Saturday 4 December 2010

How Worried Should We Be About Zinc?

How worried should we be about the terrorist threat?
How worried should we be about the MRSA 'super-bug'?
How worried should we be about swine flu?

Seen headlines like this? They're designed to promote fear where none existed, to persuade people that the risk of something awful happening is a million times higher than the actual risk - to sell newspapers, to justify war, to sell vaccines, etc.

We have mini-versions in the raw food world. It's a pity that when we embark on the most nutritious diet we have ever followed, as health-conscious people by definition, we are sitting ducks for those who would love to persuade us that we're not getting enough of this or that, and the only way we can get this or that is by buying expensive supplements (theirs, usually).

I'm not saying it's impossible for a raw vegan to be deficient in a certain nutrient. Some raw vegans do follow some pretty weird diets. Also, I have blogged extensively on B12, and do feel that, if we buy most of our food from supermarkets devoid of the bacteria on it when freshly picked, we could have a problem there.

But, in the vast majority of cases, I believe that raw vegans will be far, far less likely to be deficient in vitamins and minerals than the average person.

So, let's have a look at zinc - this year's favourite amongst certain 'experts' in the raw food world. A while ago it was magnesium, which the raw food 'experts' persuaded us we could be deficient in unless we bought their 'raw' chocolate (which, now most of us know,wasn't raw at all). Next year it'll be something else. In fact, minerals are great hunting ground for the scaremongers, as there are so many of them! So each year supplement manufacturers, supported by 'nutritional advisors', can pick from a long list to persuade those irritating raw vegans that they're just - not - getting - all - their - nutrients - oh no!! All those minerals to choose from for those who are a bit bored with eating raw vegan, and fancy a BLT, but their big egos impel them to make videos, or even write books, to justify their change in diet, with of course a finger-wagging warning to those who insist on continuing with that crazy diet of raw fruit, veg, nuts and seeds. Oh, and of course, a reminder that (some!) cavemen thousands of years ago ate meat. So we must too.

Sorry. Back to the subject in hand.

How worried should raw vegans be about zinc? VERY worried, if you believe those who are telling us that, if we don't eat animal foods, or don't take a supplement, we are very likely to be deficient, and that a diet of raw plant foods can't meet our zinc needs!

Well, let's see:

I've been raw now for four years , and raw vegan for the vast majority of that. (I've had a couple of brief forays into raw vegetarian within that time, but even then I was still mostly vegan.)

As I don't supplement, surely I should be showing some of the scary symptoms of zinc deficiency by now.

Acne - No
Amnesia - No
Apathy - No
Brittle nails - No
Depression - No
Diarrhoea - No
Eczema - No
Fatigue - No (everyone feels tired sometimes!)
Hair loss - No
High cholesterol - No
Irritability - only when I read silly articles about how worried we should be about zinc
Lethargy - yes, a bit right now, but it's been sub-zero in the UK for the last week
Loss of appetite - No
Loss of sense of taste - No
Night blindness - haven't a clue what it is, but, no, don't think I've got it.
Paranoia - No more than the average?
White spots on nails - No
Wound healing impairment - No

So, it doesn't look as if I'm suffering from zinc deficiency. How can that be?

OK. Let's look at the recommended daily allowances for zinc.

For a female 25-50, the US says 12 mg, Canada says 9 mg, and the UK says 7 mg.

So looks as if either no one actually knows, or at best they think they know but they all disagree with each other.

Let's take a mean of the three: that would be 9 mg.

But that 9 mg is set for the average person!

Here are some things that many people will have in their lifestyle that INHIBIT zinc absorption:

1. Excess iron. Diets that are high in meat are high in iron. Excess iron inhibits zinc absorption.
(Copper, iron, zinc all work together. An excess of one inhibits absorption of another.) Excess iron via supplementation can inhibit zinc absorption. (And of course excess zinc via supplementation can inhibit iron.)

2. Alcohol inhibits zinc absorption.

3. Tea and coffee inhibit zinc absorption.

4. Nicotine inhibits zinc absorption.

5. Anti-depressants inhibit zinc absorption.

6. High calcium intake (eg high dairy) inhibits zinc absorption.

I don't eat meat. I don't take iron supplements. I don't drink alcohol. I don't drink tea or coffee. I don't smoke. I don't take anti-depressants. I don't have dairy (and when I did, it was a tiny proportion of my diet).

So - could be some clues there as to why, on a raw vegan diet, I have no symptoms of zinc deficiency.

Surely, 95% of people in the UK, for which the RDA is set, will be ingesting at least one of the six above? Some will be doing all six! No wonder there are problems with zinc deficiency in the general population!

(By the way, it is true that phytates in unsprouted grains, seeds etc have been shown to inhibit zinc absorption, and whilst it's true that I eat unsprouted seeds, firstly they're very high in zinc in the first place, so in terms of net effect we should still be quids in, and, on the few occasions I do have grains, they're always sprouted. So - swings and roundabouts...)

In short, it's easy to explain why this raw vegan isn't suffering from zinc deficiency and, surely, logically, it would suggest that raw vegans following a healthy lifestyle could well be fine on significantly less than the recommended intake.

