The Very Best Zinc Foods & How To Prevent Zinc Deficiency Forever

Welcome to the second installment of this series on Zinc. In the first blog post, I've talked about the evolutionary history of zinc as well as its downsides.

In this blog post, I'll consider what foods you need to eat to get adequate zinc status, and how to prevent a deficiency from developing. I'll also cover the topic of zinc deficiency and teach you why it's not a side-issue!

But let's first recap the first blog post:

About 2 million years ago your ancestors, which weren't Homo Sapiens yet, started incorporating more animal foods into their diets. Those animal foods, like shellfish and meat, contain higher levels of highly-absorbable zinc.

Plant foods, on the contrary, are almost always more copper heavy compared to zinc, on a proportional basis. Hence, zinc arguably became a much more important mineral driving forward human evolution.

Now, zinc, overall, has tons of different health benefits, such as improving your energy levels, enhancing sleep quality, aiding cognition, making you feel more relaxed, increasing hormonal health, and many other things.

The shocker?

Today, about 2 billion people are zinc deficient. And yes, many of these people can be found in developing nations. Yet, even in developed nations, zinc deficiency or sub-optimal status is quite prevalent.

For that reason, I decided to write out this blog post on the best foods to acquire all your daily zinc needs, and, to consider the reasons you might be deficient.

 

 

 

Best Zinc Foods On This Planet & How To Prevent Zinc Deficiency Forever

Table Of Contents

Zinc Basics (1st Installment Of Series, Click To Read HERE.)

Understanding Zinc Through Understanding Our (Human) Past
Zinc's Overall Health Benefits--And Diseases Affected By Zinc
Section Finishing Thoughts: Many People Misunderstand Zinc's Role Because They Don't Understand Evolution

Optimizing Zinc Intake 

The Best Zinc Foods And Your Daily Zinc Needs
Zinc Deficiency Signs And Prevention
Supplementing With Zinc? (3rd installment of this series; published soon)
Measuring Your Zinc Levels - Lab Tests (3rd installment of this series; published soon)

Finishing Touch

Conclusion: Zinc Is Not Just An Afterthought.

 

Ready? Let's go:

 

 

 

The Best Zinc Foods And Your Daily Zinc Needs

Remember I extensively talked about shellfish in the introduction of this article. I did not mention shellfish without a reason.

Not only are shellfish the food with the highest availability of zinc, the zinc in these foods is also the most absorbable.

Absorption?

Yes:

The most important factor in consuming zinc is not how much zinc you take in, but how much you're able to effectively utilize.

Absorption is a simple term to describe how much net zinc you're able to utilize when eating a food.

Let me explain with an example:

You can consume lots of zinc through grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, or beans, but that zinc is not used by your body very well if you consume these foods untreated.

With "untreated" I mean that you cannot properly absorb the zinc in these foods without properly preparing them.

Why?

Many plant foods contain what are called "anti-nutrients".[15; 16; 17; 18; 19; 20If you eat such foods they always need to be soaked, cooked, fermented, germinated, or sprouted before you can safely eat them in the first place.

(Don't worry if you don't know what "soaking" or "sprouting" mean. I'll give you a link to a guide on that topic soon.)

Anti-nutrients are substances in plants that are meant to protect the plant from consumption. Properly treating plan food will reduce their anti-nutrient content. 

While different types of foods contain different anti-nutrients, the highest levels are found in grains, beans, cacao, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

The hulls of most grains, for example, contain both lots of minerals as well as anti-nutrients. The inner part of the grain can be more easily digested by humans--but is much lower in minerals as well.

If you're eating white bread, therefore, you'll miss out on minerals. Why? By eating white bread you're not consuming the hull of the grain. But if you're eating whole grains instead, you need to properly deal with anti-nutrients instead.

By soaking grains in hot water for 8-24 hours, you'll reduce the anti-nutrient content so that you can fully absorb minerals such as zinc. After soaking, grains need to be cooked. If you skip those processes you'll end up with nutritional deficiencies as so many people on this planet do.

