What is the Role of Copper in Our Diets?

Is copper an important part of our diets? If so, how much should we consume? Find out more about the relevance of copper in our diets in today's article. 
What is the Role of Copper in Our Diets?

Last update: 06 April, 2020

Copper is an essential micronutrient that plays an important role in proper nutrition. Experts made this realization because of certain anemic processes that didn’t improve, despite iron treatment. However, surprisingly, they ceased when patients received treatment involving iron and copper together. To better understand the role of copper in our diets, keep reading.

Metabolism: copper in our diets

Copper is absorbed by our bodies through the stomach and the duodenum–the upper part of the small intestine. Then, it travels to the liver, attached to a protein called albumin. Once in the liver, it joins a glycoprotein called ceruloplasmin. Finally, the ceruloplasmin transports the copper to different tissue where it’s used to synthesize enzymes.

Enzymes are organic molecules that allow for the production of certain chemical reactions. One example of an enzyme is lactase, which allows for the degradation and digestion of the lactose in dairy products. When this enzyme is lacking, the body can’t digest lactose. Those who have this deficit are considered lactose intolerant.

Lastly, the body eliminates copper via the bile duct and through fecal matter. The body sheds between two and three milligrams per day.

The function of copper in our diets and bodies

Copper is connected with a number of processes in our bodies. These include growth, brain development, immunity, bone maturity, and the metabolism of other molecules, such as glucose and iron.

But above and beyond that, it acts as a coenzyme. We need to include copper in our diets because it produces certain fundamental chemical reactions. For example, the elimination of one type of free radicals.

Associated pathologies

There are two different hereditary illnesses that exist due to an error in copper metabolism. These are Menkes disease and Wilson’s disease.

Menkes disease

Menkes disease is the result of an alteration in the absorption and transportation of copper. It results from an accumulation of copper in intestinal cells and a reduced synthesis of the enzymes that need copper.

The clinical manifestations of this disease are degenerative brain alterations that lead to an early death. Menkes is a rare hereditary disease that requires treatment as soon as possible. Otherwise, the effectiveness of treatment–which is parenteral–is scarce.

Potatoes are a source of copper.

Wilson’s disease

Another disease connected with improper copper metabolism is Wilson’s disease. This disease occurs as a result of an excessive deposit of copper in tissues. It’s caused by the incapacity of the liver to excrete it. These accumulations occur in the liver, brain, cornea, and kidney and cause chronic hepatopathy. Treatment consists of the use of iron and zinc agents and a diet low in copper.

How to reduce copper in our diets

A typical diet offers about three milligrams per day. In cases of Wilson’s disease, experts recommend reducing copper intake to less than one milligram at the beginning of treatment. Once the disease is established, patients should keep their copper intake to less than three milligrams.

It’s important to use local composition tables in order to calculate copper content in foods. This is because copper content varies depending on where the food is produced.

Just the same, foods that are particularly rich in copper are seafood and nuts. In addition, we can also find this mineral in cereal grains, but it can become lost during processing. When it comes to foods that are always low in copper, we have milk and its derivatives.

In the following table, we’ll specify the restrictions according to each food group.

The copper content in foods

Food group Permissible Moderate consumption Excepcional consumption Avoid
Beverages Mineral water, coffee, tea Fruit juices, fruit nectars Cocoa
Meat Any, with the exception of those that appear in other categories Turkey and foie gras Pork liver Offal
Fish and seafood Any, with the exception of those that appear in other categories Squid, mussels, lobster Crayfish, lobster Other seafood
Eggs Allowed
Legumes and vegetables Any, with the exception of those that appear in other categories Fresh mushrooms, cooked soy, canned lentils
Starches Any, with the exception of those that appear in other categories Whole grain rice
Fruits and nuts Any fruit Nuts and currants
Cheese Any, with the exception of those that appear in other categories Parmesan
Fats Any
Salad with eggs and chicken breast.


In regard to water intake, it’s important to keep in mind that it can be one of the most important sources of copper. Therefore, individuals should find out the composition of the municipality’s water supply.

Lastly, it’s important to avoid drinking alcohol, as this can damage the liver. What’s more, those with liver failure should limit their intake of proteins and salt according to their doctor’s specifications.

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  • Maladie de Wilson. Centre Nacional de Referente Bernard Pepin
  • Salas-Salvadó J. Nutrición y dietética clínica. Barcelona: Masson; 2009