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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diet and Nutrition > Zinc in the Diet
      Category : Health Centers > Food, Nutrition, and Metabolism

Zinc in the Diet

Overview & Description | Functions and Sources

Zinc is a trace mineral needed for a healthy body. It has many functions. Also, it is a part of several enzymes.


The Recommended Daily Allowance, called RDA, for zinc is 15 mg for males, age 11 and over and 12 mg for females, age 11 and over. Pregnant women should get 15 mg. Women who are breastfeeding should get 19 mg the first six months and 16 mg the second six months. A well-balanced diet will provide about 10 to 15 mg per day. Stomach acid is important to the absorption of zinc. Health problems or medicines that lower stomach acid could limit the amount of zinc that the body absorbs.

Zinc deficiency could lead to:

  • slowed growth
  • reduced taste, smell, and vision
  • poor appetite
  • mental lethargy
  • low sperm count
  • birth defects
  • impaired nerve conduction
  • nerve damage
  • poor healing of wounds
  • skin changes
  • reduced resistance to infections
  • Several factors can lead to a zinc deficiency. One is a high-fiber diet that contains a lot of phytates. These are found in unrefined cereal and unleavened whole grain products. Phytates bind to zinc and reduce its absorption. The leavening agents used in most breads usually deactivate the phytates.

    Another factor is not getting enough zinc in the diet. Vegetarians, especially vegans who do not eat meat, eggs, dairy products, and seafood, may have a harder time taking in enough zinc. Taking large amounts of iron or copper in the form of supplements or from fortified foods without taking zinc, can also result in a zinc deficiency. Groups at higher risk for this are pregnant women, the elderly, and athletes.

    Some studies suggest that zinc may help cure the common cold or at least decrease the length of a cold. Zinc lozenges are a big seller for this reason. More research needs to be done to prove this theory. Zinc is not too toxic in doses up to 45 mg per day. Doses higher than 150 mg can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. High doses can also interfere with the body's immune function. Taking doses higher than the recommended level can also prevent copper, another key mineral, from being absorbed well by the body. This can cause a copper deficiency. High doses can also reduce iron absorption. Megadoses of zinc may also lower HDL, known as the good, cholesterol levels. Taking more than the recommended amount of zinc from a supplement has no proven benefits. As noted, it can cause several risks.

    Eating lean meat on a regular basis will ensure the proper level of zinc intake. Vegetarians can meet the RDA for zinc by eating a variety of beans, cheese, milk, nuts, seeds, wheat germ, and soy products.


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    Zinc in the Diet: Functions and Sources

    Author: Kimberly Tessmer, RD, LD
    Reviewer: Kathleen A. MacNaughton, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 09/30/02

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