"Phytic acid" is an example of such an anti-nutrient.

Depending on the specific grain, you can fully eliminate phytic acid through that process of soaking and cooking. In other plants, such as nuts, fully removing phytic acid is a lot harder.



 (I oversimplify my argument on phytates and anti-nutrients because different types of phytates exist.[429] To be more precise: phytic acid is made up of phosphorus that's not directly bioavailable in humans. The non-phosphorus parts of the phytic acid compound can bind with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Additionally, phytic acid alters gut function unfavorably, further decreasing the net mineral absorption. Besides phytic acid, there are other anti-nutrients such as "lectins", "tanning", and "oxalates".[451; 452; 453] All of these anti-nutrient compounds will lower your net zinc intake if not properly dealt with.)



Of course, small quantities of untreated grains or nuts will not be detrimental to your health--but they won't be optimal either.

Health problems are created when you rely on untreated plant products for longer periods of time. 

And that's exactly where most people go wrong:

Even in the developed world many people are relying on plant foods that have not been prepared properly. An improper preparation of plant foods is a recipe for disaster.

You might be thinking: "absolutely all plants?"

No...

Fruits are generally an exception to the preparation process - these foods can thus be consumed raw. How about vegetables? Vegetables often need some cooking time before you can properly digest them.

(I subsume tubers under "vegetables" in that instance.)

In general, I do not support the reliance on grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and lentils as a staple of human nutrition.[25] To me, consuming lots of these foods inadvertently creates mineral deficiencies.

White rice is safe but does not supply you lots of minerals either. Potatoes are also relatively safe. Adding vitamin C to a meal that's rich in anti-nutrients - from vegetables or fruits - also lowers anti-nutrient damage.

Can you survive on these aforementioned foods? Sure. Will your health be optimal when mostly relying on plant foods such as grains, nuts, and beans? No.

Remember:

The goal of this blog is to move you towards optimal health. Being "average" is (or rather: should be) of no concern to my readers.

Several studies have fortunately investigated the effects of treating plants on zinc absorption.[27; 331; 446] 

Fermenting grains, for example, increases their zinc absorption.[21; 23] Soaking rice and maize also increases their zinc absorption.[22; 24If you do nothing and eat foods such as nuts untreated, mineral absorption can be lowered over 80%.[473] 

Nevertheless, I also know that many readers will keep consuming lots of plants foods anyhow. For that reason, I've decided to include a few steps to properly treat your foods so that they are absorbed well by your body.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I'd recommend reading this excellent analysis on reducing the phytic acid (and anti-nutrient) content in different types of food.  

Click and read that guide.

Are you a visual learner? Watch the following video on properly preparing grains and legumes.

How about combining animal and plant foods though? When you include animal protein with your plant-based meal, mineral absorption levels rise again.[35

The causal relationship also works the other way around though:

By adding foods that are high in anti-nutrients to animal foods, the mineral absorption from these animal foods is impeded.[454] If you want to optimize your overall mineral status, it's probably best to include an animal-food only meal once in a while.

Now, the consequences of consuming phytic acid from food are not all negative.[447; 448; 449; 450]

Phytic acid can help your gut function, may reduce your chances of getting cancers, and stabilize blood glucose. Including plant food with your diet can thus increase your overall health.

In summary, if you're relying mostly on plant foods anyway, what's important is  that:

  1. All these "anti-nutrients" may also have health benefits, depending on your individual situation, but inhibit mineral absorption as well.
  2. Specific anti-nutrients can exclusively be removed through soaking, fermenting, cooking, or sprouting.

Knowing what I've told you so far, you might be thinking:

"Exactly how much zinc should I get?"

The answer is: it depends...

Let's consider an adult woman:

If you consume lots of food that has very low bioavailable zinc, you need to consume up to 30 milligrams of zinc per day. If you consume foods that have extremely-high bioavailable zinc, you might merely need 5 milligrams per day.

In general, it's recommended that men get 11 milligrams of zinc per day on average, while women should get 8 milligrams per day.[354]

Pregnant women, however, need 11 milligrams, and lactating women 12 milligrams. 

