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Zinc is a nutrient that is required for many crucial roles in the human body. During the ongoing pandemic, the importance of eating healthy for optimal health has been stressed enough. Zinc is one of the nutrients that should be a part of your diet in required quantities. It plays a crucial role in the development and function of immune cells.

Other than keeping your immune system healthy, zinc ensures healthy metabolism function, promotes wound healing, prevents acne and reduces the risk of age-related disorders. It is commonly believed that vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk of zinc deficiency. 

Studies reveal that more than 16% of respiratory infections worldwide have been found due to zinc deficiency. Adding zinc rich foods or supplements has found to protect against respiratory tract infections like the common cold, flu and keep you healthy. Zinc is commonly added to supplements and lozenges to boost immunity.

The intake of Zinc helps in fighting Covid-19 to some extent by inhibiting a certain enzyme. Its deficiency leads to weak immunity, lack of alertness, open skin pores and a weak sense of smell and taste. The second wave of Coronavirus in India has devastated everyone. The number of active cases in India is at an all-time high at the moment. If you are planning to boost your immunity by making some dietary changes and cut the risk of contracting COVID-19, then you must switch to zinc-rich foods.

From wearing double masks to having food immunity rich food, people are leaving no stones unturned to keep the virus at bay. Talking about boosting immunity, people are having several foods that are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin A or other antioxidants. However, people are overlooking an essential micronutrient, that is, Zinc. It helps in boosting immunity and acts as a shield by activating 300 enzymes. Since Zinc doesn’t get stored in our body like other micronutrients, so it’s necessary to consume it every day, says a DNA report.

Animal foods are considered to be the best sources of drink. Since there are only a few plant-based sources of zinc available, vegetarians are more likely to fall short on this mineral. However, there are some best plant-based sources of zinc available for vegetarians, zinc speeds up the healing of wounds.  Here are some of the zinc rich foods which you can include in your diet to boost your immunity and fight this deadly virus.

  1. Legumes

These are considered to be the best source of zinc for vegetarians or vegan people. It is also high in protein, magnesium, vitamins, iron, copper and phosphorous among others. Heating, soaking, or sprouting increases the bioavailability of zinc. They are also an excellent source of protein and fibre and can be easily added to soups, stews and salads.

Chick peas, lentils and beans are all legumes that contain substantial amounts of zinc. Even 100 grams of cooked lentils contain around 12% of the daily value of this essential mineral. Legumes contain high proportion of zinc. However, they also contain phytates, which reduce its absorption. Processing methods like heating, sprouting, soaking or fermenting can help improve its bioavailability. Moreover, legumes are low in calories and really good for your health.

  1. Seeds

Seeds are a healthy addition to your diet and can help increase your zinc intake. However, some seeds are better choices than others. One of the best ways to build your immunity against Covid-19 is to eat a handful of seeds such as pumpkin, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sesame contains significant amounts of zinc that fulfil up daily zinc requirement. For example, 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of hemp seeds contain 31% and 43% of the recommended daily intake for men and women, respectively. In addition to boosting your zinc intake, these seeds also contain healthy vitamins, minerals, and fibre making them an excellent addition to your diet.

These seeds also assist in reducing bad cholesterol levels and blood pressure. To add hemp, flax, pumpkin seeds into your diet, you can try adding them to salads, soups, yogurts or other food.

  1. Nuts

Nuts are another healthy alternative for satisfying your zinc requirement. Eating nuts like almonds, peanuts or cashews give you a good dose of zinc and keep you safe from heart diseases, cancer and diabetes. Did you know? People who eat nuts live longer than people who don’t.

Nuts also contain other healthy nutrients, including healthy fats and fibre, as well as a number of other vitamins and minerals. If you’re looking for a nut high in zinc, cashews are a good choice. A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains 15% of the DV.

Nuts are also a quick and convenient snack and have been linked to a reduction in risk factors for some diseases, like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

  1. Dairy foods

Milk and cheese are two notable sources, as they contain high amounts of bioavailable zinc, meaning most of the zinc in these foods can be absorbed by your body. For example, 100 grams of cheddar cheese contains about 28% of the DV, while a single cup of full-fat milk contains around 9%.

They are good for your bones, teeth and gut health. They are extremely versatile and it is easy to add them in your diet. You can make smoothies or can have milk with oats.

250 ml of low-fat milk contains 1.02 mg of zinc

250 ml of low-fat plain yoghurt contains 2.38 mg of zinc

  1. Dark Chocolate

Perhaps surprisingly, dark chocolate contains reasonable amounts of zinc. If you are a sweet tooth then satisfy your sugar cravings with dark chocolate, which is also a source of zinc. The darker you chocolate is, the higher will be the zinc content.

Dark chocolate also contains flavanol, which has some vascular benefits like managing blood pressure, improving blood flow and boosting immunity.

100-gram bar of 70–85% dark chocolate contains 3.3 mg of zinc.

