You’ve heard about iron…but why is zinc so important?
We have spoken a lot about the iron needs of bubs starting solids, but it isn’t just iron that is important. One of the other key nutrients we often don’t hear much about is zinc. From around 6 months of age zinc needs, like iron, also can’t be met through milk feeds alone (whether from breast milk or formula). Zinc is considered a critical dietary nutrient, especially in the early stages of a little one’s life (1). Young children are particularly affected by zinc deficiency, which can impact immune and thyroid function as well as impair growth and development (2).
So, where do we find zinc in foods?
Thankfully we can find zinc in many foods! Zinc is found in:
- Fortified cereals
Who is at risk of a zinc deficiency?
The amount of zinc absorbed from plant foods is less than the zinc from animal food sources. For this reason, children following a vegan or vegetarian diet may be at higher risk of a deficiency if they aren’t eating a variety of plant-based foods rich in zinc.
Children who have trouble absorbing nutrition are also at higher risk of a zinc deficiency. Malabsorption is most common for little one’s with prolonged gut issues and loose stool. For examples, a bub with food allergies that experiences many months of diarrhea. The ongoing frequent loose stool can lead to issues absorbing nutrients and increase the risk of a deficiency. If your little one has ongoing loose stool it is definitely something to see your GP about.
The other group that may be at risk of a zinc deficiency is extreme fussy or restrictive eaters. If extreme fussy eaters aren’t eating these foods, then their bodies can’t absorb the zinc. However, even in fussy eaters a zinc deficiency isn’t common and is often only seen with years of a very limited diet.
So, do you need a worry or should you look at a supplement?
No, you probably don’t to be concerned about zinc and a supplement is very rarely needed. A zinc supplement should only be prescribed by a qualified health care professional. There are so many zinc rich food sources, all you need to do is offer them amongst other foods regularly in your bubs diet.
How to meet their Zinc needs?
From 7 months to 3 years of age, your little one needs 3mg per day of Zinc to meet the RDI. The RDI is the recommended daily intake needed to meet the needs of 97-98% of healthy children in this age range (3).
So, what does this roughly look like?
- 30g of beef
- 30g of cheese + 50g yogurt with almond butter and some oats
- 400ml milk over the day + 25g chicken + 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds (can get in a spread or blend), ¼ cup lentils + 1/3 cup oats with some yogurt
These are just some examples, and we would never expect parents to count nutrients! The point is that just by offering a varied diet over the day you will get there (and let’s not forget that there is zinc in breastmilk and formula too!).
Most little ones do get enough zinc, but if you are worried reach out for a 1:1 consult to get your bub’s diet assessed, so you know for sure. If there is a gap for whatever reason, a paediatric dietitian will be able to guide you on the best way to fill it.