Kids? Babies up to 1-year-old need 3 milligrams per day. From age 1, that dosage slowly increases until 12-year-olds are consuming 8 milligrams. 

Interestingly enough, the US has lowered their zinc recommendation from 15 milligrams per day to 11 milligrams--even though many people are slightly zinc deficient in the West already.

The be more precise:

In the US, for example, only 42% of elderly people meet their daily zinc intake.[442] Lowering the daily required zinc intake is a quick way to "create much fewer zinc-deficient people". Of course, the solution is only cosmetic, because lowering standards does not solve any underlying problem.

So what's my opinion on zinc dosages?

As often, the answer is "it depends..."

Let's first consider what not to do:

Many studies have been carried out where participants depleted of their zinc levels (consuming less than 5 milligrams a day, with an average of 3 milligrams of zinc per day).[295; 355; 356; 357; 358; 359; 360; 361; 362]

The results zinc-depletion on health are disastrous.

Eating 10 - 30 milligrams of zinc per day will get most people's zinc levels back up (assuming animal food consumption). Zinc levels can get fully restored within 1-3 weeks. From many different studies we thus grossly know how much zinc you should be getting.

(As a side note, these zinc depletion studies are totally interesting from an ethical point of view. Nowadays you would never pass a 0,5-milligram daily-dosed zinc depletion study with a medical ethics board).

Of course, no zinc dosage recommendations is set in stone.

If you're eating lots of foods that are high in anti-nutrients such as phytates, you're going to absorb less zinc from these foods, and need (much) more than 11 milligrams per day as a male.

If you're really active, you probably need more than 11 milligrams of zinc per day as well. If you want optimal health the same is true. Remember that the "recommended daily allowance" is just a statistic under which most people do not become deficient.

An absence of a zinc deficiency does not mean that your zinc levels are optimal...

If you're exclusively eating plant foods, you might need as much as 30 milligrams of these foods to avoid a zinc deficiency. If you're including animal foods, one meal of a few oysters will already supply you with more than your daily need.

To make things simpler for you, let's get calculation somewhat out of the way...

Let's look at the 25 best zinc foods, weighted per 100g (3.3 ounces) while assuming an 11 milligrams per day zinc (absolute minimum) need.

(The percentage of the daily recommended allowance is listed behind the food type. Animal foods are listed in bold. I've included the highest listed variant of the product (i.e., out of 12 oysters I've included the oyster highest in zinc. Duplicates have been removed from the list. Foods have been sourced from nutritiondata.org. Numbers are calculated by me.)

  1. Eastern oysters (raw): 91 milligrams (827%)
  2. Calf liver: 12 milligrams (109%)
  3. Lean beef chunk 10 milligrams (90%)
  4. Bear meat: 10 milligrams (90%) (no joke!)
  5. Watermelon or sesame seeds: (90%)
  6. Reindeer meat: 9 milligrams (81%)
  7. Lamb meat: 9 milligrams (81%)
  8. Pumpkin and squash seeds: 7 milligrams (63%)
  9. Lobster: 7 milligrams (63%)
  10. Turkey: 7 milligrams (63%)
  11. Low-fat ground beef: 7 milligrams (63%)
  12. Cacao powder: 7 milligrams (63%)
  13. Pork liver: 7 milligrams (63%)
  14. Peanuts: 7 milligrams (63%)
  15. Chicken heart: 7 milligrams (63%)
  16. Pine nuts: 6 milligrams (54%)
  17. Cowpeas: 6 milligrams (54%)
  18. Wild rice: 6 milligrams (54%)
  19. Alaska crab: 6 milligrams (54%)
  20. Agar seaweed: 6 milligrams (54%)
  21. Cashew nuts: 6 milligrams (54%)
  22. Mustard seed: 6 milligrams (54%)
  23. Raw lobster: 6 milligrams (54%)
  24. Bison meat: 5 milligrams (45%)
  25. Sunflower seeds: 5 milligrams (45%)

Please keep in mind that because I've chosen to include the highest-scoring zinc value of each food type, instead of the average of many instances of that food type. To get to an average zinc value you might need to subtract 30%-40% of the zinc in these foods.

