Most of us associate copper with its practical usage in plumbing, electronics, and jewelry. However, it’s important to understand its nutritional worth as well.
We receive copper mostly from the food that we consume.
Copper is a trace mineral, which means it is needed in a very small quantity. Its primary role is to help form hemoglobin and collagen in the body.
Most of our copper needs are met through food sources, so it is recommended to consume a well-rounded diet comprising seafood, whole grains, nuts, and leafy greens to get your daily fill of copper.
The Importance of a Copper-Rich Diet
Copper is one such mineral that the body cannot synthesize on its own. Thus, you have to depend entirely on food sources to meet your body’s requirement. Although the body uses copper in tiny amounts, maintaining an adequate dietary supply is nevertheless important as it uses the mineral quite frequently and is unable to store it in sufficient amounts.
If you do not consume enough copper-rich foods, your body will lack the necessary supply of this vital element that is needed for conducting a number of key body functions. Copper plays a vital and indispensable role in the following:
- Production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels your body with energy
- Red blood cell (RBC) synthesis
- Formation of connective tissue
- Maintenance of proper immune function
- Processing of cholesterol
- Ensuring optimum brain and nervous system function
- Regulating and metabolizing iron in the body
- Assisting the enzyme tyrosinase in the production of the skin pigment called melanin
Needless to say, insufficient copper in the body can severely compromise your health by leaving your bones and joints utterly weak and painful as well as your blood devoid of enough RBCs, which leads to anemia.
Moreover, copper deficiency is often a precursor for other nutritional deficits such as iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies. Malnourished children can have copper deficiencies along with several other deficiencies.
On the other hand, this essential nutrient can turn toxic for cells in excess. When taken in excess amounts from supplements or contaminated drinking water, it can trigger vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps in the short term while setting the ground for far serious neurological issues in the long run.
Copper toxicity is usually only a concern from excessive supplementation and consumption of contaminated water or from a rare disorder called Wilson’s disease.
How to Tell If You Are Low on Copper
Primarily, the biological role of copper is to assist with the production of healthy RBCs that carry oxygen to every tissue throughout your body. If the body runs low on this basic building block, the result is a low amount of RBCs and low delivery of oxygen.
Such glitches at the cellular level can severely hamper the internal movement of oxygen via the bloodstream and can give rise to a number of major health concerns.
Here are some common symptoms that can be traced back to an underlying copper deficiency:
- Pale skin
- Persistent feelings of fatigue or depleted energy levels without much strain or activity
- Running a low body temperature
- Muscle soreness
- Weakened or brittle bones
- Losing weight without any apparent reason
- Painful joints
- Skin inflammation
- Balding or thinning hair
- Weakened immune system
How Much Dietary Copper Do You Need?
The daily recommended intake (DRI) of copper varies according to age, gender, and other factors such as pregnancy. Pregnant women require higher amounts of copper to meet the developmental needs of the fetus in the womb.
Similarly, once the baby arrives, new mothers have to supplement the copper needs of the newborn through breastmilk and thus have to take in relatively larger quantities of copper through their diet.
According to the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily dosage of copper is as follows:
- Between 0 and 6 months: 200 micrograms (mcg) per day
- Between 7 and 12 months: 220 mcg daily
- Between 1 and 3 years: 340 mcg daily
- Between 4 and 8 years: 440 mcg daily
- Between 9 and 13 years: 700 mcg daily
Adolescents and adults
- For males and females aged between 14 and 18 years: 890 mcg daily
- For males and females aged 19 and older: 900 mcg daily
- For pregnant women: 1,000 mcg daily
- For lactating females: 1,300 mcg daily
Your healthcare provider is best equipped to determine the appropriate copper dosage for your individual health needs. It’s best to take an expert’s opinion and work with a qualified dietitian to come up with a wholesome and well-balanced diet plan which fulfills all your nutritional needs.
Who Runs the Risk of Being Copper Deficient?
- A copper deficiency can either be acquired or inherited. The former is usually caused by a combination of factors that include the diet, nutrient deficiencies, and inadequate gastrointestinal environments due to preexisting diseases such as celiac disease or past surgeries affecting the digestive tract. An inherited copper deficiency, known as Menkes disease, is genetically passed on through your family line.
- Another underreported risk factor is overconsumption of zinc, which may also cause copper deficiency. As both these minerals compete with each other for absorption, taking higher doses of zinc will inadvertently lead to lower uptake of copper by the body.
- Infants who are solely fed on cow’s milk without being supplemented with other foods or formula have often been found deficient in copper, as it lacks the necessary copper content. As far as nourishment goes, cow’s milk lacks on several nutritional counts as an adequate baby feed for infants under the age of 1. Mother’s milk is recommended as the ideal source of nourishment for your infant. If, for some reason, your baby does not take to breast milk easily, consult your healthcare team for the best nutritional plan for the baby.
Precautions and Side Effects of Copper Consumption
People suffering from certain health conditions, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, are advised extra precaution with regards to their copper intake.
As these ailments are known to increase copper levels in the blood, the dietary supplementation of copper has to be managed accordingly to maintain the body’s inherent copper equilibrium.
Excessive copper in the body from supplements can lead to copper toxicity, leading to vomiting, low blood pressure, and coma.
