Copper is an essential trace mineral that plays a vital role in various functions in the human body.
But you don’t need a lot. It’s one of the only nutrients you can overdo from food.
In this article, we’ll show you how to get the copper you need using the tools and charts used by Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass.
- Copper Food Chart
- Copper Rich Foods (Per Serving)
- Copper Rich Foods (Per Calorie)
- Copper-Rich Recipes
- Why is Copper Important for Your Health?
- What Are the Roles of Copper in the Body?
- What Are the Signs of a Copper Deficiency?
- Factors Increasing Your Dietary Demand for Copper
- Synergistic Nutrients
- Copper Absorption
- Copper Bioavailability
- Satiety Response to Dietary Copper
- Copper Toxicity
- Copper in the Environment
- Copper Upper Limit
- Symptoms of Excess Copper
- Balancing Your Copper Intake with Zinc and Iron
- Optimal Copper Targets
- How Can I Calculate if I Am Getting Enough Copper?
- Nutrient Density Starter Pack
- Nutrient Series
Copper Food Chart
The chart below shows a range of popular foods in terms of copper (per calorie) vs selenium (per serve). Foods towards the right will provide more copper per calorie, while the foods towards the top will provide more copper in the serving sizes we typically eat them.
For more detail, you can dive into the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer), check out the food lists of popular foods below or download longer lists in our Optimising Nutrition Community here.
Copper Rich Foods (Per Serving)
Foods high in copper are found plentifully from both plant and animal sources. The popular foods listed below will give you more copper in the typical serving sizes we consume them in.
- dark chocolate (90%)
- pistachio nuts
- sunflower seeds
- goat cheese
Copper Rich Foods (Per Calorie)
Foods highest in selenium per calorie are listed below.
- mushrooms (cooked)
- coriander leaf
- mustard greens
- yellow bell pepper
The chart below shows our 1400+ NutriBooster recipes that we use in the Micros Masterclass plotted in terms of copper vs protein %. Recipes towards the right will help you boost your copper with fewer calories.
To dive into the detail, you can open the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer). Then, click on each recipe to learn more about it and view a picture of the recipe. Some examples of our NutriBooster recipes that contain the most copper are shown below.
Why is Copper Important for Your Health?
- Energy production: Copper is an essential component of the enzyme complex that helps to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary energy source of the body.
- Iron absorption: Copper helps in the absorption of iron from the diet and its incorporation into red blood cells, which helps in the prevention of anaemia.
- Connective tissue formation: Copper is essential for the formation of connective tissue, which provides structure and support to various organs and tissues in the body.
- Nervous system function: Copper plays a role in the proper functioning of the nervous system by aiding in the production of neurotransmitters that are responsible for sending signals throughout the body.
- Immune system function: Copper has been shown to have antimicrobial properties that help in fighting infections and boost the immune system.
- Antioxidant activity: Copper is a cofactor for superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant enzyme that helps to protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
What Are the Roles of Copper in the Body?
Copper is an essential trace mineral or a mineral that the body requires in small amounts. Your body needs copper for a long list of functions.
- Copper is crucial for the synthesis of red blood cells, alongside iron. We also need dietary copper to absorb iron and transport it.
- We require copper to make enzymes related to energy production in the mitochondria.
- Copper is needed for the synthesis and regeneration of collagen, making it essential for wound healing and scar prevention.
- One of the main enzymes that break down histamine in the body requires copper.
- Because we need copper for healthy connective tissue, it is crucial for the integrity of our veins, arteries, and blood vessels.
- Copper helps to regulate the functioning of the cardiovascular system and assist in the synthesis of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). Low levels have been linked to high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- We need copper to synthesise neurotransmitters like dopamine.
- Copper is needed in the brain for healthy cognition and nerve signalling.
- Copper works alongside zinc and iron as an antioxidant to protect proteins, cell membranes, cells, and organs from oxidative damage.
- The immune system utilises copper to perform several functions and synthesise immune compounds.
- We need copper for our hair and skin colour.
- If you’ve lost your sense of taste, it’s essential to know that copper is one mineral that contributes to taste sensitivity.
- Finally, copper helps you metabolise fat.
However, copper is often not a nutrient that we need to actively seek out because we are regularly exposed to it in food and the environment.
It can be easy to get too much copper from consuming too much liver, drinking water that flows through copper pipes, or using copper-containing birth controls.
Because of its antagonistic relationship with zinc, too much copper can predispose someone to a zinc deficiency.
What Are the Signs of a Copper Deficiency?
Although copper deficiency is rare in the United States, approximately 25% of the world’s population is thought to be copper deficient. This affects various systems of the body because of copper’s vast role.
Copper deficiency symptoms include:
- extreme fatigue,
- low white blood cell count,
- low red blood cell count,
- muscle soreness,
- muscle weakness,
- histamine intolerance,
- poor immunity,
- slow wound healing,
- Intolerance to cold,
- pale skin,
- vision changes,
- loss of colour in the skin,
- greying of hair,
- elevated uric acid,
- high cholesterol,
- memory issues,
- inhibited cognition,
- difficulties walking,
- diabetes, and
- heart disease.