The average oyster, in reality, thus has closer to 60 milligrams of zinc in it.

(The reason I chose this method is because averaging the zinc intake over hundreds of beef product is un-doable. While the method I describe above is imperfect, at least it's replicable.)

Spices have also been removed from the list because I don't assume anyone eats 100 grams (3.3 ounces) of spices per day.

The best zinc foods?

Animal proteins - mostly stemming from meats and shellfish - and legumes, seeds, and nuts thus rule the day. Eggs, dairy, whole grains, and beans are great runner-ups that are not listed in the top 25.

bison as an excellent zinc source
"Don't eat us! Those oysters 
over there contain more zinc..."


So that's that: you now know about the foods highest in zinc. These high-zinc foods are - not accidentally - also the foods that drove our human predecessors to develop much larger brains than our primate ancestors.

Let's now consider how you can make sure you're getting adequate zinc. I'll tell you everything you need to know about zinc deficiency and how to solve that problem.



(Nerd section: where your oysters are grown does matter. When waters are polluted, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury levels can become problematic. If your general health is good, heavy metals will not be problematic. With poorer general health, I do recommend taking this variable into account.



Want a simple infographic that describes the 10 most important lessons I got from reading hundreds of studies on zinc? Subscribe below:

 

Zinc Deficiency Signs And Prevention

About 17% of the world's population is currently at risk of an inadequate zinc intake.[185Other statistics maintain that about 2 billion people - which is more than 25% of the Wold's population. 

While developed countries do better than poor countries, zinc problems are not absent from the developed world.  10% of the US population consumes less than half of the daily recommended allowance of zinc for instance.

That number is obscene...

One main reason many people end up with a zinc deficiency is that they're relying too much on plant foods:

Unrefined cereals, which are consumed en masse in many countries, combined with an absence of beef (liver), lamb, shellfish, eggs, and milk, almost certainly cause zinc deficiencies over time.[364; 365]

So, what are symptoms of a zinc deficiency?

  • First, there's muscle mass loss.[230; 231] 

    The lower the zinc levels in your body become, the more prone you'll be to lose weight - specifically muscle mass. 

    Why?

    Well, you already know that zinc is absolutely essential for hormonal health. Steroid hormones such as testosterone are essential for keeping muscle mass levels high - yes, women also need optimal testosterone levels for muscle mass and well-being as well.

    Next, zinc stimulates appetite. If you're not getting enough zinc, you're more prone to under-eat, which makes it harder to retain your muscle mass.

    Lost (too much) weight? You might be zinc deficient...

  • Poor skin[135; 417; 418]

    I've mentioned this problem before when demonstrating that zinc could be beneficial for skin problems such as acne.

    Well, if you've got poor skin health, you might just be deficient in zinc. Of course, having a poor skin does not automatically entail a zinc deficiency. It's also possible that you're not getting enough sunlight, for example, which often leads to skin problems as well.

    Dry and scaling skin, however, can be a sign of zinc deficiency. Your wounds may heal slower while being zinc-deficient.

    (on another note, white spots on your nails are also a cosmetic sign of zinc deficiency. Thinning hair or hair loss are (possible) signs as well.)

    Overall, poor skin is a sign that your health is worsening. Skin problems should not be ignored.

  • Having a slow working thyroid - also called "hypothyroidism".[107; 108]

    You might be asking: "well, what are signs of hypothyroidsim?"

    Good question...

    Hypothyroidism symptoms are insomnia, having low energy, gaining weight, having poor circulation in your hands and feet, dry skin, and thinning hair.

    Thyroid problems are epidemic in modern society. 

    Zinc deficiency is one reason why people become hypothyroid. Upping your zinc intake can be one way to deal with thyroid problems without having to rely on thyroid hormone supplementation.

