Foods With Zinc And Why You Absolutely Should Eat Them

foods with zinc

Written by Emilee Petkus | Edited By: Aditi Khandelwal

February 22, 2021

We all know how important vitamins are for maintaining our health; however, minerals deserve some special attention as well. Perhaps one of the most important nutrients in this category is zinc. It is the second-most abundant trace mineral in our bodies, trailing slightly behind iron, meaning you will find it stored in every single one of your cells. (1) It is not only abundantly present, but zinc is also required for the function of over 300 enzymes, which control almost all important tasks regarding our health. (2)

Now, to start off, let us go over the daily recommended amounts of zinc, so you can use them as a benchmark when planning your meals. It is recommended that men get 11 mg per day whereas women only need around 8 mg. However, this number increases greatly for pregnant women, who need 11 mg and those who are breastfeeding should strive for 12 mg. (2) As you munch throughout the day, you will find that these goals can be easily attained. In fact, most of your zinc needs can be entirely satisfied through our diets, so there is really no need to take additional supplements as long as you are eating properly.

What Exactly Does Zinc Do For Your Body?

The answer is simple: a lot

Since zinc is in charge of all those enzymes, it also plays an important role in various processes involved in keeping us healthy. By triggering enzyme reactions zinc helps the body in producing the folic acid necessary for creating DNA, breaking down nutrients, and maintaining your sense of taste and smell. (3)

  • Zinc Keeps You Growing

We absolutely require zinc for physical growth and development. While still important for adults, maintaining proper levels is essential for children who are still going through growth spurts, as low levels can lead to stunted development. (4)

  • Keeps Your Immune System Strong

T lymphocytes, which are key cells involved in fighting off illness, are created through the help of zinc. Not only does this mineral stimulate your immune system’s cells but it also reduces oxidative stress. Those who are older also experience fewer infections and have a quicker immune response when their zinc levels are properly maintained. 

Some evidence of zinc’s immune-boosting powers can be found in a study that showed that when taken as an over-counter supplement, it can reduce the severity and duration of the common cold! (5) Those who took 80-92 mg of zinc per day had the duration of their cold reduced by a whopping 33%. (1)

  • Responsible For Your Vision

Many studies have been conducted supporting that a link between eye health and zinc exists. Those who are deficient are also more likely to experience macular degeneration when they are older. (4)

  •  Promotes Better Healing 

Your body can better handle the cuts and scrapes with adequate amounts of zinc. This is because it promotes healthy skin and mucous membranes which are vital for the healing process. (3) Zinc’s healing capabilities do not just stop there though, as this mineral also can reduce inflammation and activate immune cells to the area of injury. (5)

  • Fends Off Heart Disease

A lab study in 2015 found that zinc may play a major role in regulating the heartbeat, a discovery that can possibly help treat arrhythmia-related heart failure. A lot of foods high in zinc also follow a heart-healthy diet. Research on this topic is still preliminary. (5)

Major Sources of Zinc

While almost all foods will contain trace amounts of zinc, there are some that serve as major storehouses. If you are looking to up your values and maintain them, it is important to incorporate these specific foods into your weekly meal plan. 

You actually may be getting more zinc than you realize because many breakfast cereals, snack bars, and baking flours are fortified with synthetic forms of the mineral. (1) However, these are not really all that healthy for you to consume, so you should not rely entirely on these sources. Instead, we will focus on more whole foods that will provide you with proper zinc amounts while still being nourishing.

1. Meat

meat

Most people get most of their zinc from poultry and red meat. (4) While red meat has the highest levels, with 100 grams of raw ground beef containing 4.8 grams of zinc meaning which is 44% of your daily value, it can also be found in lamb and pork. Remember though, red meat is not all that great for your body in excess as it has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancers. (2) It is best to avoid processed meats and opt for the most nutritious cuts, being lean meats such as 90% lean beef, pork tenderloin, and boneless chicken breasts. (2)(5) In fact, 1 cup of chopped, roasted, and skinless chicken breast fulfills 19% of your daily value. (5)

2. Shellfish

shellfish

Shellfish are a healthier source of zinc as they are low calorie and often packed with healthy fats. Oysters are perhaps your best bet here because they may be the most zinc-dense food out there, with a mere 6 providing 32 mg or 291% of your recommended intake! (2) Amazing how such a small food can pack in so many nutrients! You can enjoy oysters cooked, canned, or on the half-shell as the benefits remain the same. (5)

Alaskan crab, shrimp, and mussels are also great sources but will contain a considerably less amount of zinc compared to oysters. A serving of crab will provide you with 59% of your daily value and a steamed lobster with 43%. (2)

In general, you can never go wrong with seafood, as it is also a heart-healthy food.

