Trace mineral zinc is a micronutrient which plays a very crucial role in the growth and development of young children by helping build strong immune, nervous, and reproductive systems. Our body does not produce zinc on its own, so it is important to include it in our diet or through zinc supplements. Zinc deficiency leads to a loss of appetite, growth failure, skin disease, impaired immunity and low cognition in children. World Health Organization (WHO) reported that consumption of zinc rich foods or zinc supplements can reduce the mortality and morbidity rates in population and demonstrated the preventative action of zinc supplements on children aged 6 months to 12 years.

Here is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc

RDA is the average daily level of intake that is sufficient to meet the nutrient needs of a healthy individual. An RDA is based on scientific research.

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), 2010 laid down RDA’s for various nutrients as per the age group. RDA for zinc for children from 1-12 years of age is as below:

  • 1 to 3 years: 5 mg/day
  • 4 to 6 years: 7 mg/day
  • 7 to 9 years: 8 mg/day
  • 10 to 12 years: 9 mg/day

Zinc’s role in the body and the immune system

Zinc plays an important role in maintaining normal physiological functions of the body and strengthens immunity. The various functions of zinc in our body are categorised below:

  • Biochemical - Zinc is a co-factor for enzymes and used for synthesis and stabilisation of genetic material, necessary for cell division and synthesis.
  • Cellular - It is used for cell growth and development, maintaining cell membrane integrity, tissue growth and repair, and wound healing.
  • Immunological - Helps in production of immune cells like neutrophils, T- cells, B-cells and natural killer cells.
  • Endocrinological - Zinc aids in thyroid hormone metabolism, reproduction (spermatogenesis), pancreatic function and prolactin secretion.
  • Neurological - It enhances and improves children’s cognition, memory, taste, acuity and vision.
  • Haematological - Zinc stimulates red blood cell formation, haemoglobin and haematocrit, and helps in blood coagulation factors.
  • Skeletal - It helps in bone mineralisation, especially in children, which affects growth and development.

Top 5 foods that are rich in zinc

  • Whole Grains and Legumes - Wheat, quinoa, oats, rice, chickpeas, lentils and beans contain a substantial amount of zinc and magnesium. Sprouting, fermenting and soaking can increase the bioavailability and absorption of zinc. You can prepare dals, khichdi and soups with these grains and legumes.
  • Vegetables and Seeds - Pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds and squash are foods with high zinc content. They are also high in fibre, healthy fats and vitamins. Seeds can be used in baked items, added to salads and shakes, or sprinkled on stir fries too. Some vegetables like potatoes, green beans, mushrooms, kale also contain small amounts of zinc. You can prepare curries and stews with these or a salad as well.
  • Nuts - Peanuts, cashew, and almonds are rich sources of zinc and magnesium. They are also a good source of healthy fat and fibre. 100 gm of cashews contains 5.34 mg of zinc as per Indian food composition table, 2017. You can add these nuts to rice dishes, curries, smoothies or sweet dishes, or enjoy them as is.
  • Milk and dairy products - Milk, yogurt, fortified cheese are zinc rich foods for vegetarians. A glass (200 ml) of cow milk contains 0.66 mg of zinc and 100 gm of paneer has around 2.7 mg of zinc as per Indian food composition table, 2017. Milk shakes, smoothies, and cheese dips are popular recipes you can try. Yogurt or milk can be added to cereals or oats too.
  • Dark Chocolate- It contains reasonable amount of zinc and magnesium. Around 100 gm of dark chocolate or bar with 70-85% dark chocolate contains 3.3 mg of zinc. Adding dark chocolate to muffins, cakes or cookies is a good idea. You can prepare tasty shakes and ice creams with it too.

Here are some other benefits of zinc in children, according to new research

  • University of Toronto and the Journal “Neuron” suggested that zinc plays a vital role in regulating how neurons in brain communicate with one another, which improves learning and memory in children.
  • A study by Open Respiratory Medicine Journal and Cochrane review concluded that taking zinc lozenges or syrup is beneficial in reducing the common cold and upper respiratory infections in children.
  • A number of scientific reports suggest that zinc supplementation helps in treating diarrhoea in children.
  • Zinc plays an important role in maintaining skin integrity and structure which helps in healing skin ulcers, acnes, diaper rash and irritations.
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can also be reduced by inclusion of zinc in diet that prevents cellular damage in retina, which helps in delaying the progression of AMD and vision loss.

So to conclude, zinc is an essential trace mineral that should be included in children’s diet. It helps in growth and metabolism, improves immunity, aids in cognitive development, and treats common cold and diarrhoea in children. Whole grain foods, fortified cereals, cooked beans, cheese, oatmeal, cashews and almonds are some excellent zinc-rich food options that should be added to the diet of young children to help boost their growth and development.

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