Top 15 Foods High in Zinc

Dr. Axe – by Christine Ruggeri, CHHC

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that plays a role in more than a hundred enzymatic reactions in the body, which is why consuming foods high in zinc is so important.

This mineral is needed in small amounts every day in order to maintain your health and perform important functions. Zinc benefits come from its presence within all bodily tissue — it’s needed for healthy cell division, and it acts like an antioxidant, fighting free radical damage and slowing the aging process. 

Zinc deficiency is now known to be a major malnutrition problem worldwide, and inadequate intake of foods high in zinc is one of the main causes. According to the World Health Organization, millions of people throughout the world may have inadequate levels of zinc in their diets. In fact, zinc deficiency is ranked the fifth-leading risk factor in causing disease worldwide. It occurs when you don’t have enough foods containing zinc in your diet, or you have trouble absorbing zinc from foods due to digestive disorders or very poor gut health.

The good news is that if people consume enough foods high in zinc, like the top ten sources listed below, they can prevent inadequate zinc levels and reap the benefits of this essential mineral.

Top 15 Foods High in Zinc

Animal foods are the best sources of zinc compared to plant foods, like vegetables, because zinc bioavailability (the fraction of zinc that’s retained and used by the body) is high in foods like animal meat and seafood.

This is due to the absence of compounds that inhibit zinc absorption in animal foods and the presence of sulfur-containing amino acids that improve zinc absorption, like cysteine and methionine.

Although there are plant-based zinc foods, they’re less bioavailable because of their high content of phytic acid (or phytates), which inhibits zinc absorption. Reports suggest that people who don’t eat meat or animal products, like people on a vegetarian or vegan diet, need up to 50 percent more zinc in their diets to absorb what the body needs.

However, the inhibitory effects of phytic acid on the absorption of zinc can be minimized with methods like soaking, heating, sprouting, fermenting and leavening. Research also shows that the absorption of zinc can be improved by using yeast-based breads and sourdough breads, sprouts, and presoaked legumes.

The best way to achieve optimal zinc levels is to consume two to three servings of these zinc foods per day:

1. Lamb

3 ounces: 6.7 milligrams (45 percent DV)

Lamb is a rich source of many vitamins minerals. In addition to zinc, lamb contains vitamin B12, riboflavin, selenium, niacin, phosphorus and iron.

2. Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup: 6.6 milligrams (44 percent DV)

Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil are shown to be a key food for maintaining health in post-menopausal women. Pumpkin seeds are also good for prostate health, and they promote your mental health.

3. Hemp Seeds

1 ounce: 5 milligrams (34 percent DV)

Not only are hemp seeds rich in zinc, but they are an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have beneficial effects on your cardiovascular system and helps to keep inflammation at bay.

4. Grass-Fed Beef

100 grams: 4.5 milligrams (30 percent DV)

Grass-fed beef nutrition includes omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, a powerful polyunsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to helps reduce the risk of heart disease, improve blood sugar, discourage weight gain and build muscle.

5. Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)

1 cup: 2.5 milligrams (17 percent DV)

Chickpeas, like all legumes, are a form of complex carbohydrates that the body is able to slowly digest and use for energy. Studies show that chickpeas increase satiety and help with weight loss. They also improve digestion by quickly moving foods through the digestive tract.

6. Lentils

1 cup: 2.5 milligrams (17 percent DV)

Lentils are known for their health-promoting effects, as they are rich in polyphenols and micronutrients, including zinc. Lentils serve as a plant-based protein, making them an excellent zinc rich food for vegetarians.

7. Cocoa Powder

1 ounce: 1.9 milligrams (13 percent DV)

Cocoa powder is a good source of two flavonoids, epicatechin and catechin, which function as antioxidants that help prevent inflammation and disease. Because of the presence of flavonoids in cocoa powder, it helps improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, too.

8. Cashews

1 ounce: 1.6 milligrams (11 percent DV)

Cashews are rich in unsaturated fatty acids and high in protein. Cashews nutrition helps fight heart disease, reduce inflammation, promote bone health and support healthy brain function. These nuts help with weight loss or maintenance because they make you feel fuller and curb food cravings. Plus, cashews have a good zinc to copper ratio, to help ensure that both of these minerals stay in balance.

9. Kefir or Yogurt

1 cup: 1.4 milligrams (10 percent DV) (values vary)

Kefir and yogurt are cultured dairy products that serve as probiotic foods. Both kefir and probiotic yogurt support healthy digestion, boost the immune system, promote cardiovascular health and regulate your mood.

10. Ricotta Cheese

½ cup: 1.4 milligrams (10 percent DV)

Ricotta cheese is one of the healthiest cheese options because it contains notable amounts of healthy fatty acids and micronutrients, including zinc. Compared to many other cheeses, ricotta is also lower in sodium and saturated fat, and its considered a “fresh cheese” because it’s not aged.