  • Being sick very often.[62; 65; 67; 68; 190] 

    Again, zinc plays a major role in the immune system. Being deficient in zinc makes you more susceptible for getting a virus infection, for example. 

    But remember that zinc also plays a general role in your immune system. Zinc builds white blood cells and has anti-cancer properties. Diarrhea, which I've mentioned before as well, is also a zinc-deficiency sign that has an immunological connotation.

    Are you sick two times every winter? 

    Double check your zinc levels...

  • White tongue coating and sores in your mouth.[421]

    Ulcers in your mouth, specifically the inside of your lips, are signs of zinc deficiency. Inflammation of the mouth and lips, and having a white coating on your tongue are similar signs. 

    This zinc deficiency sign is simple to observe...

  • Feeling down.[474]

    I've already mentioned the role of zinc deficiency in depression. Other possibilities are a lack of energy and enthusiasm or heightened irritability.

    Another way through which zinc deficiency will make you feel bad is by lowering your testosterone levels. 

    Of course, you also know already know that zinc plays a role in the acquirement of psychiatric disorders. 

    Lastly, having a low libido is also a sign of zinc deficiency. Having a low libido, especially if you're 20-50 years old should never be ignored or accepted as "natural" or "part of aging".

    But back to my previous point:

    Never ignore depression. While there are many other reasons you can be depressed besides a zinc deficiency, if you're got a depression I'd closely look at whether you've got any other of the zinc deficiency signs.

  • An altered sense of smell, vision and taste.[419; 420; 421]

    Zinc is enormously important for being able to smell, see, and taste properly. If you're zinc deficient, your senses simply won't work as well as they otherwise would.

    That taste and smell disorder may reduce your appetite in turn, creating a vicious circle of underfeeding - which exacerbates the zinc deficiency problem.

    How about vision? With a zinc deficiency, you may have night blindness. Night blindness can also be caused by a vitamin A deficiency though.

So, what if you've concluded that you may be zinc deficient? In that case, you've hopefully read the list of foods that are high in zinc. 

You thus know what to eat...

What's next?

Devise a plan.

In the next part of this blog post, I'm giving you several methods to increase the zinc absorption.

Follow these steps to increase zinc absorption:

  • Eating sufficient high-quality protein with your meal. 

    Examples of such high-quality proteins are "whey", "casein" or egg protein, or meat, crustaceans (crab, lobster), and shellfish of course.

    (Whey and casein are found in several milk products. To be more precise: casein is found in milk, yogurt, and cheese--whey is found in milk and is often used as a protein powder.)

    Certain sources of protein also lower zinc absorption though.[32; 33; 315] The serum of beef blood called "bovine serum albumin" is one example. That bovine serum is not commonly consumed by human beings, so you don't have to worry about your zinc absorption there.

    Soy protein is an example of a protein that lowers zinc absorption that is widely consumed and thus problematic.

    Please observe that many of the animal foods that are high in zinc also contain lots of protein. Lobster, oysters, or beef, contain both zinc that's highly absorbable as well as lots of protein.

  • Although this assertion is somewhat common sense: the more zinc contained in your meal, the higher zinc absorption levels will be.[30; 31; 34; 36; 318]

    There's a law of diminishing return though: once you consume more zinc in absolute terms, the relative absorption percentage does down. 

    The more zinc you ingest, the more you'll excrete as well. Consuming 75 oysters in one sitting might thus not be the best strategy...

  • Make sure you ingest enough vitamin B1, B2, and B6.[125; 232; 233] 

    B vitamins. 

    Most people know B vitamins are important but are unaware of the best sources. Let's, therefore, give you a list:

    Beef, liver, milk, nuts, oranges, pork, eggs, and shellfish are your best vitamin B1 options.

    Vitamin B2? Lamb, milk, mushrooms, spinach, beef, pork, fish, avocados.

    Eggs, fish, starchy vegetables, fruits, and beef are great sources of vitamin B6 that's highly usable for your body. 

    I hope you see a general pattern in these food sources...

