Iron & Zinc Deficiencies

Thanksgiving spread
Turkey is a source of both iron and zinc. (Image: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Zinc and iron are essential for good health. Zinc is essential for a healthy immune system, growth, wound healing, reproduction, fertility and sense of taste and smell. Your body needs iron for the formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. Although iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency, most people in the U.S. get enough zinc from their daily diet. The Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board recommends 8 mg of iron and 11 mg of zinc for adult men. Women require 18 mg of iron and 8 mg of zinc daily.

Causes

If you have had intestinal surgery or a gastrointestinal disorder, you may develop iron and zinc deficiencies because your body cannot absorb these nutrients. Because meat provides a rich source of iron and zinc, vegetarians may develop iron and zinc deficiencies. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute says low iron levels can be caused by blood loss due to severe injuries, internal bleeding or surgery. Women with heavy and frequent menstrual periods are likely to develop iron deficiency. Children and pregnant women may also develop low iron levels because of the rapid body changes and high iron demands. People with sickle cell disease and alcoholics are likely to develop zinc deficiency.

Symptoms

Iron deficiency can lead to iron deficiency anemia, which may cause fatigue and weakness because the body does not have enough red blood cells. Other symptoms are loss of appetite, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and dizziness. In infants and children, iron deficiency can lead to impaired growth and behavioral problems.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency are loss of sense of taste, poor wound healing, frequent infections, hair loss, diarrhea and eye sores. It can also lead to impotence in men and delayed sexual development in teenagers.

Iron in Foods

Iron comes in two forms: nonheme and heme. The heme iron from animal sources is more readily used in your body than the nonheme in non-animal sources. Top sources of heme iron include poultry, eggs, beef, liver and seafood. These are also a good source of protein, which you need for normal growth and development. Plant sources include beans, pulses and green vegetables. Snack on dried fruits and nuts to increase your iron intake. Many foods are fortified with iron, such as rice, pasta, breakfast cereals and bread.

Zinc in Foods

A range of plant and animal foods contain zinc. The richest source occurs in cooked oysters, which have 74 milligrams in a 3-ounce serving. Turkey, beef, crab, duck and chicken are also good sources. Other sources of zinc include cheese, milk, yogurt, beans, chickpeas, mushrooms and peas. Many breakfast cereals and white rice have zinc added to them to help increase your daily intake.

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