Zinc is a necessary mineral for the normal functioning of the body. It is responsible for the stimulation of over a 100 enzymes, which controls various body functions. The most common sources of zinc are legumes, nuts, seeds, meat, fish and dairy products.
When consumed adequately, there are various health benefits that zinc provides:
- Zinc improves the immune system and helps in the prevention of all kind of diseases including the common cold and certain types of cancer. It promotes healthy cell division and directs the immune system to attack cancerous cells.
- Zinc is also important for treating diarrhea, which can be deadly in young children.
- It acts as a natural antioxidant and fights oxidative stress.
- Zinc helps to regulate hormones including insulin, which may help those with diabetes.
- Zinc is also known to increase fertility, maintain digestive and liver health, and also promotes muscle growth.
What happens when there is a zinc deficiency?
Some of the most common symptoms of a zinc deficiency are:
- Chronic fatigue
- Changes in taste and random food cravings
- Loss or sudden increase of appetite
- Hair loss
- Weight fluctuations
- Hormone problems
- Memory and concentration issues
- Nerve dysfunction
Poor immunity and digestive problems are the first indicators of a zinc deficiency.
What should vegans and vegetarians know about zinc?
Vegans are the most at risk group for a zinc deficiency. This is because the best sources for zinc are meats and other animal based products. Legumes and grains can provide sufficient amounts of zinc but they are harder to break down in the body. Vegetables also contain zinc but may not be as useful since they contain phytates, which prevents zinc absorption.
For vegans, the best sources of zinc are legumes, oatmeal, nuts and seeds. Not only because these foods contain zinc, they are also good sources of protein, which helps with zinc absorption. Zinc supplements may be required for people that have poor digestive systems and cannot absorb adequate amounts of zinc from their food. While there is sufficient proof to suggest that non-vegetarians absorb more zinc, studies have shown that vegans and vegetarians absorb only minimally less amounts of zinc. Generally, vegans and those wanting to go vegan, are advised to maintain high levels of protein and zinc in their bodies.
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