Zinc is an essential mineral that is found naturally in some foods and fortified in others. In the body, zinc is required for the functioning of more than 300 different enzymes and plays a pivotal role in a large number of biological processes such as cellular metabolism and immune function. Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence and is required for proper functioning of the senses of taste and smell.1
With all the important roles zinc plays in the body, it is important for health professionals to be mindful of zinc intake, particularly among patients in at-risk populations or in those who eliminate certain foods from their diet such as vegetarians. According to NHANES III most infants, children, and adults consume the recommended amounts of zinc. However, according to the same study, some evidence suggests that zinc intakes among older adults might be marginal. NHANES III found that 35-45% of adults aged 60 years or older had zinc intakes below the estimated average requirement of 6.8mg/day for elderly females and 9.4 mg/day for elderly males.2
Aside from older adults, vegetarians are also a group at risk for zinc deficiency. Meat is a high bioavailable source of zinc, while legumes and whole grains contain phytates that bind to zinc and inhibit its absorption. Since vegetarians avoid meat and typically eat proportionally more legumes and whole grains, it is important to analyze patients’ diets and possibly recommend ways in increase zinc.3 Eggs can be a good option for vegetarians who consume them. They are a source of high-quality protein and also contain 4% of the Daily Value of Zinc. While this Daily Value may be relatively low compared to other foods, by pairing eggs with other zinc containing foods, such as low-fat dairy the meal can provide both high-quality protein and zinc. We suggest scrambling 2 eggs with one ounce of Swiss cheese and pairing with a glass of low-fat milk to provide almost 24% DV of zinc!4
1)Sandstead HH. Understanding zinc: recent observations and interpretations. J Lab Clin Med 1994;124:322-7.
2)Ervin RB, Kennedy-Stephenson J. Mineral intakes of elderly adult supplement and non-supplement users in the third national health and nutrition examination survey. J Nutr 2002;132:3422-7.
3)Hunt JR. Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78 (3 Suppl):633S-9S
4)Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2011. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page,http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl.