Copper is an essential mineral that your body needs to function. Copper plays a role in forming red blood cells, enzymes, connective tissue, and bone. It also plays a vital role in immune health. Copper is a trace mineral, meaning we only need it in small amounts. Still, many people do not get enough copper in their diet. In this article, we'll explore some of the best food sources of copper and discuss how to get more copper in your diet.
What Is Copper?
Copper is an essential trace mineral for your body's health and function. It is found in every body tissue and plays a vital role in making red blood cells, maintaining nerve cells, and maintaining the immune system. Copper also influences energy production and iron absorption, helping the body produce collagen.
What Are the Health Benefits of Copper?
Dietary copper is an essential nutrient. The benefits of getting enough copper in your diet include:
- Helps the body make red blood cells
- Protects cells from damage
- Keeps nerve cells healthy
- Supports immune system health
- Plays a role in forming collagen
- Helps the body absorb iron
- Supports energy and vitality
- Plays a role in converting sugar into energy
What Happens If You Don't Get Enough Copper in Your Diet?
Copper is an essential nutrient, meaning your body needs it to function correctly. You could develop health issues if you don't get enough copper in your diet. Some of the common signs of copper deficiency include:
- Fatigue: when your copper levels are low, it can interfere with your body's ability to absorb iron. As a result, this could make your body unable to supply its tissues with enough oxygen—a condition known as iron deficiency anemia.
- Weakened immunity: Copper plays an essential role in immune health. When your copper levels are low, your body may have difficulty generating immune cells, reducing your white blood cell count and making you more susceptible to infection.
- Poor cognitive performance: certain enzymes that supply the brain with energy utilize copper to relay their signals. A lack of copper in the diet could result in less energy for the brain and may reduce cognitive performance.
- Weak Bones: copper deficiency can also result in weak bones, as copper is involved in collagen production. Collagen is a protein that makes up a significant amount of our bone, muscle, and connective tissue.
- Vision Loss: since copper is used by many enzymes involved with nervous system function, copper deficiency can lead to problems with nervous system function. This could potentially cause issues like vision loss.
- Early greying of hair: copper deficiency can affect melanin production. Melanin is a pigment that plays a role in skin and hair color. Low levels of copper, and therefore melanin, can result in early greying of hair. It may also contribute to pale skin.
How to Get More Copper in Your Diet
Now, let's discuss how to increase copper in your diet. The best way to get copper in the diet is by eating foods high in copper. Supplements are also an option; however, getting copper in your diet from food sources is recommended. This is because our bodies are better able to recognize minerals in whole food forms and may be able to absorb them better as well. They also have an easier time using what they need from food and allowing the rest to bypass through the digestive system.
With isolated mineral supplements, the body may not know how to process them. This could result in taking in too much copper. Zinc, manganese, and iron compete with iron for absorption. Too much copper could result in zinc, manganese, or iron deficiencies. This is why it is best to stick to getting copper in your diet from food unless, for some reason, good food sources of copper are not available.
So, if you are wondering how to get copper in your diet, look no further. Below we have listed the best food sources of copper:
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that is commonly sold as a powdered food supplement. Spirulina is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. It used to be consumed by Aztecs as food to give them more energy and strength. Spirulina contains many nutrients, including copper.
Just one tablespoon of spirulina contains 44% of the recommended daily intake for copper. This means that you can nearly meet your daily copper needs in just two tablespoons of spirulina. That's not all spirulina offers, however. The same amount provides 8 grams of protein, 50% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B2 and 22% of the recommended daily intake of iron.
2. Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are another excellent food source of copper. Shiitake mushrooms are edible mushrooms native to East Asia. Just four average shiitake mushrooms contain 89% of the recommended daily value for copper! Shiitake mushrooms are also rich in other essential nutrients like zinc, manganese, selenium, vitamin D, and several B vitamins.
3. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are another nutritional powerhouse and a great source of nutrients. The term leafy greens refers to various edible leaves of plants with similar properties. For example, lettuce, collard greens, kale, Swiss chard, and spinach are all leafy greens that provide similar nutrients.
Leafy greens are a good source of copper. But, of course, exactly how much copper will depend on the type of leafy green and other factors like the size of the plant and how healthy the soil it was grown in is.
One cup of cooked spinach has about 33% of the recommended intake of copper. The exact amount is found in a cup of cooked Swiss chard. Leafy greens are also a good source of vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, and fiber.
4. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are also nutrient-rich superfoods. Nuts are packed with protein, healthy fats, and an array of essential vitamins and minerals. Some nuts are also notably high in copper. Just an ounce of cashews, for example, contains roughly 67% of the recommended daily intake of copper. A tablespoon of sesame seeds provides about 44% of the recommended daily intake.
Lobsters are low-fat shellfish that are loaded with nutrients. They contain plenty of protein, selenium, vitamin B12, and other essential vitamins and minerals—including copper. As a result, lobsters are one of the best food sources of copper, with just a 3-ounce serving of lobster containing an impressive 178% of the recommended daily intake.
Oysters are another shellfish rich in dietary copper—even richer in copper than lobsters. While a 3-ounce serving of lobster provides 178% of the recommended daily intake of copper, the same serving size of oysters provides 844%! Oysters are a significant source of copper; since they are a whole food source, the body can easily use what copper it needs and pass along what it doesn't. This might not be the case when taking 800%+ of the recommended daily intake of copper in a copper supplement.
Aside from being a great source of copper, oysters are also loaded with other nutrients. Oysters have a significant amount of zinc, selenium, and vitamin B12 and are low in calories.
7. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is another good food source of copper. Just 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate provides 200% of the recommended daily intake of copper. The exact amount offers 67% of the recommended daily intake for iron and 98% of the recommended daily intake for manganese. Dark chocolate is also a great source of beneficial antioxidants that help to fight off free radicals.
Other Food Sources of Copper
In addition to the food sources of copper mentioned above, the following foods may also help you get more copper in your diet:
- Guava Leaves
- Whole grains
- Organ meats
- Turnip greens
- Blackstrap molasses
- Goat cheese
Copper is an essential mineral that plays a role in many body functions, such as forming red blood cells, enzymes, connective tissue, and bone, as well as playing an essential role in energy production, nervous system health, and immune system function.
Copper is a trace mineral, meaning we only need small amounts. Still, this small amount of copper is critical to our health, and many people do not get enough copper in their diet. Copper deficiency can result in symptoms like tiredness and fatigue, poor cognitive performance, iron deficiency anemia, weak bones, vision loss, weakened immunity, pale skin, and early greying of the hair.
To ensure you get enough copper in your diet, it is essential to regularly eat foods rich in copper. Some of the best food sources of copper include:
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Dark chocolate
- Organ meats
- Whole grains
- Blackstrap molasses
- Goat cheese
Aim to eat some of these copper-rich foods regularly if you are concerned about getting enough copper in your diet. Suppose you notice any of the symptoms of copper deficiency mentioned above. In that case, it is recommended to consult with your healthcare practitioner.