However, 100 grams of dark chocolate also contain 600 calories. So, while it provides some healthy nutrients, it is a high-calorie food. While you may get some added nutrients with your treat, it’s not a food you should be relying on as your main source of zinc.

  1. Oats

Oats provide many important vitamins and minerals, and they’re linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and other health issues. Oats are the classic breakfast staple. One of the reasons why people prefer oatmeal is because it is a nutrient-dense food item. Loaded with fibre, beta-glucan, Vitamin B6 and folates, oats regulate cholesterol levels and promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Another reason to add oats in your diet is its zinc content.

A half bowl of oats contains 1.5 mg of zinc. Like legumes, oats (and other whole grains) contain phytates, which can affect how well your body absorbs the mineral. Additionally, consuming oats is extremely simple and hassle-free. Have about half a cup each morning by adding them to your milk. Throw in some of your favourite fruits for a yummy, healthy treat.

  1. Whole Grains

Whole grains like wheat, quinoa, rice and oats contain some zinc. However, like legumes, grains contain phytates, which bind to zinc and reduce its absorption. Whole grains contain more phytates than refined versions and will likely provide less zinc. Whole grains are a rich source of fibre, B vitamins, iron, phosphorous, selenium and magnesium that keeps you very healthy.

In fact, eating whole grains has been linked to a longer life and number of other health benefits, including a reduced risk of obesity, type two diabetes and heart disease

1 cup of raw oats boasts about 27 percent (2.95 mg) of the daily value of zinc, while the same amount of cooked brown rice has 13 percent (1.38 mg), and a slice of whole wheat bread contains 5 percent (0.6 mg).

  1. Some vegetables

In general, fruits and vegetables are poor sources of zinc.

However, some vegetables contain reasonable amounts and can contribute to your daily needs, especially if you don’t eat meat.

Potatoes, both regular and sweet varieties, contain approximately 1 mg per large potato, which is 9% of the DV (Daily value).

Other vegetables like green beans and kale contain less, at around 3% of the DV per 100 grams. Although they don’t contain a lot of zinc, eating a diet rich in vegetables has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.

  1.  Garlic:

Aside from the long list of benefits to your body, garlic is also one of the best sources of zinc-rich foods. Of course, the spice alone might not be enough to make up for your daily requirements, but it can make things easier for you.

Garlic is known for its properties that help get rid of cholesterol, thus reducing the risks of cardiovascular diseases for you. To talk more precisely about the zinc content, garlic has about 1.16 mg zinc per 50 grams.

Sautee garlic in olive oil and use this to season your salads. You can also consume garlic in the form of powder.

  1. Dark Chocolate

If you are a sweet tooth then satisfy your sugar cravings with dark chocolate, which is also a source of zinc. The darker you chocolate is, the higher will be the zinc content. Dark chocolate also contains flavanol, which has some vascular benefits like managing blood pressure, improving blood flow and boosting immunity.

100-gram bar of 70–85% dark chocolate contains 3.3 mg of zinc

What are the benefits of zinc?

Zinc plays a role in several bodily functions, including:

  1. Growth: People require zinc for physical growth and development. Zinc deficiency can result in impaired growth in children and adolescents.
  2. Immune system function: Our bodies use zinc to build immune system cells called T lymphocytes.
  3. Enzyme function: Zinc plays a pivotal role in triggering chemical reactions in the body. These include helping the body use folic acid and creating new proteins and DNA.
  4. Eye health: Zinc deficiency can contribute to the development of eye conditions, including macular degeneration.
  5. Wound healing: Zinc helps promote healthy skin and mucous membranes, which boosts wound healing.

Zinc deficiency

Zinc deficiency mostly occurs in vegetarians. This is because zinc is mostly found in non-vegetarian foods.

Symptoms and signs of zinc deficiency includes:

  1. Growth retardation
  2. Impaired immune function
  3. Loss of appetite
  4. Diarrhea
  5. Hair loss in severe cases
  6. Delayed sexual maturation, impotence and hypogonadism in males
  7. Eye and skin lesions
  8. Weight loss sometimes
  9. Delayed healing of wounds
  10. Mental lethargy

Recommended daily dose of zinc:-

Only a small amount of zinc is needed to maintain good health. According to NIH, the recommended daily allowance of zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men. For pregnant women, the recommended daily intake of zinc is 11 mg, and for breastfeeding women, it is 12 mg. 

Summary

Zinc is present in many natural foods, and many manufacturers add zinc to foods such as cereals.

Zinc is an essential mineral, present in many natural sources such as meat, seafood, beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts. Meat based products are usually higher in bioavailable zinc. But, if you are vegetarian or vegan, then you need to increase your intake by eating plant-based sources like eating beans, cereals, seeds, and oats, among other zinc-containing foods. These foods are easy to available and delicious addition to your diet. 

If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough zinc through your diet, consider speaking to your healthcare provider about the possibility of taking a supplement.