Zinc is one of the most important nutrients in your diet — it helps your immune system stay healthy. But, chances are, it’s not one you think about or look for in your food very often. According to the US National Institutes of Health, most people get enough zinc simply by eating a well-balanced diet.
However, zinc deficiencies are more common in certain groups of people. Those with digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, infants who still breastfeed exclusively after six months, vegetarians and alcoholics are all at risk of not getting enough zinc in their diets.
It’s important to be aware of which foods are high in zinc so you can ensure you’re getting enough in your diet. Read on to explore what zinc is, why you need it and which foods are loaded with zinc.
What is zinc and what are its benefits?
Zinc is a mineral that’s found in a wide variety of food sources. Your body only needs trace amounts of it, but those small doses of daily zinc are critical for all sorts of bodily functions. It’s necessary for chemical reactions in nearly 100 different enzymes and plays a key role in cell growth, DNA creation, protein building and restoring tissue. It’s also essential for taste and smell.
Here are a few of the most important health benefits of zinc.
Strengthens the immune system
Zinc is especially important for immune health, given the role it plays in cell growth and healing. According to the NIH, people with low levels of zinc may have a higher chance of developing pneumonia and other infections. Plus, there’s evidence that taking a zinc supplement within 24 hours of the start of cold symptoms can reduce the duration of your illness. Note that the Mayo Clinic advises against using intranasal zinc, which has been linked to loss of smell.
Because of zinc’s ability to help with cell growth, it’s also known to assist in wound healing and skin repair. People with low levels of zinc who suffer from skin ulcers, in particular, may benefit from increasing zinc intake.
Reduces symptoms and effects of diarrhea
In malnourished populations, diarrhea is a serious problem that can lead to death. While increasing zinc intake won’t solve all nutritional deficiencies, it can help to mitigate the symptoms and reduce the duration of diarrhea. The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that children with diarrhea take a zinc supplement for 10 to 14 days.
Slow down macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease that leads to blurring in the center of your vision. It’s common among people aged 55 and older. Several studies have shown that zinc may help to lower your risk and slow the progression of this disease as you age.
Symptoms of zinc deficiency
Although zinc deficiency is uncommon in the US, it’s important to be aware of the signs, as many of them can be serious. The daily recommended intake for zinc is 8 milligrams of zinc for women and 11 mg for men.
- Slow growth in infants and children
- Delayed sexual development
- Impotence in men
- Hair loss
- Trouble healing wounds
- Weight loss
- Eye and skin sores
- Loss of appetite
- Reduced alertness
- Problems with taste and smell
If you live somewhere with easy and abundant access to oysters, there’s no better way to get your zinc. These molluscs are far and away the most concentrated source, with more than twice as much zinc per gram than the next high-zinc food item on our list.
mg of zinc: 1 medium oyster contains about 5.3 mg of zinc.
2. Pumpkin seeds
Seeds and nuts are generally good sources of zinc, but pumpkin seeds stand out from the pack as one of the foods with the most zinc in it. Try them roasted and lightly salted for a great afternoon snack.
mg of zinc: A 100-gram serving (roughly 300 seeds) of pumpkin seeds contains about 10.3 mg of zinc.
3. Lamb shank
In general, red meat is an excellent source of zinc. Lamb is particularly high in the mineral, so if you can find ways to eat more lamb dishes or substitute it for beef, you’ll add a lot of zinc to your diet. Lamb shank has the highest concentration of zinc compared to other parts of the animal.
mg of zinc: A 100 g serving of lamb shank contains 8.67 mg of zinc.
Beef isn’t far behind lamb in its ability to meet your daily dose of zinc and then some, and it’s a regular part of the American diet. Like lamb, the exact amount of zinc you get from eating beef depends on which part of the cow you choose.
mg of zinc: On average, 100 g of beef chuck contains about 8.47 mg of zinc.
It may not pack the same zinc punch that oysters do, but crab is another great shellfish source of zinc. Whether you’re eating crab legs, crab cake or crab rolls, you’ll get a hefty dose of zinc with each serving.
mg of zinc: A 100 g serving of Alaskan crab is especially zinc-heavy, with 7.6 mg of zinc. On average, crab carries about 6.4 mg of zinc per 100 g of meat.
Cashews are the first nut on our list of foods that contain zinc, and they pack a lot of it. They’re also rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats, and they come with many other health benefits. They make a great snack paired with some dried fruit.
mg of zinc: A 100 g serving of cashews (about 3 ounces) contains about 6 mg of zinc.
Add another shellfish to the list of foods with zinc. Lobster is yet another win for the seafood lover looking to add more zinc to their diet. On pasta, in a salad or in a soup — you can’t go wrong with a tasty lobster dish.
mg of zinc: 1 medium lobster contains about 11.9 mg of zinc, which equates to about 4 mg per 100 g of meat.
Dairy products are another food that’s high in zinc, and cheese leads the way as the best of the bunch. This is a particularly easy one to find in your diet — more often than not, people are looking for ways to cut back on cheese, not add it.
mg of zinc: A 1-ounce slice of cheddar cheese contains around 1 mg of zinc. On average, cheese has about 3.6 mg per 100 g.
Almonds make a great, healthy snack option, and they’re delicious raw or roasted with a light sprinkling of salt. They’re packed with all sorts of important nutrients, including fiber, protein, vitamin E and, yes, zinc.
mg of zinc: A 100 g serving of almonds (around 100 nuts) contains about 3.5 mg of zinc.
10. Rolled oats
Grains of all kinds are another great food option for zinc, but rolled oats are an especially good choice. That’s because many pure whole grains, while great for your health in other ways, are not as bioavailable compared to other foods. Rolled oats are easier to digest, meaning you’ll get more of the zinc they have to offer.
mg of zinc: A 100 g serving of uncooked rolled oats yields about 2.35 mg of zinc.
Another version of oats, muesli makes another breakfast option on this list and a good food source for zinc. This mixture of oats, seeds, nuts and dried fruit is a lighter alternative to granola but still a good way to fill up in the morning.
mg of zinc: A 100 g serving of muesli contains about 1.8 mg of zinc.
12. Chicken breast
Although it’s not as rich in zinc as some meat or seafood options, chicken still offers a good boost if you couple it with other zinc sources. Plus, going with chicken doesn’t come with all the potential .
mg of zinc: A 1-cup serving of chopped or diced chicken breast contains about 2.13 g of zinc, which equates to about 1.52 mg per 100 g serving of meat.
The legume family, which includes lentils, beans and chickpeas, is generally a good source of protein and fiber, along with various nutrients. Chickpeas, in particular, are your best bet for zinc if you’re looking to take advantage of legumes’ other health benefits.
mg of zinc: A half-cup serving of chickpeas contains about 1.3 mg of zinc, which translates to about 1 mg per 100 g of chickpeas.
It may not be as rich in zinc as cheese, its dairy counterpart on this list, but yogurt still offers a decent amount of the mineral with each serving. It’s also full of protein, other nutrients and probiotic benefits for your gut.
mg of zinc: A 100 g serving (about 3.5 ounces) of yogurt contains about 0.9 mg of zinc.
15. Baked beans
Another member of the legume family, baked beans aren’t a power-packed source of zinc. But, paired with some other foods, you could boost your intake with them. They’re also a good source of fiber, protein and various vitamins and minerals.
mg of zinc: A 100 g serving of baked beans (a little over a third of a cup) contains about 0.73 mg of zinc.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
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