3. Dairy

dairy

Cheese and milk are full of nutrients and high amounts of bioavailable zinc that is readily absorbed. 100 grams of cheddar and swiss cheese both contain about 28% of your daily value, and a glass of full-fat milk contains around 9%. (2) Yogurt is also a great choice as well. (6)

Do not fret if you are dairy-free, as there are plenty of other sources for you to get your zinc from shown in this list.

4. Legumes

legumes

Even though meat sources provide a large portion of your zinc, it is still possible to source it from plants. Chickpeas, lentils, and beans of all varieties are all great sources of zinc for our vegetarian and vegan readers. 100 grams of cooked lentils will provide you with around 12% of your daily value. (2) Not a fan of lentils? Try out some hummus. Just ¼ cup of this delicious snack puts you at 8% of your zinc intake, and let’s be honest, who stops at just ¼ cup of hummus? (5)

However, there is a downside being that legumes also contain phytates. These anti-nutrients inhibit the absorption of zinc and other minerals. While your body will still absorb some zinc, it will not be as efficient as animal products. To help solve this predicament, you can heat, sprout, soak, and even ferment your legumes. (2)

5. Seeds

Zinc hemp seeds

Another plant-based source is seeds! Hemp seeds are a particularly good choice as just 3 tbsp contains 31% and 43% of the daily value for men and women respectively. They make the perfect topping for your morning smoothie or oatmeal bowl. 

Some other great sources include squash,  pumpkin, and sesame seeds. All of these can be eaten by the handful or added to soups, salads, or yogurts. (2)

6. Nuts

mix nuts

Another great snack to boost your zinc levels are nuts, particularly pine nuts, peanuts, cashews, and almonds. Out of those listed cashews come out on top with 1 oz containing 15% of your zinc intake.  (2) 

Nuts are also thought to reduce some diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. In fact, those who eat nuts regularly have been shown to live longer than those who don’t. If you are interested in how to live longer through food, be sure to check out our article on the blue zone diet.

7. Eggs

 eggs

Eggs only contain a moderate amount of zinc, with 1 egg contributing around 5% of your daily value. You cannot entirely rely on these guys, but they may be helpful for vegetarians trying to reach proper zinc levels. As a bonus, you will also get choline from your sunny-side-ups, which is a nutrient most people miss out on. (2)

8. Whole Grains

Whole grain

Wheat, quinoa, rice, and oats are perfect for a boost of zinc. However, like legumes, grains also contain those pesky phytates, which bind to zinc and reduce its absorption. Whole grains will actually contain more than their refined counterparts; however, they are vastly more healthy. It is a trade-off you should be willing to pay.  (2)

Oatmeal is a great way to reach your daily value as one serving provides almost 3 mg of zinc or around 40% of your recommended intake. (6) A perfect zinc-fueled way to start off your day!

9. Vegetables

Zinc potato

In general, fruits and vegetables are poor sources of zinc; however some contain it in higher amounts and may be worthwhile for those following plant-based diets. Potatoes, both regular and sweet contain about 9% of what is recommended. (2) Whereas mushrooms and kale both contain about 3%. Some other great sources include spinach, broccoli, peas, and garlic. 

While it is not much zinc, it can really add up if these foods are consistently eaten throughout the day. (5)

The Dangers of Zinc Deficiency 

While it is generally difficult to become deficient in this mineral, there are some groups who are more at risk including: 

  • Young children 
  • Teenagers 
  • Elderly individuals
  • Vegetarians/ Vegans 
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women (2)

Those who are deficient in this important mineral may face stunted growth, digestive problems, hair loss, eye, and skin lesions, acne, mood fluctuations, impaired appetite, and suppressed immunity. (3)

If you are worried about your own zinc levels there are some quick tricks for checking if you are deficient. First, if you notice that you are getting sick more often than before, it may be worthwhile to check in with your doctor. You can also just take a look at your fingernails. If you find white spots on multiple fingers, then you may not be getting enough zinc. (6)

As zinc plays an important role in your body’s functions, you should really make sure that you are getting enough of this fantastic mineral. All you have to do is incorporate these foods into your daily meals, with no need for supplements. A natural and easy way to stay healthy! Know someone who may be interested in the powers of zinc? Share this article with them on social media. 

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