Introducing Zinc

Playing Key Roles in Human Body Function

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ZincThat cut on your finger not healing? Maybe you are not getting enough zinc? Zinc plays a vital role in wound healing as it is required for the functioning of the immune system and in the structure and function of the skin. Almost all cells in our body contain zinc and it is a vital nutrient for growth and development. The highest concentrations are found in muscle and bone. The body tightly regulates zinc levels. For example, stress and infections cause plasma zinc levels to fall. 

Zinc has a key role as a catalyst in a wide range of reactions and is, in fact, a catalyst for about 100 enzymes. It is important in the structure of cell transport proteins such as vitamins A and D. Zinc regulates gene expression; stabilizes cell membranes, helping to strengthen their defense against oxidative stress; participates in the synthesis, storage, and release of insulin; interacts with platelets in blood clotting; and influences thyroid hormone function. It is necessary for visual pigments; normal taste perception; sperm production; fetal development; and behavior and learning performance.

The Primary Sources of Zinc

Zinc can be found in meats, a selection of  shellfish, legumes, mushrooms whole grains, and some fortified cereals.

Zinc Sources

Bioavailability of Zinc

Like iron, zinc absorption will depend on the zinc body pool, with those having poorer zinc status able to absorb zinc more efficiently in the gut. Foods rich in phytate lead to previously absorbed zinc being lost in the feces. High intakes of calcium, phosphorus, or iron also decrease the absorption of zinc. Protein may enhance absorption of zinc.

Risks Related to Inadequate Intake of Zinc

Individuals consuming unprocessed or minimally processed diets consisting of unrefined whole grains or unleavened whole bread and little animal-source foods are at greater risk for zinc deficiency. Zinc needs are higher in periods of growth and development, such as infancy, childhood, pregnancy and lactation. Zinc deficiency can occur even with only modest restrictions to zinc intake. Impaired growth velocity is the main clinical feature of zinc deficiency. Immune system functions and pregnancy outcomes improve with zinc supplementation. For example, zinc is often given as an adjunct therapy for diarrhea.

Find more information on vitamins and micronutrient deficiencies though our partner, Vitamin Angels or download our complete vitamin and mineral guide here

Incorporate zinc into your next evening meal by trying the delicious recipe below…

Beef stroganoff with herby pasta*


Beef Stroganoff4 tbsp olive oil
500 g mushrooms, sliced
1.5 kg stewing beef, cut into 3cm cubes
350 ml beef stock
3 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
150 ml dry white wine
100 ml brandy
300 ml double cream

For the beurre manié
3 tbsp butter, softened
3 tbsp plain flour


Preheat the oven to 150C/130C fan/gas 3. Then, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large ovenproof casserole and lightly fry the mushrooms in batches in the olive oil until golden brown. Tip onto a plate and set aside. Brown the meat in the same pan in small batches, adding more oil as necessary and removing each batch from the pan. Now fry the onions until softened and lightly coloured, adding the garlic towards the end and using a little more oil, if necessary. Next, pour 150ml of the stock into the pan and bring to the boil, stirring to deglaze. Return the mushrooms and meat to the pan, then pour in the wine, brandy and remaining stock. Add seasoning to taste, stir well and bring to a simmer. Cover with the lid, transfer to the oven and cook for 2-2½ hours or until the meat is tender. Make the beurre manié by putting the butter and flour onto a plate and mixing to a paste. Set aside. When the meat is cooked, carefully strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan. Keep the meat and mushrooms warm in the covered casserole. Pour the cream into the cooking liquid and boil, uncovered, for a few minutes until the sauce has reduced slightly and has a good flavour. Adjust the seasoning to taste, if necessary. With the liquid still boiling, add the beurre manié 1 teaspoon at a time and whisk vigorously until the sauce thickens slightly. Now pour the sauce over the meat and mushrooms and stir gently to mix. Keep the stroganoff warm until you are ready to serve. 

*Adapted from the BCC Good Food website.