But, anyway, I decided to look at yesterday's food and tot up my zinc intake. I very rarely look at my nutrient intake, as it's a tedious bore, and, on the rare occasions I have, have never found any cause for concern, but, for this article, here's what I ate yesterday. In fact, I've probably missed some things out as I do love my food (no 'loss of appetite' here - in fact, I'm quite greedy) and probably ate more than this:

Two glasses green juice (spinach/apple/celery): 0.4 mg
Smoothie (5 bananas, 2 dates, blob of almond butter): 1.5 mg
Salad - avocado, tomatoes, dulse: 2 mg
Pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup -maybe more - I do love them!): 2.5 mg
2 mangoes: 0.6 mg
Large mixed salad: 1 mg
Then I sat by the fire and had a handful of hazelnuts (40g?): 1 mg

It came to...9 mg exactly! I didn't fix it - honest!

OK, so I've got the pumpkin seeds in there, which bumps it up a bit. But, if I hadn't eaten pumpkin seeds, I'd have probably eaten some other seeds/nuts/raw fat in their place, and would probably still have reached 7 mg. That happens to be the UK figure anyway, and, as I've explained earlier, even if we went for the mean of the US/UK/Canada at 9 mg, the things that I DON'T ingest, that inhibit zinc absorption, would suggest I'm very likely to be fine on 7mg anyway.

Men - yes, sure, they need more zinc, but they'd probably eat larger portions than I do.

Thousands are thriving on a lfrv diet (check out 30Bananas forum) with no symptoms of 'zinc deficiency'.

So, should you listen to what I say?

Am I a 'nutritionist'?

'Nutritionist' - in the UK anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. There are no regulations - yet. The only regulations apply to the term 'dietician'.

My son, who took advanced-level chemistry and biology, then spent three full-time years at university studying food and nutrition (including chemistry that would make most raw food 'experts'/'nutritional advisors' quail!), and is about to embark on two years' full-time dietetics training - he's quite good on nutrition! And, contrary, to what some raw fooders love to think, he doesn't advocate a diet of meat and ice cream, and is low dairy/ fish-and-vegetarian himself. (He checked out this article, BTW, and gave it the thumbs-up.)

If you're taking advice from a 'nutritionist' or 'nutritional advisor' check out their qualifications. I've known people who have taken a short internet course, then put letters after their names and convince people that they have 'degrees' in nutrition. I myself spent two years studying Natural Health (Natural Hygiene). It was an interesting course, but there were no exams and all the assignments I could do with the book in front of me. Although the course was beneficial to me, you may like to know that this course conferred me with letters after my name, and an 'Associate Degree'. It's all daft.

Am I an 'expert'?

I'm as 'expert' as many of those who have set up websites and are proclaiming themselves as 'experts' in raw food/nutrition. But there again I have actually been raw for four years. Most of them haven't.

But, really, just take this from someone who is simply a raw fooder and crying out for some common sense here.

Yes, it's likely to be the case that lots of people in the country are zinc-deficient.


ingesting large quantities of iron, via meat and/or iron supplements?
drinking alcohol?
drinking tea or coffee?
taking anti-depressants?
taking excess calcium (eg the average diet - including dairy)

If the answer's yes, how about tackling some of these factors that inhibit zinc absorption before rushing to spend money on the latest 'natural' zinc supplement?

If the answer's no, please be assured that, if anyone's going to be zinc-deficient, it's not likely to be you.

Of course, there are some people who will claim that they were 'raw vegan', weren't doing any of those things, and still had 'symptoms'. Could I remind readers that there are many non-food factors that can affect our health and might result in various deficiencies?

There are also many unhealthful practices other than the above that many of those calling themselves 'raw vegan' indulge in. Some 'raw vegans' take herbal 'medicine' and other concoctions. These are toxic (if this statement shocks you, please see my article on this).

Some take poisons such as ayahuasca. One raw vegan admitted that during her two years of foruming on the raw vegan diet she'd been smoking marijuana. Others have been persuaded that practices such as 'gall bladder flushes', repeated colonics and eating clay are healthful!

If anyone knows anyone who has truly been raw vegan for at least a year, who simply eats fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds in the quantities they desire, and who doesn't indulge in 'daftnesses' such as the above, and who has 'zinc deficiency', please let me know.


DeleteMe said...

Always a good read Debbie :O) :O) :O)


RawDad said...

I love it Debbie... stop the madness !!!

Unknown said...

Great post! I haven't had any zinc deficiency issues, either. :)

Andy said...

Hi Debbie

Great article and a very interesting bank of information for my arsenal. Having gone RAW recently I am constantly getting these kind of questions and I have begun to print these out and keep them with me to hand to relatives and friends when they question my insane move :-)

Thanks for all the fantastic information on your website, your site has motivated me more than any other on the internet.

Kind Regards


Debbie Took said...

Thank you so much, Andy, and for everyone's kind comments.

CYARA said...

Hi Debbie! Just discovered your super informative blog. I am very new to raw food eating so hungry for info. Food allergies have forced me to look for an alternate eating lifestyle ... it sure is a lifestyle I have discovered! Different to the crazy norm... in only 2 months I have discovered that cooked buffet spreads at social gatherings no longer look like food to me!! Challenging in some situations. Love your blog. You have a new subsciber. Thanks for all the time and effort you have taken to share. Much appreciated. Chelle

Debbie Took said...

Hi Chelle

Many thanks for the positive feedback.

I haven't blogged for a while...but there are lots of articles to work your way through! I probably still agree with MOST of what I've said in the post. :-)

Belen Díaz said...

Oh no, what happened to your main page? :(

Debbie Took said...

Ah - you're the first person to have asked - good to know it was missed, but it 'did its job' for the years it was up. Took it down, Belen, as I hadn't updated it for some time.