If you’re wondering which foods are high in zinc, this article will help inform you. It will also help clarify just what zinc does in the body, what a zinc deficiency feels like, and who’s most at risk of being low in this valuable mineral.
Signs of Zinc Deficiency
These are indications that you might be low in zinc and need to up your zinc intake.
- Weak immunity: You catch colds easily and more often than your peer group.
- Thinning hair: Not baldness per se, but if you notice hair thinned where it shouldn’t be, or that you’re pulling a lot more out in your hands or hairbrush during your morning routine, that may be an indication of low zinc levels.
- Unusual allergic reactions: Symptoms of allergies arising without cause, like sneezing, rashes, or runny nose, etc.
- Improper sleep: Zinc influences the sleep hormone melatonin, and sleep interruption may result from its deficiency.
- Poor skin: Because 6% of our body’s zinc is contained in the skin, studies indicate that some acne cases may be due to low levels of zinc.
Before taking supplements, if you’re worried about a zinc deficiency, start with modifying your diet by using the foods listed here. Those at an especially high risk of zinc deficiency may want to consult a medical professional first, so next up we’ll discuss who’s most at risk.
Higher Risk Categories for Zinc Deficiency
If you’re in one of the following groups, you may be at a higher risk of developing a zinc deficiency.
- Pregnant and lactating women
- Pubescent teenagers
- Vegetarians and vegans
- Those with frequent diarrhea
- Those with diabetes or celiac disease
- Elderly people
- Frequent dieters
- Frequent drinkers
It is recommended that men get at least 11 milligrams of zinc per day, while women need only 8 milligrams unless they are pregnant or breastfeeding (the recommended amount is upped to 11 milligrams per day during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding it goes up to 12 milligrams per day).
Zinc’s Role in the Human Body
Why do low zinc levels in the body matter so much?
A trace mineral, zinc is found throughout our cells. Our immune systems need it to function, and so do our olfactory senses, smell and taste. Zinc is involved with the production of over 100 enzymes in our bodies, and acts as an antioxidant, which reduces our risk of developing cancer. Zinc also plays a role in the following areas:
- Stimulating blood production
- Synthesizing collagen (needed in wound-healing)
- Growth and development of children in utero, infancy, and childhood
- Carbohydrate breakdown
- Insulin support
Zinc is second only to iron in its prominence in our body chemistry. What follows next are the best foods for overall zinc content.
A Comprehensive List of Foods High in Zinc
These zinc-rich foods can provide natural sources of zinc, one of our most important essential minerals.
- Serving size – 50 grams
- Zinc – 8.3 milligrams, 55% DV
Rich in vitamin C, which contributes to immune health, oysters are also packed with protein and highest on the list for zinc percentages. Raw oysters on the half-shell can be enjoyed by some (though they’re not advisable for pregnant women), but oysters also come canned or cooked. With iron, vitamin B12, and selenium, oysters are high-protein foods that are very low in calories.
- Serving size – 100 grams
- Zinc – 7.8 milligrams, 52% DV
With phytosterols that aid in lowering cholesterol, and sesamin which helps balance hormones, sesame seeds are high in protein and, of course, in zinc. Found often in granola and easily sprinkled into other foods to gain their health benefits, sesame seeds are one of the most easily obtained high-zinc foods around.
- Serving size – 168 grams
- Zinc – 7.3 milligrams, 49% DV
With omega-3 fatty acids for brain and heart health, flax seeds are another ingredient easy to add to smoothies, oatmeals, and dinner dishes to gain their aid in fighting inflammatory responses in the body.
- Serving size – 64 grams
- Zinc – 6.6 milligrams, 44% DV
With antioxidants to help fight free radicals and phytoestrogens that help control cholesterol levels in older women, pumpkin seeds can be had as a handy snack at any time, baked plain or flavored either sweet or savory.
- Serving size – 156 grams
- Zinc – 6.2 milligrams, 41% DV
A staple of the breakfast table, oats and oatmeal can provide valuable fiber in our diets, regulate cholesterol, and support good gut bacteria. They also help control our blood sugar, lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Oatmeal for breakfast or a fortified cereal would go a long way in upping your zinc intake.
- Serving size – 86 grams
- Zinc – 5.9 milligrams, 39% DV
Cocoa powder contains flavonoids that help the immune system and is one of the top healthy ingredients you can hardly believe is good for you. Wonderful for making delicious smoothies and healthier baked goods, dark chocolate also contains fair amounts of zinc (3.3 milligrams of zinc per 100 grams), and can likewise meet your desire for sweets and zinc at the same time.
- Serving size – 132 grams
- Zinc – 5.8 milligrams, 38% DV
A good source of another necessary mineral, calcium, Swiss cheese is also classified as a complete protein, one food with all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies need. Add Swiss cheese to soups, sandwiches, and savory dinner dishes all you like, or just cut slabs off and eat it with some sesame seed rice crackers: then you’ll be two-for-two on sources of zinc in one sit-down. You’re also welcome to sprinkle Swiss cheese over eggs (which are up next).
- Serving size – 243 grams
- Zinc – 5.6 milligrams, 37% DV
The yolk of an egg contains omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants for vision health, and the vitamins A, D, E, K, and B vitamins. A heavy-hitter in the protein department, the egg is another complete protein, and a source of choline, a nutrient that affects brain development, liver function, muscle movement, and metabolism.
