For most of us, specific vitamins and minerals bring instantaneous associations with particular roles: there’s calcium and phosphorus for bone health; vitamin C for immune function; vitamin E for reproductive health and fertility; iron for healthy blood and B12 for energy.

But what about zinc? What association (if any) do you have with the role zinc plays in your body?

Zinc & Your Immune System

Zinc plays an essential role within the immune system by mediating immunity through natural killer cells. As a result, low levels of zinc will contribute to reduced immunity during cold and flu season. Our family regularly turns to zinc when one of us feels the onset of a runny nose. 

Zinc & Insulin

Individuals with hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance and related conditions (such as type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease) should ensure adequate zinc intake to provide for proper degradation and clearance of insulin. 

Where to find Zinc

Repletion of this amazing mineral (and maintenance of adequate levels within the body) is a balancing act. Like all minerals and vitamins, zinc intake and supplementation should be approached in the context of its interaction with other nutrients. Just as sodium and potassium intake should be in the proper ratio, as well as calcium and magnesium, zinc has a complex interplay with other micronutrients — in particular, iron and copper. Very high zinc intakes can impair copper absorption. This does not typically occur from eating zinc-rich foods, but uninformed supplementation can potentially bring this about. Similarly, iron supplementation at high levels may impair absorption of zinc. Again, not usually a problem from consuming iron-rich foods, but rather, with unguided supplementation. The lesson to be learned here? Always talk to a medical professional before beginning a regular supplementation program. 

If you don’t want to take a zinc supplement, there are a few zinc-rich food sources you can focus on. For example, a single oyster — just one ­— provides 55% of the daily value (DV) for zinc, while a 3-oz serving provides a whopping 188%. Beef and pork are also good sources of zinc. Nuts and beans (legumes) are good plant sources of zinc. Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are frequently cited for their zinc content, and for good reason! Oe ounce provides 14% of the DV for zinc, along with significant amounts of other important minerals, such as 23% of the DV for iron, 37% for magnesium, 33% for phosphorus, and 42% for manganese.

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