When you think of essential minerals for the proper functioning of your body, you rarely think of zinc. Usually, the first minerals that come to mind are iron and magnesium. After all, they are arguably the most important minerals for our body. But don’t dismiss zinc just because it’s difficult to find foods high in zinc.
Zinc is a mineral that helps our body maintain its sense of smell, boosts our immune system, creates our DNA, and triggers enzyme work and production. Most importantly, zinc acts as a neurotransmitter, helping the cells in the body communicate with each other. However, although zinc is a crucial mineral for our body, you have to be careful. Zinc deficiency is bad, but a zinc overdose is also bad. For example, too much zinc can cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and headaches.
Daily recommended dose of zinc
In order to understand how much zinc you need, let’s break it down.
- Infants up to 6 months old need 2mg of zinc.
- Toddlers up to 3 years need 3mg of zinc on a daily basis.
- Young kids between 4 and 8 years need 5mg of zinc on a daily basis.
- Children entering puberty and teenage years, or between 9 and 13, need 8mg of zinc on a daily basis.
- Male teenagers between 14 and 18 years need 11mg of zinc, while females need 8mg of zinc on a daily basis.
- Adults 19 years old or more need 11mg for males and 9mg for females. Females during pregnancy and lactation need to up their daily dose up to 11mg (pregnancy) and 12mg (lactation).
Risk groups for zinc deficiency include vegetarians, vegans, endurance athletes, pregnant women, alcoholics, people with gastrointestinal diseases, and people taking diuretic medications. Animal foods like meat are usually higher in zinc. However, even vegetarians can get their RDA of zinc.
Following are some of the foods high in zinc that you should consume regularly.
Let’s start with one of the best sources for zinc you can get on a daily basis. Grass-fed beef is at the very top of foods high in zinc. One serving of beef meat, approximately 3oz, contains 4.9mg of zinc, or one-third of the RDA for men. For women, that’s half of the daily recommended dosage.
Make sure to ask your butcher whether the beef is grass-fed or not.
Pork and chicken meat
Next on the list are pork and chicken meat. As we said in the beginning, animal sources are much better for zinc than plant sources. Pork, for example, contains 4mg of zinc, or 28% of the daily value per one serving of 3oz.
Chicken gives you half of that, or almost 2mg and 15%.
The next animal-based source for zinc is lamb meat. Make sure to cook the meat properly, and you’ll get around 3.5mg of zinc per 3oz of meat. That’s close to 25% of the RDA for zinc.
Just a fair warning: lamb meat can be a bit fatty and hard for some people to stomach. If you don’t tolerate lamb, stick to chicken, pork, and beef.
Kefir or Yogurt
There’s a reason why many healthy diets recommend drinking a glass of yogurt in the morning. If you like kefir, even better. Both are probiotic foods that are high in healthy nutrients, protein, and minerals.
One cup of the beverage contains 2.2mg of zinc, or 15% of the daily dose you need.
We are getting into the vegetarian section for foods high in zinc. And on the top of that list is chickpeas, a vegetarians staple. One cup contains close to 7mg of zinc, which is close to 60% of the RDA for males, and almost the full daily dose for females.
A staple in Indian cuisine, chickpeas are versatile enough to consume hot, cold, canned, dried, as a side dish, or as a main ingredient in the meal.
Another great source of vitamins and minerals for vegetarians. I like to eat a few pumpkin seeds on a daily basis as a snack.
In addition to being a great source of protein, a ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds provides you with 2.5mg of zinc.
All nuts are great sources of vitamins and minerals. And no matter which you prefer, you won’t be wrong.
However, when it comes to zinc, cashews are the best. They provide 10% of the daily value per 1oz or 1.6mg of zinc.
Good news for people who love to eat chocolate and sweet things. If you cook at home, any delight you make with cocoa powder will provide a certain dose of zinc. Not much, but still, a bit.
One tablespoon of cocoa powder contains 0.3mg of zinc. Hey, every little bit helps.
Another staple in the vegetarian diet that you can consume to get your zinc. Mushrooms are also very versatile, and you can combine them with different dishes. For example, a chickpea salad with mushrooms tastes great.
As for the zinc consumption, one cup of mushrooms contains 1.4mg of zinc.
Here is another veggie you can easily throw in some other dishes for your daily zinc consumption. Spinach contains 1.4mg of zinc, same as mushrooms.
Whether you take one cup of spinach or one cup of mushrooms, it’s the same. The difference is, you can put one cup of spinach in your morning smoothie.
Last, but not least on our list, are cooked oysters. Seafood is generally a great source of zinc, but oysters are definitely on the top of that list. Of course, you can’t consume oysters every day. But when you can, 6 oysters give you 33mg of zinc, which is much greater than the daily recommended value!
Signs of zinc deficiency
If you are not taking your daily dose of zinc, you are probably going to experience some symptoms. Among the first signs of zinc deficiency are growth retardation, impaired immune function, and loss of appetite. Here are some other signs to look for:
- Hair loss
- Delayed sexual maturation
- Eye and skin lesions
- Weight loss
Should you look for dietary supplements?
I rarely recommend taking dietary supplements. After all, there are more than enough foods high in zinc from which you can source this mineral. However, if you are feeling low on zinc, you can try dietary supplements like zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate. In addition, there are lots of over-the-counter homeopathic medications that you can buy to source your zinc. The best supplement is zinc sulfate, as it contains the highest amount of elemental zinc.