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Zinc: foods, benefits & RDA

Siski Green / 18 May 2021

Zinc is necessary for a healthy immune system. People with a diet high in processed and refined foods are likely to have a zinc deficiency

A bowl of shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are a great source of plant based zinc

What is zinc used for and does it really work?

Zinc is essential and used in a wide array of process in the body including your immune system, healing wounds, keeping your sense of taste and smell in good working order and hormonal function. Without zinc the cells in your body can’t multiply, so it really is absolutely essential. If you’re low in zinc – something that can happen if you don’t eat carefully as a vegetarian or vegan or drink too much alcohol – you may note appetite loss, lack of sense of smell or taste, slow wound healing and hormonal issues. Research has also shown that taking zinc supplements at the onset of a cold can help reduce the length of illness and the severity of symptoms.

What’s the best way to take zinc?

The recommended intake is 7mg for women and 9.5mg for men. Eating a varied diet is the best way to get enough daily zinc – a single egg will give you nearly 10% of your daily amount, for example. If you’d like to be sure you’re getting enough you can take a daily supplement, ideally an hour before or two hours after a meal so maximum asorption is acheieved.

Where can I get zinc?

Red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, milk, yogurt cheese, beans, lentils, nuts and shellfish all contain significant amounts of zinc, along with shiitake mushrooms, whole grains, ginger, mustard, chillies and black pepper.

What are the side effects or contraindications of taking zinc?

If you choose to take a zinc supplement be aware that extreme dosing has been linked with prostate cancer in men. However, this was at levels that most people wouldn’t go to – more than 100mg per day.

Zinc supplements may also cause stomach upset, so you may need to adjust the timing of your pill (taking it with a meal rather than before or after) to avoid that.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.