Nutrient Spotlight Series: Zinc

Steak DinnerWith the promise of cold and flu season on the horizon, nutrition and healthful eating come to the forefront of wellness and warding off pesky illnesses. When it comes to a balanced diet, there are many key minerals to focus on to help the immune system perform optimally. One mineral commonly associated with wellness when it comes to the common cold is zinc. Zinc performs a variety of functions and should be consumed daily to promote overall health.

Zinc is an essential micronutrient. It does not provide any energy and our bodies cannot produce or store zinc, making it necessary to consume through food. There are hundreds of reactions in the body that require zinc to ensure they are properly executed. Many of these reactions help with growth, tissue repair and immune responses. Regarding the immune system, zinc promotes wound healing, blood clotting and may help reduce the severity of symptoms associated with the common cold.

There have been many studies testing the relationship between zinc intake and health. Some of these studies have revealed a shorter length of illness and decreased severity of symptoms when zinc is consumed. Zinc also contains antioxidant properties to promote health and reduce damage caused by free radicals. Many individuals with a low zinc intake to have an increased susceptibility to infection. To prevent illness, it’s important to maintain zinc intake through whole foods.

In addition to immune support, zinc also plays a role in growth, vision, healing, taste and smell. It is also hypothesized that the mineral can help reduce the loss of vision that occurs naturally with age and may help reduce the risk of some diseases.

In order to harness all of the benefits associated with zinc, try to consume more foods that contain the mineral. Zinc can be found in animal products and vegetarian foods as well, so it can easily fit into a variety of dietary preferences. Animal products containing zinc are more bioavailable than plant sources, meaning the body can absorb and use zinc more readily from animal-based foods compared to plants. Oysters, beef, lamb, sardines, poultry and fish are among the many natural animal sources of zinc. Vegetarian sources of zinc include: legumes, whole grains, nuts, yogurt, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and soybeans. Adding these foods to a daily diet can help increase overall zinc intake along with many other beneficial nutrients. Some products in the market are now fortified with zinc. Products marketed toward reducing the duration of a cold, such as Airborne and Zicam, contain zinc due to its link to immune function.

In a foodservice setting, zinc is easily adaptable to any menu. Due to the number of plant and animal-based foods that are good sources of zinc, incorporating any of these foods will help boost the healthfulness of an entrée. To appeal to vegetarian guests, offer legumes and whole grains that feature zinc. For the meat-eaters in the restaurant, offering eggs for breakfast or beef or poultry-based entrees are simple ways to boost zinc on the menu.

Avoid taxing illnesses, sick days and low energy this year by being mindful of zinc consumption and healthful habits.

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