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Beef patty (zinc), mashed sweet potatoes (copper), and okra

In order to prevent copper toxicity from recurring, intake of copper and zinc need to be balanced once excess copper has been removed from the body. Making sure there is sufficient intake of zinc to balance out copper intake should prevent excess copper from building back up in the body and causing a return of symptoms. Below, I outline how I’ve decided to approach keeping them in balance in my own diet. What you may have to do may be completely different. See a doctor or nutritionist for any specific questions about your own health. Try my ideas at your own risk.

I knew, when I was researching copper while taking the Centrum Adults multivitamin, that animal protein like meats, eggs, and dairy were the best sources of zinc. Nuts, seeds, legumes, and certain fruits and vegetables are among the best sources of copper. Some foods contain good amounts of both minerals, mainly organ meats and seafood. While plant foods contain some zinc, the amount of copper in these same foods greatly outweighs it. Also, plant foods contain chemicals that inhibit absorption of zinc but do not have that same effect on copper. Therefore, plant foods are inferior sources of zinc and can easily tip the balance in favor of copper when consumed in excess or without a balancing zinc source. What I needed to figure out was how to combine copper and zinc sources or how to incorporate them throughout the day to keep the two minerals in balance. In general, I aimed to include in meals a source rich in copper and a source rich in zinc. The remaining foods may be more neutral sources or low in both, like many fruits and vegetables and grains like rice and corn. I also aimed to have additional snacks on hand that are good sources of zinc because up to this point, I mostly snacked on fruit and nut bars which are high in copper. I also found additional snack options that contained a good balance of both.

One thing that made determining a good balance of both minerals in meals and snacks a challenge is that copper and zinc are rarely listed on food labels. About the only places these are listed are on nutrition shakes and other food products that have a mix of vitamins and minerals added. I decided to turn to websites and smartphone/tablet apps with a searchable database of foods, such as SELF Nutrition Data and the Nutrition Facts app, to get copper and zinc information for the foods I include in my diet. Unfortunately, the information isn’t always accurate, and similar entries in the database can have widely variable amounts for zinc and copper. At times, I’ve just had to figure out how to deal with a particular food by trying it out and seeing how it would affect me. I could then make changes as needed for the next time, eliminate the food from my diet, or greatly restrict it. If I was worried about the copper amount being very high, I would pair that food with something high in zinc, like ground beef, and then consider how I felt after eating them. For some foods, like shrimp, that may have somewhat of a balance of both minerals, I would eat them with foods that shouldn’t tip the balance much either way and then see how I felt afterwards.

Next, I decided to cut from my diet, or include in meals and snacks very sparingly, foods which include very high amounts of either zinc or copper because these would be harder to balance. Foods such as organ meats, oysters, cashews, and sunflower seeds I decided to consume sparingly or not at all. Cashews and sunflower seeds both contain very high amounts of copper. Organ meats and oysters contain high amounts of both, but from what I’ve seen, the amounts seem to be extremely high, too high for me at this point in time at least. I would be afraid to find out how such foods would affect me, at least for now. Dark chocolate is another food that I’ll have to be careful about consuming. It also contains high amounts of copper. There are other foods that I thought I would need to cut as well but was actually surprised to find, when searching for information on them in the nutrition databases, that they’re not as high in copper as I thought or have a better balance of copper and zinc. I thought I’d have to give up my favorite candy bar, Snickers, or eat it in smaller portions, but it turns out the full-sized bars don’t really have much of either mineral. I’ve eaten the peanut and almond Snickers bars with no ill effects. Peanut butter is actually a lot safer than tree nut and seed butters. It’s relatively low in copper and has a better balance of copper and zinc. It’s become my go-to for my favorite breakfast. I’ll pair a fourth of a cup of peanut butter with a sliced banana and then balance that out with a cheese stick or hard-boiled egg. I’ve gotten rid of my other butters, except for my Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, which I would absolutely not get rid of under any but the most extenuating circumstances. I decided to keep it around to spread it on rice cakes or toast for breakfast. Milk chocolate is a lot safer option than dark chocolate, although I still need to be careful about how much I eat. I may not ever be able to eat a full-sized Hershey bar, but I can eat a few Hershey Milk Chocolate Kisses and Dove Milk Chocolate candies. Also, for baking, carob powder and chips may be a good alternative to cocoa powder and chocolate chips. I do have some to try, but I haven’t tried them yet. I also decided to get rid of my Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Baking Flour. The first ingredient is garbanzo bean flour. Garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) are also high in copper. I do however still eat hummus and chickpeas, just in smaller portions and along with a good zinc source like meat or eggs.

