Think Zinc! Many Canadians may be low, say researchers

One out of every four Canadians eat diets that are low in the mineral zinc, according to researchers from McGill University who analyzed data from the Food Habits of Canadians Study. Zinc plays a key role in immune function where it is needed for the body to develop its own natural “killer” cells to fight infection. It also has many other functions, including a central role in growth and reproduction.

“Until now, moderate zinc deficiency has been generally ignored in Canada because we don’t have reliable laboratory methods to test for zinc deficiency,” says Dr. Fiona Yeudall, a registered professional dietitian. “To date, the only measure of zinc deficiency has been the growth response in children after being given a zinc supplement. But that doesn’t mean that the consequences in adults aren’t just as serious.”

Yeudall is particularly concerned about the impact on babies born to mothers whose intake of zinc is low. During pregnancy, zinc needs increase by about one-third. Yet the new dietary data suggests that 26% of teenage girls and 22% of adult women are entering pregnancy at risk for zinc deficiency.

“Zinc deficiency during pregnancy could impair the development of the fetus’ immune system, leaving the infant more susceptible to infections,” explains Yeudall.

While prenatal vitamin supplements usually contain zinc, Yeudall doesn’t see pills as the total answer. “For all people, I recommend foods as the best source of zinc. After all, to efficiently absorb the zinc from supplements, you need protein from animal sources – such as meat, poultry and fish.”

Legumes and whole grains also contain zinc, but Yeudall points out that phytates in legumes and soy interfere with zinc absorption. “People who don’t include meat, fish and poultry in their diet to help with zinc absorption actually need up to 50% more zinc in their diet.”

Canada NewsWire, Jan 27, 2003