The EU Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) – i.e. the amount that’s recommended as a minimum intake for the population set at a level that covers requirements for most people – for zinc is 10mg for adults (1). We need an adequate zinc intake from our diet as this trace element has numerous essential roles in the body including helping some enzymes perform their reactions, and it’s involved in growth and development, as well as the nervous, immune and reproductive systems.
Zinc is essential and too little in our diet will cause problems with growth and development and is associated with neurological or immune disturbances. Zinc deficiency is rare in healthy individuals who consume typical Western diets, although it is more common in vegans (2).
All the zinc in powdered Huel is naturally occuring from the oats, flaxseeds, pea protein and brown rice protein, and no additional has been added.
Zinc and antinutrients
There are substances in foods that inhibit the absorption of some minerals – including zinc – and affect their bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to the amount of a nutrient that is absorbed and goes on to have an effect in the body. These substances that negatively affect absorption of nutrients are known as antinutrients – constituents of food that reduce the nutritional value of other nutrients even though they themselves provide nutritional benefits.
The most notable antinutrient that interferes with the bioavailability of minerals is phytic acid. Phytic acid, also known as inositol hexakisphosphate, is a naturally occurring storage form of phosphorus in plant seeds and the bound form is known as phytate. Oats and flax seeds – two of Huel’s main ingredients – are both rich in phytic acid. Milling grains and removing the bran decreases the amount of phytic acid in a food (3) and both the oats and flax seed in Huel are finely milled which significantly lowers the phytic acid content of Huel.
Phytic acid may be an antinutrient, but it’s also a strong antioxidant with health benefits (4,5,6). It has been shown to be anticarcinogenic (7) and can also bind heavy metals (e.g. cadmium, lead) and helps prevent their accumulation in the body (8).
The extent as to how much phytic acid reduces the bioavailability of zinc varies and other constituents in food affect the rate. Vegans are at risk of not absorbing enough zinc due to the high amounts of phytic acid in a vegan diet, so it’s suggested that their requirements for zinc are 50% higher than those of meat-eaters (2,9).
The effect of phytic acid on zinc, whilst significant, is notably less than its effect on iron, and zinc is also not as affected by other antinutrients as other minerals. For instance, calcium can affect the bioavailability of iron but has been shown to have little effect on zinc status in humans (10,11).
A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel looked at the effect of phytic acid on zinc status (12). They looked at different levels of phytic acid intake and looked at ranges of zinc requirements from 300mg to 1,200mg of phytic acid per day. They concluded that the Population Reference Intake (PRI) for adult men should be 9.4mg to 16.3mg of zinc per day and for women 7.4mg to 12.7mg per day proportional to the phytic acid intake.
Zinc in Huel
The amount of phytic acid in Huel has been measured to be around 1,550mg per 2,000 calories and the amount of zinc in 2,000 calories of Huel is 19.8mg (based on current European Huel v2.2). Using the PRI for zinc, adjusting for a pro rata amount of zinc at 1,550mg of phytic acid, the amount required would be 18.7mg. Therefore, at 2,000 calories per day, the level of 19.8mg is more than adequate to cover both male and female requirements.
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