Over time, I’ve also had to learn how to gauge how I feel after meals to decide if I may have gone too far one way or the other. Copper is like caffeine on steroids. Your respiration, heart rate, and body temperature increase. If you consume enough copper in excess of zinc, you’ll have energy, but it’ll feel like a nervous energy. You’ll feel jittery. Zinc has the opposite effect. Things begin to slow down, and you may even start to feel fatigued, like your iron levels have dropped. I’ve had to learn to recognize these symptoms and then deal with them accordingly, like having a snack with either copper or zinc to restore balance or wait until the next meal and have it be dominant in either zinc or copper, whichever way I need to go. Also, I may need to decide what to do in the future with the food that caused the symptoms. Maybe I need to pair it with something else or have a smaller portion. Maybe I need to eliminate the food from my diet and look for a safer alternative.

Some additional snack options I’ve started to keep on hand are jerky, hard-boiled eggs, and pumpkin seeds. I also have decided to keep almonds, peanuts, and pecans on hand because these are lower in copper than many other nuts and seeds (and yes, I know that peanuts are legumes). I only get Larabars with just these in them. Because they contain cashews and sunflower seeds, I no longer get the NoGii bars. I’ve also found that nutrition shakes like Ensure are great to have on hand for a snack or to round out a meal because these have a good balance of many vitamins and minerals. I do still get the chocolate ones because these have zinc added to them. Other flavors may still have the same (or similar) amount of copper due to the copper supplement that is added to them.

As for a multivitamin, I’m actually still using my multivitamin that contains 100% RDA of both zinc and copper. I’ve found for me it’s much better to supplement these minerals in balance. I’ve found it can be quite easy to feel deficiency symptoms after just a few meals that are dominant in zinc over copper, so I definitely need a good balance. Keeping my multivitamin in balance and my diet in balance has worked out better for me, I believe. Talk with your doctor about the appropriate supplementation approach for you. I’ve read that some suggest using a multivitamin that does not contain copper. Such a multivitamin may be helpful during the phase of copper elimination, but once the elimination is complete, I would think one would need to aim for a balance and a multivitamin with a balance of zinc and copper would be a better bet. That, however, is just my opinion based on what I’ve experienced. I’ve done well with my Nature Made Multi Complete multivitamin since I switched back to it from the Centrum Adults multivitamin. The Centrum was great to use for copper elimination because the high ratio of zinc to copper in that multivitamin allowed for the use and elimination of copper that had built up in my body’s tissues and organs.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is not an elimination diet or a diet that makes some foods “bad”, “illegal”, or “forbidden”. It’s a change in the way you eat that allows you to keep copper and zinc in better balance. You may even choose not to eliminate or restrict the highest-copper or highest-zinc foods because you’re able to find a good way to consume those while keeping copper and zinc in balance. My restriction and elimination of these foods is my choice only. It certainly doesn’t mean that others must choose to do the same. These foods are healthy, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with continuing to include them in your diet if you’re able to do so successfully. It’s important to find a way of eating that works for you and allows you to keep copper and zinc in a healthy balance for your own body.

I’m still very new to this way of eating and am certain that changes may still need to be made in the future. For the time being, though, I seem to be doing really well. I’m feeling a lot better, and I have more consistent energy. My desire is that detailing my journey will bring hope and help to others suffering from symptoms caused by copper toxicity. However, I would urge anyone considering these dietary changes to speak with a doctor or nutritionist for guidance because what works for me may not work for you or others.

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