- Serving size – 178 grams
- Zinc – 5 milligrams, 34% DV
With vitamins B1 and B6, fiber, and folate, lima beans contain important nutrients for DNA synthesis and anti-cancer uses. Their fiber content can increase satiety, and they’re an excellent source of protein as well.
- Serving size – 184 grams
- Zinc – 5.1 milligrams, 34% DV
Another plant source of protein, kidney beans can reduce inflammation and also help to control blood sugar levels (good for those with diabetes). They make an excellent ingredient as part of a hardy, filling stew.
- Serving size – 146 grams
- Zinc – 4.8 milligrams, 32% DV
With protein, magnesium, niacin, copper, oleic acid, and the antioxidant resveratrol, peanuts are an ever-present part of trail mixes, and can help lower bad cholesterol. Like pine nuts, cashews, and almonds, peanuts include a good amount of zinc and can be enjoyed as peanut butter for its healthy fats and fiber content as well. Nuts are convenient snacks that can help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. So long as you don’t have a nut allergy, they’re a great food to include regularly in your diet.
- Serving size – 113 grams
- Zinc – 3.9 milligrams, 26% DV
A high-quality, complete protein, lamb meat is particularly valuable to those recovering from surgery, athletic injury, or bodybuilders guarding against muscle wasting. The amino acid beta-alanine contained in lamb has also been shown to help improve physical performance.
- Serving size – 95 grams
- Zinc – 2.9 milligrams, 20% DV
Rich in anti-aging antioxidants that help relieve stress, almonds also have vitamin E, a powerful protector for cell membranes that can lower the risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
- Serving size – 85 grams
- Zinc – 3.1 milligrams, 20% DV
Another animal meat and thus another complete protein, crab meat is an excellent source of vitamin B12, which decreases the risk of heart disease and helps to produce healthy blood cells. Dunk some crab legs in melted butter if you’re having a decadent meal at your local crab shack, and know that there are vital nutrients to be had in this seafood treat, including zinc.
- Serving size – 164 grams
- Zinc – 2.5 milligrams, 17% DV
With fiber that can help in cholesterol control and blood sugar regulation, chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are also associated with helping to prevent heart disease and diabetes. You know them well if you enjoy dipping veggies and other foods in hummus, but did you also know their selenium helps reduce the risk of cancer-related death? You do now!
- Serving size – 160 grams
- Zinc – 1.9 milligrams, 13% DV
Peas have a fair amount of protein, the antioxidant lutein for eye health, and can be folded into many other dishes or mashed into a spread. Considering the value of zinc and lutein (the lack of which can cause conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration), come for the fiber content but stay for those valuable nutrients.
- Serving size – 28 grams
- Zinc – 1.6 milligrams, 11% DV
With copper for blood health and polyunsaturated fatty acids that can help reduce the presence of damaging cholesterol in the heart, cashews are maybe the favorite nut in all mixed nut containers (they certainly tend to disappear the fastest!).
- Serving size – 136 grams
- Zinc – 1.6 milligrams, 11% DV
Garlic is rumored to be anti-vampire but shown to be beneficial to the heart, with both blood pressure and cholesterol control. Garlic is also used to fight the common cold, and its antioxidants can guard against a decline in mental cognition. Eat them raw, chopped and sautéed, or use them as a spice.
- Serving size – 245 grams
- Zinc – 1.4 milligrams, 10% DV
Full of calcium for bone and tooth health, yogurt also contains B vitamins that can help guard against potential neural birth defects. A dairy product rich in protein, yogurt can be eaten by itself, included in smoothies, or in the case of Greek yogurt, be used to replace sour cream.
Beef (Grass Fed)
- Serving size – 28 grams
- Zinc – 1.3 milligrams, 8% DV
Particularly the grass-fed variety of beef is higher in zinc, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids, all with less fat. Its higher amount of linoleic acid is also valuable, as linoleic acid is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
- Serving size – 41 grams
- Zinc – 0.8 milligrams, 5% DV
A top-shelf source of protein, chicken also has anti-cancer selenium, and the vitamins B3 and B6 for metabolism enhancement.
- Serving size – 33 grams
- Zinc – 0.4 milligrams, 3% DV
Like chicken, turkey is high in selenium, and is also an excellent source of protein along with zinc—this bird should not be relegated solely to the holiday dinner table.
- Serving size – 70 grams
- Zinc – 0.4 milligrams, 2% DV
A little bit of zinc with a little bit of iron, mushrooms are also a source of vitamin C and vitamin D. Eat your mushrooms raw for best results, but their springy texture can serve you well in any meal (stuff them full of other tasty ingredients and bake them for delicious cuisines).
- Serving size – 30 grams
- Zinc – 0.2 milligrams, 1% DV
With alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant that can help reduce glucose levels and prevent oxidative stress, spinach is an asset for people with diabetes. Enjoy its bone-building vitamin K content, and include it in a smoothie or dinner dish knowing it also brings you a small trace of zinc.
From A to Zinc
Now you have a comprehensive, scaled list of foods high in zinc, so if you’re looking for more dietary zinc, you can pick and choose according to taste and recipe. Use this diverse array of food to get your zinc levels in sync!