Red meat and zinc

Last updated: October 2015

Red meat and zincZinc has a wide range of functions in the body, including the growth of body cells and development of reproductive organs. It is also needed for a healthy immune system and wound healing. Zinc is essential for good health in adults and for normal growth and development in children.

Red meat, especially beef and lamb, is a rich source of zinc with 34% of the dietary supply of zinc coming from meat and meat products (1) . Red meat is the main dietary source contributing 32% of total zinc intake for men and 27% for women (2) . Compared with the zinc in vegetarian foods, the zinc in meat is well absorbed and zinc intake can be low in people who eat no red meat. 

Zinc intake
Almost half of adult men (43%) and women (45%) between the ages of 19 and 64 years have intakes below recommended. Among 19-24 year olds, these figures are worse with 57 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women failing to achieve recommended intakes. 

Zinc in the diet
The amount of zinc absorbed from the diet overall depends on the foods present in the diet. When diets contain a reasonable amount of red meat, more than half of the zinc in the diet can be absorbed. However, when diets are low in meat and rich in wholegrain cereals (3) , only 15% of the zinc in the diet may be absorbed (4).  People consuming cereal rich diets which are devoid of meat and animals products can be at much greater risk of zinc deficiency than those who eat meat regularly.


Zinc content of various types of red meat compared with other foods
 

Food. Per 100g Zinc (mg) Food. Per 100g  Zinc (mg)
Lean grilled rump steak 5.6 Grilled chicken breast 0.8
Lean roast beef topside 5.7 Whole roast chicken, dark meat 2.1
Lean braised steak 9.5 Cheddar cheese 4.1
Lean grilled lamb cutlets 3.6 Milk 0.4
Lean roast leg of lamb 4.6 Granary bread 1.1
Lean diced lamb shoulder, grilled 5.6 Cooked wholemeal spaghetti 1.1
Lean grilled pork loin chops 2.4 Bran flakes 2.5
Lean roast pork leg joint 3.3 Canned kidney beans 0.7
Lean diced pork, grilled 3.4 Mixed nuts 3.1


In conclusion
Eating red meat contributes not only to the content of zinc in the diet but also improves the amount of zinc absorbed from the whole diet. People consuming no red meat can be at a much greater risk of zinc deficiency than people who regularly eat meat.  

References:
(1) Henderson L et al. National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Adults aged 19 to 64 years. Volume 3. The Stationery Office, 2003
(2) Henderson L et al. National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Adults aged 19 to 64 years. Volume 3. The Stationery Office, 2003.
(3)Phytate is a substance found in the hulls or outer coatings of grains, seeds and nuts, which binds minerals such as zinc and iron and reduces their absorption from the gut.
(4)Millward DJ & Garnett T. Proc Nutr Soc 2010;69:103-118.


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