Factors Increasing Your Dietary Demand for Copper
You may need more copper in your diet if you:
- are older,
- consume a lot of alcohol,
- are prone to histamine reactions,
- have chronic bacterial infections,
- experience celiac disease,
- suffer from malabsorption or other gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),
- consume large amounts of zinc supplements or zinc foods,
- have iron toxicity,
- have cystic fibrosis, or
- have a high intake of fructose, iron, vitamin C or zinc.
Copper works synergistically with vitamins B2, B6, and B12, calcium, folate, iron, manganese, selenium, zinc, and amino acids to do its job. For this reason, we recommend consuming copper from food where a complete nutrient profile is available to ensure it is supported in doing all of its jobs.
Consuming adequate calcium and potassium will improve the absorption and retention of copper in your body. Furthermore, consuming protein and soluble carbohydrates like nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can boost absorption.
On the contrary, consuming foods rich in selenium, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, and zinc can inhibit the absorption of copper in the GI tract. In addition, foods high in simple sugars can also limit absorption.
Studies have not shown whether or not copper is better absorbed from plant or animal foods.
The composition of your diet (i.e., fats, carbs, protein, fibre) seems to have little effect on copper bioavailability, aside from excessive glucose intake.
Women with higher estrogen levels from taking birth control or during pregnancy will absorb more copper from their diet. This is because estrogen and copper have somewhat of a synergistic relationship, and estrogen has been shown to increase circulating levels of copper. In this way, birth control can increase copper levels and lower zinc levels.
Satiety Response to Dietary Copper
Our satiety analysis shows a moderate response when people eat more copper foods. People who consume 6 mg/2000 calories of copper tended to consume 10% fewer calories than those who got less copper. However, more is not necessarily better, as highlighted in the satiety response chart below.
The average intake of Optimisers is 1.0 mg/day, which is similar to the ‘Adequate Intake’ of 0.9 mg/day.
Copper toxicity is rare, as excess copper is normally excreted in the bile and faeces. However, this condition can arise if someone has a condition where their liver is functioning inadequately, if they’re zinc or iron deficient, or if they’re regularly exposed to high amounts of environmental copper. Genetic defects also are at play.
Copper in the Environment
Environmental copper can come from:
- consuming or bathing in water flowing through copper pipes,
- the use of copper IUDs,
- taking synthetic estrogen as in birth control,
- consuming produce that was sprayed with the pesticide copper sulphate and not washed properly,
- using copper cookware,
- copper particles in air pollution near agriculture, water treatment, or mining industries,
- taking large amounts of copper supplements,
- eating large quantities of copper foods, and (or)
- eating inadequate amounts of zinc foods.
Copper Upper Limit
The Upper Limit of copper from supplements is 10 mg/day. This is well above the amount achievable from food unless someone eats large amounts of liver every day.
It seems that excess copper isn’t a problem in itself unless other factors are at play. Because excess copper can affect zinc absorption, it’s critical to watch out for too much copper (e.g., from lots of liver), especially if you are not getting a lot of zinc.
Symptoms of Excess Copper
Symptoms of copper toxicity look like:
- kidney issues,
- stomach pain,
- blue or green-coloured stools,
- dark stools with blood,
- fever and chills,
- muscle aches,
- extreme thirst,
- a fast heart rate,
- changes in taste,
- sudden mood changes,
Balancing Your Copper Intake with Zinc and Iron
Zinc supplements can decrease the absorption of copper and increase its demand.
High levels of copper from leaching copper pipes and pans, birth control, and high intakes of copper-rich foods, such as liver, can impact zinc and iron absorption.
Our satiety analysis shows that a higher iron: copper ratio aligns with a lower calorie intake. The optimal dietary zinc: copper ratio is between 8:1 and 12:1. It is also ideal to maintain your iron: copper intake ratio between 10:1 and 15:1.
These ratios are difficult to manage in practice. To help you, Nutrient Optimiser ensures that copper or zinc is not over-emphasised to exacerbate these nutrient ratios further if they are already outside the optimal range.
Optimal Copper Targets
Based on the robust satiety response data, we have set a stretch target of 3.0 mg/2000 calories.
Once you start to get the hang of nutrient density, you could ‘level up’ by working to achieve these stretch targets to optimise your nutrition. For more details, see:
How Can I Calculate if I Am Getting Enough Copper?
If you’re interested in determining if you’re getting just the right amount of copper in your diet, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge.
After a week of tracking your current diet in Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will give you a prioritised list of foods and NutriBooster recipes that will help you plug your current nutritional gaps, including selenium.
Nutrient Density Starter Pack
We’re eager to make the process of Nutritional Optimisation as simple as possible. So, to help you increase your intake of all the essential nutrients, including copper, when you join our free Optimising Nutrition Community, you’ll get a starter pack that includes:
When you join our free Optimising Nutrition Community, you’ll get a starter pack that includes:
- Food Lists – optimised for each essential nutrient, goals, preferences and conditions.
- The Healthiest Meal Plan in the World – see what a week of nutrient-dense eating looks like.
- Recipes – check out samples of each of our NutriBosoter recipe books.
- 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge – identify your priority nutrients and the foods and meals that contain them.
- Biotin (B7)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Vitamin B6
- Folate (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1
- Vitamin K2