  • Vitamin A and D also increase the absorption of zinc.[126; 127]

    To be more precise: you need both vitamin A and D. Meat - especially organ meats such as liver - and eggs are excellent sources of vitamin A.

    Unfortunately, liver contains very high levels of copper, which may counteract optimal zinc absorption. Meat and eggs are thus great ways to supply your body with enough vitamin A without overloading your body on copper.

  • The mineral "selenium" may increase the absorption of zinc.[319; 320]

    Unfortunately, this effect has not yet been tested in human beings. Many great zinc sources such as lamb, beef, and oysters, and eggs contain some selenium as well.

 

What can you learn from the zinc-increasing factors described above?

Animal protein contains many of the co-factors that increase zinc absorption that I've just described: vitamin A and D, selenium, B-vitamins, and lots of milligrams of zinc. If you're zinc deficient, it might be best to avoid combining these animal foods with plant foods during that specific meal.

Again: the best way to make sure you're getting enough zinc is to include one meal per day that's high in animal protein - while not including any plant food in that meal.

Of course, you can consume many plant foods during the other meals you're ingesting during the day.

I think it's paramount to strike the right balance.

I think the maximal absorption of minerals is one of the reasons so many people are turning towards a carnivore diet right now. Mineral deficiencies are extremely widespread - even in the developed world - and more easily cured with a diet that exclusively prescribes animal foods.

While I'm not suggesting a diet that exclusively includes animal foods, there's merit to that strategy.

meat as the main source of zinc for millions of years, to prevent deficiency
Returning home with meat:
celebrated for millions of years
with good reason.

 
I'm not done yet though.

There's more one important step in my argument: looking at the variables that make you more susceptible to creating a zinc-deficiency.

There are several reasons that make you more likely to be zinc deficient:

  • Prescription medication can lower overall zinc levels.[109] 

    Examples are stomach acids blockers, hormones, epilepsy drugs, diabetes medication, and anti-inflammatory drugs. If you're older, and on multiple drugs, your zinc levels will also be lower.[154]

    No wonder 60% of elders are zinc-deficient - even in rich countries...

  • Not consuming enough zinc through your diet, either because you're eating lots of plant foods that are not treated or because you're not consuming enough zinc in absolute terms.[209]

    Of course, you already know by now that plants foods (i.e. soaked, milled, fermented, sprouted) to be absorbed correctly. Nevertheless, vegetarians and vegans literally have higher chances of becoming zinc deficient. 

    This reason is a no-brainer, but I've included it anyway to give you complete information in this section.

  • If you're consuming too much copper (in all your meals).

    Beef liver is one of richest foods in copper on this planet. You might not know, however, that copper inhibits zinc absorption. 

    It's therefore not enough to eat foods that are very high in zinc--they also need to be ideal in the amount of copper they supply. 

    If you're thus consuming lots of beef liver - even thought that food is very high in zinc - you can still end up with a zinc-deficiency.

    Low zinc levels are one problem that vegans and vegetarians often experience because plants, in general, contain a higher value of the daily recommended allowance of copper than zinc. 

    The more you rely on plants, the higher the copper to zinc ratio of your diet becomes. Only a few plants have a good zinc to copper ratio exist, such as pumpkin seeds. But naturally, pumpkin seeds are very high in phytic acid, reducing their absorption.

    Supplementing with zinc is therefore highly recommended for vegans and vegetarians.

    Quick tip:

    One way to lower overall copper levels is consuming a mineral called "molybdenum". That mineral releases copper from your body, and prevents too much copper from being absorbed. 

    High-quality zinc supplements sometimes include this mineral in their formula.[156; 157; 158]

  • If you're having digestive problems.[186; 187; 188; 227; 235]

    Examples are having a leaky gut or not having enough stomach acid. 

    If you're having a leaky gut - whereby junctions in your intestines let through substances into your bloodstream that shouldn't be there - zinc may play a role in that process. A leaky gut is connected to many food absorption diseases, such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel disease, and an inability to tolerate gluten.

