More than 70 enzymes depend on zinc to perform their roles in digestion and metabolism. And children who don’t get enough zinc risk having stunted growth. Fortunately, zinc deficiencies are rare in the United States.
Zinc is crucial for good health and development. Read on to find out how much zinc your child needs, the best sources, and how to avoid getting too little or too much.
How much zinc does your child need?
- Ages 1 to 3 years: 3 milligrams (mg) per day
- Ages 4 to 8 years: 5 mg per day
Your child doesn’t have to get the recommended daily amount of zinc every day. Instead, aim for that amount as an average over the course of a few days or a week.
Good sources of zinc
Zinc can be found in a wide variety of foods. Here are some of the best sources of zinc:
- 1/4 cup baked beans with pork and tomato sauce: 3.3 mg
- 1 ounce cooked beef shank: 3 mg
- 1/2 medium broiled hamburger (1.5 ounces), 95% lean: 2.7 mg
- 1 ounce broiled steak: 2.6 mg
- 1/2 cup ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, fortified with 25% of DV for zinc: 2.5 mg
- 1 ounce dry roasted almonds: 1 mg
- 1/2 cup low-fat fruit yogurt: 0.8 mg
- 1 tablespoon cashew butter, no salt added: 0.8 mg
- 1 packet instant oatmeal: 0.8 mg
- 1/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese: 0.8 mg
- 1/4 cup canned baked beans: 0.8 mg
- 1/4 roasted chicken leg: 0.6 mg
- 1/4 cup garbanzo beans: 0.6 mg
- 1/4 cup lentils: 0.6 mg
- 1/2 ounce Swiss cheese: 0.5 mg
- 1 tablespoon almond butter: 0.5 mg
- 1/4 cup raw tofu, prepared with calcium sulfate: 0.5 mg
- (Note: Tofu varies in nutrients, depending on how it’s processed. Check the nutrient label.)
- 1/4 cup cooked peas: 0.4 mg
- 1/4 cup lima beans: 0.4 mg
- 1/4 skinless chicken breast: 0.4 mg
- 1/2 ounce mozzarella or cheddar cheese: 0.4 mg
- 1/2 cup milk: 0.4 mg
- 1 teaspoon wheat germ: 0.3 mg
The amount of zinc a food contains will vary somewhat, depending on the brand or the cut of meat, for instance. Note that for very young children, nut butters should be thinly spread and other foods (like beans and meats) should be mashed or cut into small pieces to avoid choking.
Kids may eat more or less than the amounts of food shown, depending on their age and appetite. You can estimate the nutrient content accordingly.
Can your child get too much zinc?
It’s not likely your child will get too much zinc from diet alone, but excessive amounts (from vitamin supplements, for example) can cause adverse effects, like nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. Too much zinc over the long run can cause long-term toxic effects, as well.
The maximum amount considered safe by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine for children 1 to 3 years old is 7 mg. For children 4 to 8 years, it’s 12 mg.
SIGNS OF ZINC DEFICIENCY
If your child isn’t getting enough zinc, you may see some of these signs:
- Frequent colds and infections due to a weakened immune system
- Loss of appetite
- Sores on the skin or in the eyes
- Hair loss
- Slow or stunted growth
- Slow wound healing
- Short attention span
- Learning difficulties
- Poor memory
Adolescents are at particular risk of zinc deficiency, as they are going through rapid growth and often don’t focus on healthy eating.
Of course, there may also be other reasons for these symptoms, so if you notice any of them, your first port of call should be your doctor or pediatrician.
There are some health conditions and other circumstances in which your child may need more zinc than usual, for example, if they have diabetes, celiac disease, or Down syndrome or are going through a very stressful or traumatic period.
Zinc also interacts with some other medications, including antibiotics.
So if your little one is suffering from any health condition, it’s especially important to consult your pediatrician or another professional healthcare practitioner.
WHOLE FOOD SOURCES OF ZINC FOR KIDS
Breast milk naturally contains zinc along with an enzyme that helps your baby to absorb it. If you’re breastfeeding, your little one won’t usually need extra zinc for their first six months. After that, they should get extra zinc from whole foods like peas and beans. Infant formulas also contain enough zinc for your little one, so can help support their zinc intake.
Once your little one is on solid foods, these are good sources of zinc for kids:
- Legumes, like chickpeas, beans, and lentils
- Soy products, like tofu and tempeh
- Nuts, like almonds, walnuts, and cashew nuts
- Seeds, like pumpkin, hemp, flax, and chia seeds
- Wheat germ
- Whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat bread
- Potatoes with skin on
If your child is eating a regular, healthy diet that includes plenty of zinc-rich whole foods, they may well be getting enough zinc. If, however, you have a picky eater, a vegetarian or vegan, or an adolescent on your hands, or your little one has an underlying health condition, they may need a zinc supplement. Consult your doctor to check on this.
ZINC SUPPLEMENTS FOR KIDS
Zinc supplements are available in different forms, including liquid, tablets, and gummies. They contain different types of zinc, with chelated forms being the best for absorption. While there are many forms of chelated zinc supplements, some include zinc orotate, zinc citrate, zinc gluconate, zinc picolinate, and zinc acetate. Note that zinc supplements should be taken with food, or your little one may end up with an upset stomach.
Zinc for kids is also found in many kids’ multivitamin supplements alongside other important nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, omega-3s, and sometimes even with prebiotics and probiotics. It’s also often included in immune support supplements, like Llama Naturals’ Whole Foods Elderberry Gummies for Kids, which includes a zinc chelate made with full-spectrum amino acids for optimal absorption.
When buying zinc for kids, check how much zinc is in the supplement — this is usually written as “mg of zinc.” Also, make sure you read the dosage instructions carefully.
Side Effects of Zinc for Kids
Too much zinc for kids can lead to toxicity. While this is unlikely if they are only eating whole foods, it can happen if you give them too high a dose of supplements. Look out for symptoms like nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, and poor memory or motor skills.
Too much zinc can also lead to copper deficiency, as zinc competes with copper for absorption. Your child needs copper for energy and a healthy cardiovascular system, amongst other things.
ZINC FOR KIDS SUPPORTS YOUR CHILD’S HEALTH
Zinc is important for many different functions in your child’s body, including normal growth and development, immune function, cognitive ability, and digestive health. If your child is eating well, there’s a good chance they’re getting enough zinc. But if they aren’t, they may have a zinc deficiency.
If that’s the case, consult your doctor or pediatrician to find out if they need a zinc supplement, either on its own or in combination with other high-quality supplements. Zinc for kids can go a long way towards supporting their overall health and wellbeing and set them up for their best life in the future.
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