When it comes to essential nutrients that your body needs to function properly, the list is very long. Because of this, some nutrients might get more attention than others, and you might even be deficient in some that you don’t even expect - such as zinc.
Everyone has heard of zinc one way or another. We know that some foods have it and that we need to eat them to stay healthy, but that’s about it. The thing is that zinc plays many essential roles in your body, and it’s necessary that you understand its importance and how you can get more of it through your diet so you can stay healthy and thriving!
Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know about zinc, from the roles that it plays in your body to the recommended daily intake, plus the best foods that you can add to your diet if you’re looking to boost your zinc intake.
Why is getting enough zinc important?
While it serves many different purposes in your body, the main role of zinc is related to your immune health. This essential trace mineral helps keep your immune system strong by playing important roles in immune cell function and cell signaling, as well as reducing oxidative stress. Because of this, a zinc deficiency can compromise and weaken your immune system, possibly leading to inflammation and infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
Other than being crucial for keeping your immune system healthy, zinc can help accelerate wound healing because it plays a critical role in collagen synthesis and in keeping a good inflammatory response. Plus, a healthy immune system is also needed for wound healing and keeping infections at bay, so it’s all connected!
Skin conditions such as acne and herpes can also get worsened by a zinc deficiency. In general, zinc helps strengthen your immune system, reduce inflammation, fight infections, and even prevent damage in the retina, helping delay the progression of conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and vision loss. So it’s definitely something that you want to keep in your diet!
How much zinc should you take?
Now that you know what zinc is good for, let’s see how much you should include in your diet. According to the National Institute of Health, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women per day. If you’re a woman and you’re pregnant, you should bump your zinc intake to 11 mg, and 12 mg when you’re lactating. 
It’s not difficult to reach an ideal daily zinc intake if you consume meats because they’re a very rich source of zinc (we’ll talk more about that later). But if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, or just don’t eat meat that often, it’s still possible to have a zinc deficiency. There are many plant-based sources of zinc that you can easily add to your diet, and you might even eat a lot of them already, but unfortunately, sometimes that’s not enough! On top of that, zinc excess isn’t stored in your body, so you need to continuously get it through your diet.
If you find yourself struggling with your zinc intake, you can opt to take zinc supplements to boost your zinc levels and stay healthy! Or, you could take a minute to look at your diet and see what changes you could make to add more zinc-rich foods to your food plan, which takes us to the next section…
The best foods that are rich in zinc
When it comes to including natural sources of zinc in your diet, there are infinite options for you. However, some of them contain higher amounts of zinc than others, so we’re going to show you some of the best foods that contain zinc so you can easily improve and maintain your health!
It’s no secret that animal meats are very rich in protein and other nutrients, such as iron and B vitamins, but they’re also a great source of zinc! Meats such as poultry, lamb, and pork are high in zinc and can help you reach your daily intake easily. Red meats such as beef are particularly loaded with zinc, with a 3 ounce serving of chuck steak beef containing a whopping amount of 8.44 mg.
Ideally, you should choose lean cuts of meat for a healthier source of zinc, since red meats and processed meats, in general, can be harmful to your health in the long run due to the excess of fat, added salt, and preservatives. Lean, unprocessed beef, as well as skinless chicken and turkey breast, are good meat options that you can add to your diet for an extra punch of zinc, without having to worry about the possible health risks.
And if you choose to eat red and processed meats, do so in moderation and accompanied with other healthy zinc foods!
When it comes to getting zinc from natural sources, shellfish are at the top of the list, with oysters being the ultimate winners!
One single raw oyster contains 5.5 mg of zinc, which is around half of the recommended daily intake, making it a great way to kick your zinc levels up quickly. On top of that, oysters (and shellfish in general) are very low in calories, making them perfect for a healthy diet if you want to keep track of your calories. You can choose to eat oysters raw, steamed, grilled, canned… There are so many options!
Other great sources of zinc are crabs and lobsters. One serving of cooked Alaskan king crab contains 6.48 mg of zinc, while a small cooked lobster has around 4.74 mg, which is great news for seafood lovers! There are so many ways to enjoy these tasty foods, so try searching for some recipes online to increase your daily zinc intake.
So far we’ve only covered animal products, but if you’re vegan or vegetarian, don’t worry! There are a lot more options for you so you can get enough zinc in your diet. So keep reading!
Beans, peas, and lentils are all great sources of zinc, making them an incredibly healthy addition to your diet because of how nutritious they are!