    Lots of people deal with low stomach issues as well in modern-day society. A common example of having low stomach acid is acid-reflux - which is often not a sign of having too much stomach acid...

    Consequences?

    A vicious circle of zinc-depletion. 

    How?

    Low stomach acid lowers zinc uptake, and a lower zinc increases your gut problems.

    There's more though:

    With less zinc in your body you'll be even more prone to not properly digesting and utilizing protein. That's why I mentioned muscle mass loss as a sign for reason for zinc deficiency earlier.

    In addition, zinc is also necessary to produce sufficient stomach acid in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, you need stomach acid to properly digest foods.

  • If you're drinking lots of alcohol, you'll lose out on zinc.[216; 217; 218; 219; 220; 221; 222; 223]

    The more alcohol you consume, the worse your body is able to hold on to zinc. 

    My message gets worse though: 

    Rat studies have demonstrated that you're more prone to consume alcohol once you're zinc deficient - further exacerbating the problem. 

    Increasing your zinc intake, however, will prevent some of the damage that alcohol does to your liver. That's a simple solution...

    Interestingly enough, the zinc content of your brain goes down the more alcohol you drink. Being deficient of zinc also decreases the functioning of your gut, which makes you more susceptible to the toxic effect of alcohol - such as to your liver and brain.

    Nevertheless, I do remember the late night parties in college very fondly...

  • I've mentioned this before: heavy exercise depleted zinc.[101; 210; 211; 212; 213; 214; 215; 216 

    But let's dig into detail:

    The higher the temperature and the more you're sweating, the greater the zinc loss. There are also indications - although somewhat contested - that heavy exercise can lead to zinc losses in your urine.

    The amount of zinc in your body is thus important to manage once you're exercising a lot.

    Don't waste your precious time by killing yourself in the gym while not making sure you're getting enough zinc...

  • If you combine lots of iron and zinc at the same time, zinc may not be absorbed as well.[162; 163; 164; 165; 166]

    The zinc-absorbing effect is especially present from, you guessed it: iron coming from plants

    That's double trouble...

    Plants thus contain copper levels that inhibit zinc absorption, while their iron also competes. Many animal foods contain another type of iron - called "heme iron" - that is non-problematic for zinc-absorption.

    With low doses of iron and zinc, no problem is present.

  • People with diabetes lose out on zinc.[380; 381

    If you've got diabetes, you'll have lower zinc levels in general.

    Even though diabetics have lower zinc levels in their tissues they still excrete more zinc than people who do not have diabetes.

    Thus: manage your zinc status properly as a diabetic. Also, make sure to watch your magnesium intake if you've got diabetes.

  • If you're deficient in a protein called "albumin", which is located in your blood, zinc in your body will be lower.[299; 300; 301; 302; 382 ]

    Some diseases affect your blood albumin levels and lead to lower zinc levels. Why? Albumin carries zinc in your blood. 

    While treating albumin-conditions lies beyond the scope of the argument I'm making in this blog post, suffice it to say that albumin problems will make getting sufficient zinc to the right places in your body more difficult.

    Fortunately, people who have a condition affecting albumin (probably) know about this problem.

  • If your food is grown in a soil that's zinc-deficient.[334; 335; 336; 337; 338; 339]

    What's the role of zinc in crops?

    Zinc is essential for different plant growth processes, such as photosynthesis (plants absorbing light energy from the sun) and overall growth.

    It's estimated that an absence of zinc might be one of the biggest mineral-deficiency problems in modern soils. If chemical fertilizers high in other minerals, such as sodium and phosphorus, zinc levels will get depleted when it's not added to the fertilizer mixture.

    Zinc depletion in soils is not a side-issue. 50% of soils in Asia are low in zinc. The more intense (read: Westernized) the farming method, the greater the overall zinc depletion observed.

    The effects of zinc-depleted soils are widespread:

    If a soil is zinc-depleted, you can consume all the red meat and lamb you want, but you're not getting adequate zinc in your diet.

    Crazy right?

