Many vitamins and minerals are essential for the normal functioning of our body’s mechanisms and for the overall health maintenance.
Unfortunately, our focus is usually on those that are most spotlighted and most spoken about. Yet, the proliferation of some symptoms and health conditions like digestive problems, attention and motor disorders, weak immunity, hair and skin damages and others, makes the spotlight on an essential mineral, Zinc.
In other words, zinc is nowadays concerned an important element in nutrition that should be eaten with a daily recommended intake and which deficiency is worldwide evaluated as a malnutrition problem having many dangers on health.
So, which foods high in zinc should be consumed in our daily diet? How zinc deficiency can affect our health? And which groups are at higher risk of that deficiency?
What Makes Zinc Important?
First, zinc is an essential trace element, which is necessary for all cells and for the immune system function. In other words, this mineral is responsible for many functions in the body and plays a role in a hundred enzymatic reactions.
Zinc is present in high concentrations in bones, eyes, prostate cells, muscles, liver, kidney and pancreas. Yet, since there is no system storage for zinc, it is essential to consume it daily.
Zinc is very important, as it is needed in several functions like cell metabolism, cell division, DNA and protein synthesis, slowing the aging process, wound healing, activating T lymphocytes and thus, controlling the immune responses and attacking the cancerous cells, promoting health growth, stimulating the activity of about at least one hundred enzymes and so on.
In addition, this mineral is considered vital for the overall health. Besides being necessary for many body functions, its benefits are numerous.
Zinc is good for treating diarrhea, maintaining and promoting skin, hair and nails health, better brain health, a healthy heart, promoting more energy and endurance, boosting eye vision, promoting muscles growth, preventing cellular damage, promoting male fertility and natural testosterone levels, promoting memory and learning processes, and the list is not exhaustive.
To say it differently, a deficiency or lack of zinc can lead to numerous illnesses and diseases.
What is the Recommended Daily Intake of Zinc?
The amount of the daily needed intake of zinc depends on many parameters like age, gender and health condition. Yet, only a small intake is necessary to take advantage of its benefits.
The table hereafter gives, in milligrams, the recommended daily intake of zinc for different ages (*):
We note that there is also a tolerable upper intake as getting too much lead to zinc toxicity. According to the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, there is a tolerable upper intake level (UL) that, if exceeded, some potentially dangerous side effects can occur.
In other words, the same institute says that more than 40 mg of zinc daily is excessive for an adult, more than 23 mg is excessive for children between 9 and 13 years and more than 34 mg is excessive for adolescents between 14 and 18 years.
Which Foods High in Zinc?
There is a large variety of foods providing zinc while consumed in a daily diet. Here are the best foods high in Zinc to include in a daily basis, listed by food group.
Among seafood, shellfish are the highest in zinc and especially oysters. They are also great sources of B-vitamins, notably vitamin B12, and minerals like iron and copper.
Zinc: 32,2 mg per 3oz of raw eastern oysters (293% DV); 38,4 mg per 3 oz of cooked eastern oysters (farmed) (349% DV)
Besides, being the best food high in zinc, oysters are also low in calories (only 50 Kcal per 3oz), low in fat and high in proteins, which makes you feel satiated and full after eating them.
They contain also other nutrients like iron, magnesium, vitamin C and are a great source of vitamin B12, copper, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids; which makes them great for heart health, blood circulation, bones strength and boosting the immune system.
There is, however, a word of caution. It is necessary to buy oysters from trusted sources as they absorb much of the nutrients from the area where they grow. Besides, everything should be consumed in moderation even nutrients. So, take healthy and moderate intake of oysters to avoid any mineral toxicity.
At last, oysters are shellfish. Therefore, any past allergy experienced should be taken into consideration before consuming oysters.
Zinc: 10,2 mg in 1 leg of Alaskan King Crab (93% DV)
Like oysters, crab meat is packed with vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. It has impressive health benefits on protecting the heart, strengthening bones, fighting arthritis, increasing mental activity, detoxifying the body and so on.
Yet, it is important to remember that crab meat is high in cholesterol and sodium. Thus, people having cardiovascular issues or high cholesterol levels should take a particular caution before addind crab to their daily diet.
Zinc: 6,2 mg in 3oz of cooked spiny lobster (56% DV)
Like oysters and crab, lobster present impressive health benefits for the overall health due to containing high levels of nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin B3, phosphorous, copper, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids and proteins.
Being ideal for growth and repair, reducing inflammation, boosting energy, lobster should be nevertheless taken in moderate amounts.
Zinc: 2,9 mg in 3oz of cooked Octopus (26% DV)
Octopus is a great source of vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin B3, vitamin E, copper, iron, phosphorous, proteins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Being low in calories and high in proteins, it is then a good choice for people desiring to lose weight or to stay fit.
