Think Zinc this winter

With zinc being so important to your family’s health, it’s important to know where to get it, how often to take it and how much is the right amount.

Zinc is an essential mineral which is present in every part of the body and has a wide range of functions. It is vital for the healthy working of many of the body’s systems. It contributes to normal growth and development, a healthy reproductive system and fertility, and healthy foetal development. It also helps to keep skin healthy and wounds healing, and is important for immune system strength.

Zinc deficiency affects as many as two billion people worldwide. It is usually due to insufficient dietary intake although it can be associated with improper absorption and some chronic illnesses. In adults, a zinc deficiency can be linked to an increased risk of infections, skin and hair problems, impairment of taste, slow healing of wounds and low sperm count among other problems.

A deficiency of zinc during pregnancy as well as during the first years of a child’s life can cause retarded growth and sexual development as well as an increase in infections and diarrhea. Therefore, it is particularly important for pregnant women and young children to get an appropriate intake in their diet. The World Health Organisation advocates zinc supplementation in cases of severe malnutrition and diarrhea.

There are no specific storage sites known for zinc so a regular supply in the diet is required. The recommended daily amounts vary with age. It goes from 4-5mg a day for children under 3 years of age to 7mg for children up to 10 years to 9mg for children up to 14 years old. In adults, the recommended amounts are 7mg for women and 9mg for men. While pregnant women do not require a higher intake of this mineral, breast-feeding women need up to 13mg a day.

On the other hand, although zinc is an essential requirement for good health, too much of it can be harmful and excessive absorption of zinc suppresses copper and iron absorption.

Zinc is found in meat and dairy produce, as well as in wholegrain cereals and pulses. People at risk from zinc deficiency may be vegetarians, chronic illness sufferers as well as anyone who eats a poor, unvaried diet. To make sure you get an appropriate amount, make sure to include foods that contain significant quantities of it in your diet.

Some of the best sources of zinc are:

•    wheatgerm
•    poppy, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds
•    seaweed nori (dried)
•    crabmeat (tinned and fresh)
•    oysters (raw)
•    beans
•    lentils
•    cocoa powder
•    beefsteak
•    pecan and cashew nuts
•    lamb

One of my children’s favourite meals is homemade sushi. I find that making sushi with them is a great activity on a rainy day and it also happens to be a great meal to boost their zinc intake. The more you involve your children in the process of preparing and cooking food, the more likely it is that they will become healthy eaters. With this recipe (right), even young children can help placing the ingredients over the rice and rolling the sushi nori.

Involving children in food shopping and food preparation is sure to pay off. My personal experience is that it is the best way to catch their attention and get them interested in new foods and tastes. This will in turn gently direct them toward eating a varied, balance diet for life.

An excellent finger food, sushi is also very versatile and can be made with many different fillings to accommodate all tastes. Finger food is empowering for very young children as it makes it easier for them to feed themselves. It can also easily be taken on a picnic. Just make sure to keep it refrigerated, transport in a chiller pack and eat fresh.

Crab sushi

Makes 35 pieces

360g sushi rice
1 litre water
1 packet powdered sushi flavouring
7 sushi nori (seaweed sheets)
185g tin crab in brine
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 large lettuce leaves
¼ telegraph cucumber
1 carrot
½ avocado
A few tablespoons light soy sauce
Marinated ginger (optional)

Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan. Cook the rice uncovered for 40 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Add some water if necessary. Mix the sushi flavouring into the hot rice and leave to cool.

Peel and grate the carrot. Peel and halve the cucumber, and cut lengthways into fine sticks. Remove the flesh from the avocado and cut into small pieces. Shred the lettuce. Drain the crab flesh and mix with the mayonnaise. Place one sushi nori on a sushi mat and dampen with wet fingers.

Place a large spoonful of cooked rice on the sushi nori. Flatten with your hands to finely cover the sushi nori, leaving 1cm free on either side. Place a little of the drained crabmeat at one end of the rice. Top with a piece of each prepared vegetable. Roll up.

Repeat until all the ingredients have been used up. Cut each sushi roll into 5 pieces and place on a large serving plate. Serve with some light soy sauce and some marinated ginger.

Tip: the powdered flavouring is a mix of rice vinegar, sugar and salt. It is also sometimes sold as Seasoned Rice Vinegar.

Zinc deficiency affects as many as two billion people worldwide. It is usually due to insufficient dietary intake although it can be associated with improper absorption and some chronic illnesses.

[byline]Christelle Le Ru is a software engineer, food writer and mum-of-four based in Oxford, North Canterbury. Originally from France, she moved to New Zealand in 2002 and has since published five cookbooks.[/byline]

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