    What's even more interesting is that some types of food are especially prone to be hit by zinc deficiencies: high-yield crops. High yield crops include grains, beans, rice, soybean, and corn. If you remove the outer layers of plants such as grains, you're removing most of the zinc as well. 

    It's therefore almost necessary to eat whole grains that are treated properly to get your daily zinc needs met, instead of processed grains - if they make up the bulk of your diet.

    How to be sure that your food contains enough zinc? 

    Firstly, read the label on zinc if that's available. Alternatively, look at some measurements of zinc levels in common foods in your nation. Some nations have soils that are low on zinc...

  • If you're having genetic issues with transporting zinc.[416]

    Some people might simply have higher zinc requirements because of genetic reasons. Unfortunately, these genes and their underlying mechanisms have not been completely identified yet.

    I'm not an expert in the genetics of zinc transportation (yet), so I cannot fully help you here.

That's it. 

A full list of all reasons why you might be more prone to be zinc-deficient. It's not just getting enough zinc that's the issue though:

Some people will supplement with crazy amounts of zinc, thinking that more is better. You can easily go overboard though with 50-milligram zinc supplements that are commonly sold.

50 milligrams of zinc equals almost 500% of the daily recommended allowance. If you solely take in zinc as a supplement, without iron or copper, the latter two minerals will get depleted over time.

There's another side of the equation though - the opposite of a deficiency:

Let's consider having excessive zinc levels in your body. What happens in that instance[377; 378; 430; 431; 432; 433; 434; 435; 436; 437; 438; 439]

You can get:

  • Chest pain, which may occur from breathing zinc oxide from industrial processes
  • Nausea, often occurring if 50 - 100 milligrams of zinc lozenges are used against a common cold.
  • Inflammation of the kidneys (and damage at higher dosages).
  • Vomiting, which may already happen once you ingest 100-200 milligrams of elemental zinc in a single dosage.
  • Fatigue, also occurring from inhaling industrially created zinc oxide - combined with fever.
  • Digestive problems and pain, which can take place if you exceed 150 milligrams of zinc for longer periods of time.
  • Lower HDL cholesterol in your blood - which is considered "good cholesterol" - from doses above 100 milligrams. (As a side note, it's very probable that HDL cholesterol is not the exclusive "good" cholesterol).
  • An impaired immune system, at doses above 80 milligrams for a longer period of time.
  • Damage to the nervous system.
  • Liver toxicity.
  • Copper deficiency. Zinc and copper need to be present in about a 7:1 to 10:1 ratio in your diet. Many people already have an excess in copper in modern society, however, thereby not meriting an even lower net zinc to copper ratio.
  • Lethargy

It's important to understand that you will not just end up with a zinc toxicity by using extreme doses of zinc foods and supplements. On the contrary, it's also possible to be exposed to toxic zinc levels through industrial settings.[379]

Overall, the most important message of this section is that both an excess and deficiency of zinc are bad.

In the next installment of this series, I'll tell you all you need to know about how and when to supplement. 

Want a simple infographic that describes the 10 most important lessons I got from reading hundreds of studies on zinc? Subscribe below:

 

Finishing Thoughts: Fix The Low-Hanging Fruit - Deficiency Is Easy To Overcome But Very Prevalent!

The message is the same as always: rely on healthy food whenever you can!

Hopefully, this blog post has convinced you to include some oysters into your diet once in a while, and some red meat, and some (calf) liver.

These foods are especially helpful because they contain more fat-soluble vitamins and B-vitamins, which further increase absorption.

Easy, right?

Because if you don't consume sufficient levels, you'll become deficient in zinc. 

Skin problems, a poorly functioning thyroid, being sick very frequently, depression, and altered sensations are signs of zinc deficiency. Excess of zinc, which generally only occurs if you supplement too much with zinc or over-rely on zinc-rich foods, leads to many symptoms as well.

Want certainty?

Read the next installment in this series on lab testing your zinc status and the best supplements if you cannot ingest zinc for one reason or another... 

 

Items Mentioned

 

This is a post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and is currently a health consultant at Alexfergus.com. 

 

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