2. Red Meat
Red meat is an excellent source of zinc. Taken as a part of diet rich in vegetables, fruits and fiber, will help you take advantage of the huge benefits of a balanced and nutrient-dense diet.
2.1 Beef Meat
Zinc: 7,1 mg in 3oz of braised beef (64% DV)
Beef meat is high in iron, phosphorous, copper, selenium, B-vitamins, proteins and omega-6 fatty acids.
Being a great source of high quality proteins and of iron, beef contributes in promoting muscles mass, improving performance, reducing fatigue, boosting energy and preventing from anemia.
Yet, it is important to note that beef cuts selection should meet the USDA’s regulations that qualify lean or extra lean cuts to choose in order to avoid excess fat.
Indeed, some studies, but not others, make link between beef consumption and heart disease. It is, then, preferable to consume red meat in healthy and moderate amount and have a balanced diet where vegetables and fruits have an important part.
2.2 Lamb Meat
Zinc: 4,3 mg in 3oz of lamb shank (39% DV)
Like beef meat, lamb is an excellent source of vital nutrients like iron, selenium, vitamin B12, potassium, copper and proteins.
From a baby sheep under one year, lamb meat is very delicious and easy to cook. Yet, as explained before, it is recommended to eat red meat in moderation to keep your cholesterol levels in the normal.
Besides shellfish and red meat, poultry is also a source of zinc. Considered as healthy and low fat alternatives to beef, poultry products are also good source of proteins and B-vitamins.
Zinc: 5,3 mg in 1 roasted chicken leg (49% DV)
Chicken, this lean meat contains nutrients like iron, potassium, B vitamins, phosphorous and others.
It is a great source of selenium. This nutrient helps in improving the immune system, controlling the free radicals and increasing metabolism.
Chicken is also a great source of proteins. Therefore, if you want that toned shape you desire, eating chicken, besides being easy to digest, helps in promoting muscles mass and contributing to body weight maintenance.
Zinc: 3,6 mg in 1 cup of diced roasted duck (33% DV)
Duck is comparable in fat and calories to a skinless chicken. Yet, since it is a red meat, it contains more iron than chicken or any other poultry.
It is a good source of phosphorous, copper and selenium, which promotes the cellular metabolism.
Taking duck meat help you improve your protein intake. Indeed, it is a good source of complete proteins essential for maintaining your tissue, muscles strength and for maintaining a healthy skin.
Zinc: 3 mg in 3oz roast Turkey (27% DV)
In comparison with chicken, turkey is low in fat and calories. Three-ounce serving of skinless, boneless turkey breast contains less calories than a chicken breast of the same size.
It is also a good source of proteins and B vitamins.
Some studies show that turkey promotes better sleep as it is high in tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to melatonin that contributes in sleep cycle regulating.
It is also a good source of selenium. This mineral helps in increasing immunity and protecting against inflammation.
4. Soy products
Soy products are made primarily using soybeans. They are species of legume native to Asia that are the main ingredients in many foods.
Soy is added to many foods like soymilk, tofu, soy sauce, tempeh and others, due to its wide health benefits.
It is a good source of protein, fiber, B- vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Many studies show that it helps in lowering blood cholesterol and reducing the risk of some cancers.
4.1 Firm Tofu
Zinc: 4 mg in 1 cup of firm tofu (36% DV)
Firm tofu is a good source of fiber and proteins with the all nine essential amino acids.
It is cholesterol free and is an excellent source of calcium. One cup of tofu provides you with 136% of your daily-recommended intake of calcium.
It is also a great source of iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium, phosphorous and B vitamins, which makes it ideal for the overall health.
Some studies link tofu consumption with reducing the levels of LDL cholesterol, relieving some menopause symptoms, preventing osteoporosis and liver damage and even decreasing the risk of breast and prostate cancer.
Zinc: 2,7 mg in 1/2 cup of Natto (24% DV)
Natto is a Japanese food usually consumed in breakfast. Like the other soy products, Natto is a nutrient dense food high in fiber, proteins, iron, magnesium, vitamin K and many other nutrients.
Another point in favor of Natto is that, unlike the other soy products, it is fermented. This makes it packed with probiotics that enhance digestion and help protect against inflammation.
5. Nuts and Seeds
Seeds and nuts are healthy additions to your diet that can boost your zinc daily intake. They are packed with other nutrients, fiber, healthy fats, which makes them a good snack for the overall health.
However, they contain phytates called also phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that inhibits the absorption of zinc in a single meal, not throughout the day. Yet, it is possible to reduce the phytate content in these foods via some preparation methods like soaking, sprouting and fermentation.
5.1 Hemp Seeds
Zinc: 3 mg per one handful oz (26% DV)
Hemp seeds are rich in healthy fats omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are a great source of magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, copper, iron, B vitamins and vitamin E.
In spite of being a variety of cannabis plant, hemp does not lead to any psychotropic reactions. Contrarily, they are good for weight loss due to their fiber content that gives satiety feeling. They are also good for the digestive health, for hair, skin and nails health and beauty.
