What is zinc?
Learn about zinc, an essential mineral the body needs for healthy growth, immunity and more. Find out which foods contain zinc and how much you need per day
Zinc is an essential mineral and its role in the body is often underestimated as it is required in small amounts. It is mostly excreted via faeces, which contain unabsorbed zinc as well as biliary and pancreatic secretions. Zinc is found in a variety of foods and supports growth and development for all ages.
Always speak to your GP or healthcare provider before taking a new supplement or if you are concerned about nutritional deficiencies.
Why do we need zinc?
Zinc plays a vital role in the body as it is required for numerous aspects of cellular metabolism and is necessary for the catalyses of approximately 200 enzymes.
It has a strong role in immune function, in addition to wound healing, DNA and protein synthesis. As zinc is crucial during growth and reproduction, it is therefore extremely important during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence.
The benefits of zinc include:
- Helps the function of the immune system, easing the effects of viruses
- Heals wounds
- Eases effects of diarrhoea
- Aids thyroid function
- Synthesises protein and helps build DNA during pregnancy
How much zinc do we need and what are the effects of consuming too much?
Daily zinc recommendations in the UK are set as a range between 5.5-9.5mg for males and 4-7mg for females. This increase for the first four months in lactating women to 13mg and after four months daily requirements are 9.5mg.
This can be achieved by eating a varied and healthy diet. As zinc is not stored by the body, consuming too much through diet alone is very difficult, but it is important to be mindful with zinc supplements.
If taken in excess, symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, anaemia and dizziness may occur. In addition, as zinc and copper are mutually antagonistic interfering with the gastrointestinal uptake of each other, taking too much of a zinc supplement may potentially reduce the amount of copper the body can absorb.
Which foods are good sources of zinc?
Rich sources of zinc include:
- Meats, such as chicken and lamb
- Fish, such as oysters, shellfish
- Pulses, e.g. lentils, beans, peas
- Nuts and seeds, such as peanuts, cashews
Recipes that are high in zinc
Moroccan chicken one-pot
Spicy salmon & lentils
Fish with spicy lentils
Spicy seafood stew with tomato & lime
Mushroom hash with poached eggs
Cajun chicken & chunky bean salsa
Beef with mange tout & cashews
More on vitamins and minerals
This content was updated on 20 October 2023.
Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in human nutrition and dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London's top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.
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