Why zinc is important in your diet

You start your day with a glass of milk for calcium and regularly add palak to your rotis and salads to ensure you get enough iron. But are you having enough zinc?

This lesser-known mineral is one of the most important nutrients for human health. It is vital for over 200 chemical reactions in our body and the efficient functioning of our immune system. Unfortunately, a majority of the world population is deficient in zinc, some without even realizing it.

Individuals who have frequent colds, coughs and premature graying of hair are often lacking in zinc. Deficiency of this substance can cause or exacerbate conditions ranging from acne to diabetes. Without zinc, our sense of taste and smell as well as our appetite also reduces.

Men in particular, especially those with an active sex life, should regularly monitor their zinc levels. This is because sperm contains a large quantity of zinc, which is utilized in its production and lost during ejaculation. So, it needs to be replenished.

Zinc is not stored by our organs, so we need to fuel our system with it daily. The recommended dietary allowance for zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women.

Now that you know why zinc is important in your diet, include these zinc-rich foods in your diet to get your daily dose:

Seafood
Oysters, crab, lobsters, clam and mussels are among the most potent natural sources of zinc. A platter of six oysters, if you can stomach it, can provide up to 76 mg of zinc in one go, which is nearly seven times the recommended daily allowance.

Meat
Individuals who regularly consume non-vegetarian food are usually getting a decent amount of zinc from their meals. Beef, lamb, pork and salmon contain the highest concentration of zinc but chicken is also a good source. But don’t take large helpings as these foods are also high in cholesterol and fat.

Grains
Vegetarians can meet their zinc need via grains. Our regular chapati contains a small but decent amount of zinc. A cup of cooked oats will take you 2.3 milligrams closer to your required daily zinc requirement. Whole wheat bread is also a good source as the yeast used in making it helps break down phytates and improve absorption of zinc.

Seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain one of the highest concentrations of zinc in a vegetarian food. A 100-gram serving of these will give you a whopping 10.3 mg of zinc, which is equivalent to your daily requirement. Squash, sunflower, chia and flax seeds are also rich in zinc.

Beans and peas
Put baked beans on your toast for a zinc-rich breakfast. A cup of canned baked beans provides 5.8 mg of zinc. A bowl of your favourite chole (chickpeas) or dal will give you 2.5 mg. Soaking beans overnight will improve zinc absorption. Allowing them to sprout further increases the mineral’s potency. A cup of peas can also give you 1.9mg of zinc.

Nuts
A 100-gram pack of pine nuts will give you your daily requirement of zinc and a cup (137 gram) of roasted cashews will give you 7.7 mg. But opt for non-fried, non-salted nuts to avoid extra fat and cholesterol. Soaking nuts overnight and then drying them before eating also helps make more zinc available for absorption.

Leafy greens
A cup of cooked spinach contains 1.4 mg of zinc, which is 9% of the required daily allowance. Amaranth leaves are also a good source.

Cereals
Many brands of cereals, such as bran flakes and muesli, are fortified with high doses of zinc. However, these cereals often contain phytates, which bind with the zinc and prevent absorption. So, don’t bank on your breakfast cereal for your daily quota.

Mushrooms and Broccoli
Stir-fry some exotic veggies for dinner. Half-cup cooked white mushrooms contain 0.7 mg of zinc and the same quantity of broccoli contains 0.4 mg.