11. Mushrooms

1 cup: 1.4 milligrams (9 percent DV)

Proven mushroom nutrition benefits include the ability to boost immunity due to its antioxidant activities and reduce inflammation.

12. Spinach

1 cup: 1.4 milligrams (9 percent DV)

Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence. It contains special protective carotenoids that have been linked with decreasing the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and even more.

13. Avocado

1 avocado: 1.3 milligrams: (8 percent DV)

If you’re looking for fruits that contain zinc, reach for an avocado. It’s known as one of the healthiest foods on the planet because its packed with essential nutrients. And research shows that avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake.

14. Chicken

100 grams: 1 milligram (7 percent DV)

In addition to the zinc present in chicken, it’s also a good source of B vitamins, including vitamin B12, niacin, vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid. The vitamin B12 in chicken helps maintain energy levels, boost mood, maintain heart health and boost skin health.

15. Almonds

1 ounce: 0.9 milligram (6 percent DV)

Wondering which nuts are high in zinc? Almonds nutrition is truly remarkable and many studies show that it benefits many aspects of health, including cardiovascular health and weight control. In addition to its zinc content, almonds also provide vitamin E, manganese, magnesium and riboflavin, among other important micronutrients.

Health Benefits

Consuming food sources of zinc regularly will help to improve your health in the following ways:

  • Works as a powerful antioxidant: Zinc helps to fight oxidative stress and decrease your chances of developing a number of serious diseases. Research found that zinc supplementation significantly lowered infection rates in participants ages 55 to 87 years.
  • Boosts eye health: Zinc is needed to covert vitamin A into its active form in order to maintain proper vision. Adequate intake of foods high in zinc can help improve night vision and more. This is due to zinc’s ability to reduce oxidation and inflammation, which are associated with diminished eye health.
  • Enhances immune function: The body needs zinc to activate T-cells, which are critical for proper immune function, and that is why people who are deficient in zinc tend to more susceptible to a variety of illnesses, including the common cold.
  • Promotes wound healing: Zinc benefits the integrity of the skin and helps treat infections. Research shows that people who have delayed wound healing tend to have low levels of zinc.
  • Balances hormones and supports reproductive health: Zinc plays an important role in hormone production. It’s needed for the production of estrogen and progesterone in women, and it increases testosterone levels and sperm quality naturally. Zinc is also needed to balance insulin, the main hormone involved in the regulation of normal blood sugar.
  • Promotes muscle growth and repair: Zinc plays a crucial role in cell division and cell growth, so it’s needed to maintain strength in the muscular and skeletal systems. Zinc also helps with the release of testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1, all of which build muscle mass and help you maintain a healthy metabolism.
  • Aids in nutrient absorption: Zinc affects protein synthesis and is needed by the body to use amino acids from food. It’s also involved in the breakdown of carbohydrates from foods, which are some of the main sources of energy from the body. This is why a zinc deficiency can lead to low energy levels and contribute to adrenal or chronic fatigue.
  • Promotes heart health: Zinc is needed to maintain the health of cells within the cardiovascular system, while also lowering inflammation and oxidative stress.

Recipes with Foods High in Zinc

To be sure that you consume enough zinc to avoid a deficiency and experience these benefits, eat two to three servings of foods with zinc every day. Here are some easy and healthy recipes that will help to boost your zinc intake:

  • Steak Fajitas Recipe: These steak fajitas are made with grass-fed beef, plus spices like cumin and paprika, which help fight inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • Baked Italian Chicken Recipe: This recipe calls for three zinc foods: organic chicken, mushrooms and spinach.
  • Socca Recipe: This paleo pizza is made with chickpea flour, so it’s a good source of zinc and completely gluten-free. This is a great option for people who follow a vegetarian diet.
  • Spinach Artichoke Dip: Use kefir and spinach, two foods that are high in zinc, to make this healthy version of a spinach artichoke dip.

Final Thoughts on Foods High in Zinc

  • Zinc is an essential trace mineral that plays a role in more than a hundred enzymatic reactions in the body. It’s needed for healthy cell division, and it acts like an antioxidant, fighting free radical damage and slowing the aging process. 
  • Zinc deficiency is now known to be an important malnutrition problem worldwide, and inadequate intake of zinc foods is one of the main causes. 
  • Most foods high in zinc come from animals, such as grass-fed beef, lamb and chicken, but there are also plant-based foods that contain zinc, including chickpeas, avocados and lentils.
  • Eating enough zinc foods boosts your eye health, reduces inflammation, fights oxidative stress, boosts the health of your heart and skin, promotes muscle growth and helps balance your hormones.

Dr. Axe

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