If you're like most Australians, you know how important it is to eat a healthy, varied diet in order to get all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs. You probably have a good understanding of what foods you need to eat in order to get things like protein, calcium, iron, vitamin C, and maybe even healthy fats - but have you ever taken the time to think about the role zinc plays in your diet, or whether you're getting enough of it? Many of us haven't, so let's take a little time to look at what zinc is, how much we need, and why it's important.What is zinc, and what role does it play in our bodies?
Zinc is a naturally occurring mineral which is crucial for human health. Our bodies use it for a variety of purposes, including:
* Helping a range of enzymes to do their work
* Maintaining a healthy immune system
* Keeping our metabolism working properly
* Promoting wound healing and tissue repair
* Promoting growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence
As you can see from this list, zinc may not be one of the more widely discussed nutrients in our diets, but it plays a crucial role in keeping our bodies functioning properly. People with low zinc levels can find themselves more susceptible to illness, and due to its role in growth and development, it's a particularly important nutrient for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and growing children.
How much zinc do we need?
One thing that's important to remember about zinc is that your body doesn't store it. This means that you need to make sure you're eating zinc-rich foods daily, with the exact amount of zinc you require depending on your age and gender. The Australian Government's National Health and Medical Research Council* recommends a daily zinc intake of 14 mg per day for men, 8 mg per day for women, and 11-12 mg per day for pregnant or lactating women. Intake for children begins at 2 mg per day for infants under six months (an amount which is usually supplied by breast milk), and gradually increases until they reach adult levels. If you have sons in your household, be aware that boys in their mid-teens see a particularly large jump in their zinc needs, going from 6 mg per day from ages 9-13 to 13 mg per day from ages 14-18.
The Council also notes that, while excess zinc from supplements may be harmful, you're not likely to encounter problems with the zinc that occurs naturally in food. This suggests that relying on food for your zinc intake may be the safest way to make sure you are getting enough of this important nutrient. Fortunately, this is easy to do.
What are the dietary sources of zinc?
Zinc is found in a number of different foods, including beans, nuts, red meat, chicken, fish, and some fortified foods like breads or cereals. Recommended dietary sources of zinc usually include beef (4.8 mg of zinc in a 100 g serve), chicken (2.3 mg in a 100 g serve), lentils (1.3 mg in a 100 g serve), and cashews (5.5 mg in a 100 g serve). Though not yet widely consumed in Australia, hemp seeds provide an excellent alternative to these foods, with just one tablespoon (30g) containing 2.97 mg of zinc.
Why choose hemp seeds?
There are a number of reasons why hemp seeds are a particularly valuable source of zinc, including:
1. With high levels of zinc present in each serving, they are great for anyone (such as children) who finds it difficult to eat large enough portion sizes of other foods to reach their recommended daily intake.
2. As a plant-based source of zinc, hemp seeds are valuable for vegans, vegetarians, and anyone else who is eating a diet low in the meat products which are more commonly recommended as the source of this mineral.
3. Hemp seeds are widely considered to be a functional food, meaning that they offer a broad range of positive health benefits, far beyond what could be obtained from taking a supplement.
4. Choosing hemp seeds as one of your sources of dietary zinc is a great way to add other vital nutrients to your meals, including protein, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
How to incorporate hemp seeds into your diet
If you've never eaten hemp seeds before, you might be a little apprehensive about how they could fit into your normal meals. Fortunately, one of the best things about hemp seeds is that they can be added to your diet in so many different ways. Dehulled hemp seeds have a pleasant, nutty taste, and can be added to your salads, baked into your cookies, sprinkled on your cereal, tossed in your smoothie, or even used as a naturally gluten-free substitute for breadcrumbs.
However, if you're concerned that your family isn't ready to start munching on plain seeds, there are lots of other options available. Hemp porridge and hemp muesli come in different flavours and are a delicious breakfast choice for anyone trying to boost their zinc levels. Protein powders made from hemp seeds are a perfect addition to your family's favourite smoothie recipes, and you can also consider hemp-based drinking chocolate or chai. Drinks like these are an easy, tasty source of zinc for your whole family, and are particularly popular with many children and teens. Whichever option you choose, you'll have the security of knowing that you're adding not just zinc but also many other nutrients to your family's diet.
Getting started with hemp seeds
If you're concerned about your zinc intake - or just ready to taste-test some of the delicious hemp-based products which are now available - 13 Seeds Hemp Farm offers a range of products which can be ordered online. All 13 Seeds foods are made from natural and organic ingredients, and contain no artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives, so you can be sure you're getting the benefits of zinc and other nutrients without any unexpected nasties.
* Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, 'Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand - Zinc,' https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/zinc. Accessed 04/12/2018.