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Zinc in diet

Zinc is an important trace mineral that people need to stay healthy. Of the trace minerals, this element is second only to iron in its concentration in the body.

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Function

Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. It is needed for the body's defensive (immune) system to properly work. It plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates.

Zinc is also needed for the senses of smell and taste. During pregnancy, infancy, and childhood the body needs zinc to grow and develop properly. Zinc also enhances the action of insulin.

Information from an expert review on zinc supplements showed that:

Food Sources

Animal proteins are a good source of zinc. Beef, pork, and lamb contain more zinc than fish. The dark meat of a chicken has more zinc than the light meat.

Other good sources of zinc are nuts, whole grains, legumes, and yeast.

Fruits and vegetables are not good sources, because the zinc in plant proteins is not as available for use by the body as the zinc from animal proteins. Therefore, low-protein diets and vegetarian diets tend to be low in zinc.

Zinc is in most multivitamin and mineral supplements. These supplements may contain zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, or zinc acetate. It is not clear whether one form is better than the others.

Zinc is also found in some over-the-counter medicines, such as cold lozenges, nasal sprays, and nasal gels.

Side Effects

Symptoms of zinc deficiency include:

Zinc supplements taken in large amounts may cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. These symptoms most often appear within 3 to 10 hours of swallowing the supplements. The symptoms go away within a short period of time after stopping the supplements. An excess intake of zinc can lead to copper or iron deficiency.

People who use nasal sprays and gels that contain zinc may have side effects, such as losing their sense of smell.

Recommendations

REFERENCE INTAKES

Dosages for zinc, as well as other nutrients, are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine. DRI is a term for a set of reference intakes that are used to plan and assess the nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values, which vary by age and gender, include:

Dietary Reference Intakes for zinc: 

Infants (AI)

Children and infants (RDA)

Adolescents and Adults (RDA)

The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins and minerals is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods.

Related Information

Iron in diet
Enzyme
Metabolism
Carbohydrates

References

Mason JB. Vitamins, trace minerals, and other micronutrients. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 218.

Salwen MJ. Vitamins and trace elements. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2017:chap 26.

Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(6):CD001364. PMID: 23775705 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23775705.

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Review Date: 2/2/2019  

Reviewed By: Emily Wax, RD, CNSC, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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