Copper supplements can also adversely interact with the following medications and disrupt the state of homeostasis:
- Zinc supplements
- Contraceptive pills and hormone therapy
- Standard nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- Penicillamine, which is used to reduce copper levels in Wilson’s disease
- Cimetidine, or Tagamet, employed in the treatment of gastric ulcers and gastric reflux
- Allopurinol, which is used for the treatment of gout
If you are taking these supplements/medications, consult your healthcare team before taking supplements that contain high amounts of copper.
Wilson’s disease is a genetic disorder that keeps the body from getting rid of copper. In this disease, toxic levels of copper can accumulate in the body.
10 Copper Rich Foods to Eat
Upgrade your daily diet with a generous serving of these copper-rich foods:
1. Consume Meat
Meats are replete with nutrition including riboflavin (B2), folate (B9), vitamin B12, vitamin A, iron, proteins, choline, and copper.
Meats can help prevent anemia, keep nerve cells healthy, and strengthen the immune system, muscles, and bones because they are high in many nutrients.
About 100 grams (g) of beef liver can provide you with 9800 mcg of copper – an enormous 488 percent of the daily value (DV) for copper.
Consuming 100 g of beef meat can provide you with about 800 mcg of copper.
- Aside from beef liver, eat meats such as pork, chicken, and turkey, which contain copper that can help you keep copper deficiency at an arm’s length.
- Include short ribs, liver meats, and lean meats such as beef shanks cross cuts, steaks, and the flat cut of brisket.
- Panfry meats with caramelized onions and garlic. Add flavor to your preparation by topping it with your choice of herbs. Consume it as part of your stews or as a patty to your burger, or eat it as is.
Note: Pregnant women should avoid foods rich in vitamin A, such as liver. The huge quantity of vitamin A can have harmful effects on the unborn baby.
2. Include Seafood in Your Diet
Seafood abounds in a diversity of nutrition and can be prepared in a number of ways, making them stand out from other food choices.
Oysters are considered as one of the best copper sources among seafood options.
Include small servings of a variety of seafood in your diet on a regular basis. Avoid excess consumption.
- Tuna, oysters, sardines, salmon, squids, and lobsters are all seafood options to increase your copper intake.
3. Consume More Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide many beneficial nutrients, including copper.
You can derive a whopping 5165 mcg of copper from 100 g of dried shiitake mushrooms, about 1423 mcg of copper from 100 g of sun-dried tomatoes, and 817 mcg of copper from a large baked potato.
Vegetarians and vegans need to eat a variety of plant-based sources of copper, including these vegetable sources, to ensure adequate intake of copper.
4. Devour Nuts
Snacking on a handful of nuts, namely, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, and cashews nuts, can provide you oodles of nutrition to encourage your health in various ways.
Nuts provide, in addition to copper, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Eating about 100 g of cashew nuts can provide you with 2195 mcg of copper.
- Munching on 100 g of almonds can provide you with 1031 mcg of copper.
- Consuming 100 g of walnuts can provide you with about 1586 mcg of copper.
5. Dig into Copper-Rich Seeds
Seeds and seed kernels are abundant in minerals. Seeds of pumpkin, chia, sesame, watermelon, and squash as well as sunflower seed kernels can be eaten to maintain healthy zinc and copper levels in your body.
- Add these seeds in your soups, salads, cereals, or cookies.
- You can also prepare your own batch of roasted seeds that you can have as a snack to avoid unhealthy food cravings.
- Toss the seeds in a few drops of healthy olive oil.
- Season them with your choice of flavors or herbs such as cayenne pepper, curry leaves, and oregano.
- Roast the seeds at about 300 F for about 30 minutes or until the seeds are slightly browned.
6. Eat Dark Chocolates in Place of Other Sweets
You can replenish your copper intake by eating dark chocolates.
Chocolates are prepared from the beans of the cacao tree, which contain copper. The bitter dark chocolates contain higher quantities of cocoa, which makes them richer in copper and other nutrients than its milk counterpart.
Consuming 100 g of dark chocolate containing 70 percent to 85 percent of cacao can provide you with 1800 mcg of copper.
Note: Avoid eating an entire bar of chocolate in a day and stick to moderate amounts. Note that milk and white chocolate have minimal, if any, cacao beans. Therefore, these chocolates are not a source of copper.
7. Add in More Beans
The family of beans and legumes are full of nutrients, including zinc and copper. Adzuki and black beans contain the highest concentration of copper and zinc.
Adzuki beans are used in Asian cuisine in main dishes and desserts. A serving of 100 g of these reddish-brown beans can provide over 1100 mcg of copper and over 5.04 milligrams (mg) of zinc.
A cup of black beans can provide 841 mcg of copper and about 3.6 mg of zinc.
- Eat beans as a side dish with your rice and bread or add them to your salads and soups.
Note: To increase the absorption of nutrients from beans, keep them soaked overnight. Replace the water with a fresh one before cooking.
9. Go the Egg-cellent Way
The rich nutritional profile of eggs includes a minute quantity of copper.
For instance, 100 g of fresh eggs contains 72 mcg of copper.
Aside from traces of copper, eggs are packed with high levels of proteins, B vitamins, vitamin D, healthy fats, vitamin A, and other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Note: Avoid excess consumption of eggs if you are at an increased cardiovascular risk or have a history of heart disease. Consult your physician for more information.
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