for vegetarians
  4. Zinc in dairy products
  5. Zinc rich fruits and vegetables
  6. Zinc in dark chocolate

Oysters are the richest source of zinc

For those of us who live on India’s long coastline, fresh oysters are a real treat. Nutritionally, just one oyster carries all the zinc you need in a day and then some.

So if you live in Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, the Andamans or other parts of the country where oysters are caught or farmed, make the most of this bounty.

How to eat it: Shuck, saute, season and enjoy as a snack. You could crumb it and fry it, too.

(Lobsters are another great source of zinc that you can find fresh in places along the coast.)

Animal proteins are a good source of zinc

Chicken (the darker parts), lamb and pork (loin) are all good sources of zinc.

Eggs are also a moderately good source of zinc—100 grams of hard-boiled eggs have about 1 mg of zinc.

How to eat it: A meal of two roasted or grilled chicken drumsticks (legs), one boiled egg and vegetables should be enough for an adult male to meet an entire day’s requirement of zinc (avoid any alcohol or grains with it, though).

Zinc rich foods for vegetarians

It is harder for the body to absorb zinc from vegetarian sources; so may have to eat a lot more of a variety of these foods for adequate intake of zinc:

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc

Every region of India has its own pumpkin recipe (and variety)—it is a versatile vegetable that can be turned into a sweet or savoury dish. However, in many households, we throw away the seeds and skin of the pumpkin. Pumpkin seeds, particularly, are a great source of nutrients like zinc. 

How to eat them: All you need to do is wash them, dry them and then toast them (you can toast them on a flat tawa or skillet in small batches if you don’t want to turn on the oven for a small job). Season them with salt. Let them cool before you store them in an airtight container. Eat them on their own as a snack daily.

Eat hemp seeds for zinc

Hemp seeds (bhang seeds) have many health benefits. About 30 grams of hemp seeds contain 3.5 mg or over 23% of the daily requirement of zinc.

How to eat them: Grind the hemp seeds and them to your breakfast cereal or smoothie.

Rajma is a source of zinc

A favourite in many households in north India, half a cup of cooked rajma has about 8% of your daily requirement of zinc.

However, rajma is a legume. As such, it also contains phytates (plant compounds that get in the way of zinc—and iron—absorption). Researchers say soaking, sprouting, heating are all different ways to break down the phytates in legumes and grains.

How to eat them: Soak the rajma overnight. Sprout them by hanging them in a wet cloth for one or two days till the tiny shoots come out. Take the rajma out (you can also heat them in water to soften them, though this isn’t absolutely necessary). Add your favourite salad leaves and vegetables for a healthy meal.

PS: You can also do this with chickpeas or white chane. You can also add peanuts, another legume that is a great source of zinc, to salads.

Nuts are a good source of zinc

Almonds, pine nuts, cashew nuts are all moderately good sources of zinc.

How to eat them: Soak the almonds overnight. Crush them and add them to milk for a healthy breakfast shake. If you are a fan of dark chocolate, you can also add 70-85% dark chocolate shavings or pure cocoa powder to your shake. You can add a bit of honey for taste. You can also replace regular milk with oat milk to make your drink healthier still.

Zinc in dairy products

Milk, yoghurt and some cheeses are also moderately good sources of zinc. However, keep in mind that it won’t be possible to get all the zinc you need from just these sources.

How to eat them: You could make a hemp seed and milk porridge. Heat a cup of milk, add a small pinch of cardamom powder and simmer. Add about 100 grams of hemp seeds. Sweeten with honey, and enjoy warm or cold.

Zinc rich fruits and vegetables

Fruits like pomegranatekiwi and guava and berries like blackberries, raspberries, blueberries have small amounts of zinc.

Avocados, shiitake mushrooms, lima beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes also contain zinc.

How to eat them: You can eat the fruits and berries raw or in smoothies with a little bit of yoghurt and honey.

You can bake or stir-fry the vegetables for a delicious yet healthy lunch.

Zinc in dark chocolate

Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has many health benefits. One of them is the fact that chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa has over 3 mg of zinc per 100 grams. Be careful not to overindulge in chocolate though, as the added sugar and milk solids are not helpful for maintaining good health.

At the turn of the century, World Health Organization researchers did an analysis on global and regional disease burden. Within this framework, they looked specifically at only three nutritional deficiencies as causes of major illnesses: deficiency of iron, vitamin A and zinc. In very young children, zinc deficiency has been linked to diarrhoeal diseases (a leading cause of death in infants in developing countries), and poorer outcomes in malaria and in pneumonia.

Writing in WHO’s “Comparative Quantification of Health Risks”, the researchers also made an important point with respect to zinc deficiency: zinc intake and absorption in the body are two very different things. So while most people may be able to get their 8-11 mg of zinc a day, there are various factors that inhibit the absorption of zinc in the body.

Some of the factors that make it harder for the body to absorb zinc include:

  • Intake of high fibre along with zinc
  • Largely vegetarian diet, with whole grains and legumes (dals) which contain phytates (plant chemicals) that prevent the absorption of zinc
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Certain medicines, especially antibiotics like tetracycline and quinolones
  • Certain digestive diseases like malabsorption, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease

Given this, it is important to include zinc-rich foods and plan your meals in such a way that they maximize your zinc absorption. If you are a regular meat or shellfish eater, then you don't have to worry about zinc intake. If you are a vegetarian, make sure you eat a balanced diet with cheese, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, peanuts, pine nuts, cashew nuts and almonds for snacks as these have moderate quantities of this essential mineral.

Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Nutritionist
7 Years of Experience

Surbhi Singh

Surbhi Singh

Nutritionist
22 Years of Experience

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Nutritionist
20 Years of Experience

Dr. priyamwada

Dr. priyamwada

Nutritionist
7 Years of Experience

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References

  1. Caulfield L.E. and Black R.E. Zinc deficiency, In "Comparative Quantification of Health Risks: Global and Regional Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Major Risk Factors", ed. M. Ezzati, A.D. Lopez, A. Rodgers, and C.J.L. Murray, vol. 1, 257–9. Geneva: Worl
  2. The United Nations University. Overview of zinc nutrition, 1 January 2004; Food and Nutrition Bulletin; 25(1) supplement 2: S99-S129.
  3. S. Hemalatha, Platel K. and K. Srinivasan. Zinc and iron contents and their bioaccessibility in cereals and pulses consumed in India. Food Chemistry, 2007; 102(4): 1328-1336.
  4. S. Hemalatha, Platel K. and K. Srinivasan. Influence of germination and fermentation on bioaccessibility of zinc and iron from food grains. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 13 September 2006; 61: 342–348.
  5. S. Hemalatha, Platel K. and K. Srinivasan. Influence of food acidulants on bioaccessibility of zinc and iron from selected food grains. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2005; 49: 950-956.
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