Eat Your Zinc

Better Nutrition|June 2020

Eat Your Zinc
It doesn’t get the press of calcium and magnesium, but this essential trace mineral plays a critical role in immune function and men’s health
By Lisa Turner

Zinc isn’t the best-known dietary mineral, but it’s necessary for a variety of essential processes in the body, including proper immune function, cell growth, wound healing, and insulin activity. And because it plays a crucial role in prostate health, testosterone production, and sexual function, zinc is especially important for men.

Several factors influence how well your body absorbs zinc. Phytate, a compound found in grains and legumes, inhibits the absorption of zinc and other minerals, including calcium. Soaking dried beans and grains before cooking them dramatically reduces phytate and makes minerals more absorbable.

Iron supplements can also block zinc absorption (but iron in foods doesn’t seem to have the same effect). And while protein enhances the body’s uptake of zinc, the type of protein is important. For instance, casein—a protein found in dairy products—seems to inhibit zinc absorption.

To make sure you’re getting plenty of zinc, soak beans and grains before cooking to inactivate phytate, eat protein from varied sources, and include a variety of high-zinc foods in your daily diet. Some of the best:

1 Oysters are an outstanding source of zinc; six medium oysters have about 60mg of zinc, or 500 percent of the daily value (DV). Other shellfish, including clams, mussels, and shrimp, are good sources as well.

Recipe Tips: Arrange whole oysters on a grill and cook until the shells open; sauté shucked oysters with garlic, then toss with cooked linguine, olive oil, and parsley; simmer whole oysters in broth with shallots and tarragon, then drizzle with melted butter and minced tarragon.

2 Bison, also called “buffalo,” has 4.5mg of zinc, about 30 percent of the DV, in a 3-oz. serving. Plus, it’s higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than other kinds of red meat. Beef and lamb are also significant sources of zinc (chicken and turkey have less).

Recipe Tips: Top grilled hearts of Romaine with thinly sliced cooked bison, cherry tomatoes, and Kalamata olives; make burgers with ground bison, minced shallots, and horseradish; thread cubed bison on a skewer with red peppers, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms, and grill until tender.

3 Quinoa is a better source of zinc than rice or oats, with 2mg—about 13 percent of the DV—per cup. And it’s higher in protein than other grains, with an excellent lineup of antioxidants.

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June 2020