Besides, some studies link hemp consumption with cancer growth inhibition and immune system strengthening.
5.2 Squash and Pumpkin Seeds
Zinc: 2 mg per one handful oz (20% DV)
Like hemp seeds, squash and pumpkin seeds have a similar nutritional profile with less amounts of fiber, B vitamins and some minerals.
Yet, they are also good sources of antioxidants, fatty acids, magnesium and iron that all help in promoting heart health and reducing high blood pressure.
5.3 Pine Nuts
Zinc: 2 mg per one handful oz (17% DV)
Pine nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees belonging to the Pinaceae family. They are packed with nutrients like iron, magnesium, fiber, vitamin E, vitamin K, phosphorous and others.
This makes them beneficial for boosting energy, reducing the risk of heart diseases, enhancing brain health due to their iron content, strengthening bones and boosting weight loss due to their fatty acids content that helps in curbing appetite.
It is important to mention that pine nuts are nutritious for pregnant women and can help in easing constipation, a common issue during pregnancy.
Zinc: 2 mg per one handful oz of dry roasted cashews (14% DV)
Cashews nuts are packed with nutrients. They are a good source of copper, magnesium, manganese and selenium. They contain also vitamin K, vitamin E and B vitamins.
This makes them good for heart health and reducing blood pressure, for eyes health, as like carrots cashews contain high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, and for weight loss.
Legumes like beans, chickpeas, peas and lentils contain important amount of zinc. They are also a good source of fat, protein and carbs.
However, like nuts and seeds, legumes contain phytates that inhibit zinc absorption. Yet, as explained before, the preparation method can help reduce their amount in foods.
6.1 Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
Zinc: 2,5 mg per one cup of cooked garbanzo beans (23% DV)
Chickpeas called also Garbanzo beans are one of the most popular legumes across the world.
They are a great source of fiber, protein, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorous, manganese, selenium, vitamin C and B vitamins.
They are really superfood with a rich nutritional profile. This makes them great for the overall health notably controlling blood sugar levels, helping with weight loss as they increase satiety feeling, improving digestion due to their high fiber content, maintaining healthy blood pressure and promoting heart health.
6.2 White beans
Zinc: 2,5 mg per one cup of cooked white beans (22% DV)
Like chickpeas, white beans have a rich nutritional profile. They are a great source of protein, minerals and vitamins like B vitamins and vitamin E. They are also a valuable source of phytoestrogen.
White beans are also high in fiber. They are rich in cancer-fighting dietary fiber that helps reduce risk of many cancers.
7. Dairy foods:
Dairy foods like yogurt, milk and cheese are known to be packed with many nutrients, but they are also a good source of zinc.
7.1 Low-fat Yogurt:
Zinc: 2,2 mg in one cup of low-fat yogurt (20% DV)
Low-fat yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin B12.
For instance, one cup of low-fat yogurt provides 57% of the daily-recommended intake of vitamin B12.
This makes it an important food for bones, teeth protection, preventing digestive issues and for enhancing gut health due to probiotics it contains.
Zinc: 1,8 mg in one cup of whole milk (16% DV)
We all know the vital importance of milk worldwide. This superfood is not important only for children but also adults.
It is packed with nine essential nutrients that are protein, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin D, vitamin A, Vitamin B2 and B3.
These nutrients help in bones strengthening, repairing muscles tissue, maintaining healthy blood pressure and healthy red cells, promoting the immune system and preserving vision and skin health.
Dangers of Zinc deficiency
Including zinc in our daily diet is an important aspect of nutrition. Zinc deficiency has multiple dangers on our health especially on some groups that are at higher risk of this deficiency.
For these groups, a zinc deficiency can occur due to not only inadequate intake, but also a problem of zinc absorption, a loss of zinc from the body, etc. That is why, taking foods with high zinc and good source content is necessary. It may even be required to take some zinc supplements following the conjuncture.
Comparing to adults, there are some groups of people that are more at risk of zinc deficiency notably infants, children, pregnant woman, lactating woman, adolescents vegetarians, alcoholics and people with gastrointestinal issues.
Since it is not easy to determine a lack of zinc via the current laboratory techniques, it is important to be conscious of zinc importance for our health and its correct functioning, to be aware of the recommended daily intake you should take and to include foods high in zinc on your daily basis.
Besides, being aware of zinc deficiency symptoms can help take the action just in time.
Indeed, low levels of zinc or zinc deficiency can lead to a greater susceptibility to diseases and loss of appetite, to diarrhea, delayed wound healing, hair loss, taste abnormalities, fatigue and impotence, weight loss, skin lesions and even to hypogonadism for men.
For children and infants, some infections and growth impediments can occur if there is a deficiency in zinc intake. Moreover, pregnant and lactating woman may need an extra zinc intake.