One single cup of chickpeas contains 2.5 mg of zinc, while a cup of canned white beans can have up to 3 mg - a super nutritious punch for your lunch or dinner! Other legumes that are a great source of zinc are edamame, black beans, and black-eyed peas. You can add make a soup with them or add them as a side to your favorite dishes.
These foods are also low in calories and fat but very rich in protein and fiber, as well as many other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, making them ideal for a healthy diet if you’re looking to eat more whole foods, especially if you follow a plant-based diet!
Nuts and seeds
Similar to legumes, nuts and seeds are amazing sources of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and even antioxidants that your body needs to stay healthy. But on top of that, they’re also rich in zinc!
For a good source of zinc, look for nuts such as pine nuts, cashews, almonds, and peanuts. To put it in perspective, one single ounce of cashews contains 1.64 mg of zinc, with pine nuts containing just a little bit more than that. When it comes to seeds, hemp seeds offer a great dose of zinc with almost 10 mg per 100 g! Pumpkin seeds come right behind with 7.81 mg, and chia seeds with 4.6 mg per 100 g.
The great thing about nuts and seeds is that you can add them to almost anything that you cook. From eggs to soup, salads, fruit bowls, and even mixed into a smoothie! It doesn’t matter how you add it to your diet, it’ll make it taste better and provide you with enough zinc to always keep healthy levels in your body.
Packed with all kinds of nutrients and minerals, such as fiber, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins, whole grains are one of the best additions to a healthy diet. Plus, their zinc content is perfect for those who don’t eat any kind of meats but still want to keep a healthy zinc intake!
Some of the best grains to try if you want to get enough zinc are oats, yellow corn, and barley. One cup of raw oats contains almost 3 mg of zinc per cup, while one cup of yellow corn contains 3.67 mg. Even better, the same amount of hulled barley contains as much as 5.1 mg of zinc, making it one of the best options for a zinc-rich diet! Other great sources are brown rice, cooked quinoa, and even whole-grain bread.
Vegetables in general are highly nutritious, with some offering more nutrients than others, and there’s a particular group that’s rich in zinc. We’re talking about leafy greens such as broccoli, spinach, and kale!
A serving of 100 g of cooked broccoli amounts to 0.45 mg of zinc, which is around the same amount contained in spinach. Cooked kale offers less zinc, with 0.25 mg per 100 g, but it’s still a significant amount that can help you reach your daily intake.
Other rich sources are mushrooms, particularly the shiitake variety, as well as asparagus, and even potatoes! One large russet potato can contain up to 1 mg, making it a great source of zinc on top of its already high nutritional value due to its potassium, iron, and vitamin B6 and C content. And you can cook it in so many ways you won’t ever get tired of it!
Back to animal products, dairy can be a rich source of zinc on top of its better-known benefits such as calcium, potassium, and protein. One cup of whole milk contains 1 mg of zinc, but even if you go for a plant-based option such as soy milk you can still get a good dose, with 0.6 mg per cup!
When it comes to cheeses, there is a lot that you can choose from. A cup of cream cheese contains 1.16 mg of zinc, while ricotta cheese contains 1.44 mg per cup and low-fat cottage cheese contains 1.34 mg. These are all great options to add to your meals, such as toast, eggs, and even salads!
And don’t forget about Greek yogurt, which contains 1.2 mg of zinc in a container (7 ounces) of plain low-fat yogurt. This is perfect to eat alone, with fruit, oatmeal, or to make smoothies. Your choice!
You probably have already heard the great benefits of dark chocolate for a healthy diet, particularly for those who are looking to lose weight but still want to treat themselves from time to time. What you probably didn’t know is that dark chocolate is also a great source of zinc!
One single bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cacao has 3.34 mg of zinc in it, making it one of the tastiest sources of zinc out there. Not everything is meats and vegetables - sweet treats can also be a good source of nutrients, and dark chocolate is great at this by containing iron, magnesium, and antioxidants, on top of its rich zinc content.
Dark chocolate is also heart-friendly and helps lower blood pressure, so it’s perfect for everyone when eaten in moderation. You can eat it by itself or add it to your smoothies, oatmeals, and fruit bowls. And remember, the higher the cacao content, the better!
These are only some of the best sources of zinc for you to add to your diet and avoid a possible zinc deficiency, but there are many more! Fortified breakfast cereal and different kinds of fish are also great to increase your daily zinc intake. And consider taking zinc supplements if you’re not able to get enough through your diet so you can still take advantage of all the zinc benefits!