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The Top 10 Foods Highest in Zinc

Written by Daisy Whitbread, MScN
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The Top 10 Foods Highest in Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral required by the body for maintaining a sense of smell, keeping a healthy immune system, building proteins, triggering enzymes, and creating DNA. Zinc also helps the cells in your body communicate by functioning as a neurotransmitter.

A deficiency in zinc can lead to stunted growth, diarrhea, impotence, hair loss, eye and skin lesions, impaired appetite, and depressed immunity.

Conversely, consuming too much zinc can lead to nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches in the short term, and can disrupt absorption of copper and iron in the long term.

If you have a zinc deficiency, then animal foods are better sources of zinc than plant foods.

Foods high in zinc include oysters, beef, chicken, tofu, pork, hemp seeds, nuts, lentils, yogurt, oatmeal, and mushrooms. The current daily value (DV) for Zinc is 11mg.

Below is a list of the top ten foods highest in zinc by common serving size, for more, see the lists of vegetarian zinc foods, high zinc vegetables, high zinc fruits, and high zinc nuts.
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Top 10 High Zinc Foods

1Oysters
Oysters

Other Seafood High in Zinc

-93% DV zinc in a king crab leg
-47% DV in 20 small clams
-47% DV in 1 cup of canned blue crab
-31% DV in a 3oz serving of lobster
-26% DV in a 3oz serving of octopus

See the full list of over 100 fish high in zinc.
2Beef (Chuck Steak)
A steak on a plate

More Red Meat High in Zinc

-129% DV zinc in a ribeye steak
-60% DV in 3oz of a chuck beef roast
-46% DV in a 3oz hamburger patty
-41% DV in 3oz of ground buffalo
-39% DV in a 3oz lamb shank


See the full list of meats high in zinc.
3Chicken Leg
A Roast Chicken

More Poultry High in Zinc

-33% DV in 1 cup of roast duck
-27% DV in 3oz of roast turkey-23% DV in a chicken drumstick (leg)

See the full list of meats high in zinc.
4Firm Tofu
A block of tofu

More Soy Products High in Zinc

-48% DV in 1 cup of natto
-15% DV in 1 cup of green soybeans
-14% DV in 1 cup of tempeh


See over 60 beans and legumes high in zinc.
5Lean Pork Chops
A pork chop

More Pork Products High in Zinc

-58% DV zinc in a pork chop with fat
-36% DV in 3oz of pork spare ribs
-35% DV in a 3oz Boston steak
-32% DV in 3oz of salami
-25% DV in a Bratwurst Sausage
-21% DV in 3oz of SPAM

See the full list of meats high in zinc.
6Hemp Seeds
Hemp Seeds

More Nuts and Seeds High in Zinc

-20% DV in a 1oz handful of squash/pumpkin seeds
-17% DV per oz of pine nuts
-14% DV per oz of cashews


See the top 10 nuts and seeds high in zinc.
7Lentils
Lentils

Beans High in Zinc

-23% DV zinc in 1 cup of garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
-22% DV in 1 cup of large white beans
-20% DV in 1 cup of black-eyed peas
-18% DV in 1 cup of navy beans
-18% DV in 1 cup of black beans


See the full list of beans high in zinc.
8Low-Fat Yogurt
Plain yogurt with raspberries

More Dairy Foods High in Zinc

-16%DV zinc per 16oz glass of milk
-15% DV in 1/2 cup of low-fat ricotta
-11% DV in a 1oz slice of Swiss cheese
-11% DV in 1oz of grated parmesan
-10% DV in 1oz of Gouda


See all dairy products high in zinc.
9Oatmeal
A bowl of oatmeal with blueberries
Fortified breakfast cereals can provide 170% DV zinc per serving.
See 200 breakfast cereals high in zinc.
10Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake Mushrooms

More Vegetables High in Zinc

-17% DV zinc in 1 cup of green peas
-12% DV in 1 cup of cooked spinach
-12% DV in 1 cup of lima beans


For more see the top 10 high zinc vegetables.

See All 200 Foods High in Zinc

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A printable list of the top 10 foods highest in zinc.

Health Benefits of Zinc

  • Healthy Immune Function - Even mild to moderate zinc deficiency can depress the immune system through impaired macrophage and neutrophil functions,and associated effects.3 Zinc is also essential for creation and activation of T-lymphocytes.4,5 Further, low levels of zinchave been associated with increased susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections in children and the elderly.6-9
  • Alleviation of the Common Cold (*Controversial) - There are conflicting studies as to weather or not zinc supplements canalleviate symptoms of the common cold and shorten its duration. At least one study confirms decreased duration of cold symptoms comparedto a control,10 however, other studies report no effect.11,12 Since no harm is reported, increasing zinc intake could only help.
  • Healing of Cuts and Wounds - Zinc is essential for healthy skin and maintenance of mucosal membranes. Adequate levels of zinc is necessary for proper wound healing.13
  • Reduced Severity and Duration of Diarrhea - Studies show that increased intake of zinc can reduce duration and severity ofdiarrhea in undernourished children with infections.14-17
  • Prevention and Reduction of Age-Related Eye Damage - High dietary intake of zinc, as well as vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, has been associated with reduced age-related macular deneration in the edlerly.18

High Risk Groups for a Zinc Deficiency

  • Alcoholics - 30-50% of alcoholics have low levels of zinc because alcohol decreaseszinc absorption and increases urinary secretion of zinc.
  • Vegetarians - The bio-availability of zinc is higher in meats and thus moreeasily absorbed. Further legumes and whole grains contain phylates which bind zinc and inhibit absorption. Vegetarians should aim to eat 50% DV more zinc each day to ensure proper levels.(See lists of fruits and vegetables high in zinc.)
  • Pregnant and Lactating Women - A developing fetus requires a high amount of zinc,likewise, there is a high amount of zinc lost through breast milk after birth.
  • Older Infants who are Exclusively Breastfed - Infants older than 6 months shouldeat age-appropriate foods which provide zinc as the amount in breast milk is nolonger ample.
  • People with Sickle Cell Disease - For unknown reasons 44% of children, and 60-70%of adults with sickle cell disease have low levels of zinc.
  • People with Gastrointestinal and Other Diseases -Gastrointestinal surgery, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, short bowel syndrome,and other digestive diseases can all decrease zinc absorption and increase zincloss from the body.
  • People consuming high doses of Iron Supplements - Iron can interfere with zinc absorption, to reduce this effect, ironsuppliments should be taken between meals to allow time for zinc to be absorbed properly.
  • People taking Diuretics - Thiazide diuretics such as chlorthalidone (Hygroton) and hydrochlorothiazide (Esidrix and HydroDIURIL)can increase zinc excretion by 60%, and over the long term, deplete body tissues of zinc stores. Be sure to consult your doctor or clinician to monitor your zinc level if you are taking these diuretics for a sustained period of time, and be sure to eat more zinc rich foods.

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Data Sources and References

  1. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28.
  2. Office Of Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet
  3. Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Contribution of selected vitamins and trace elements to immune function. Ann Nutr Metab 2007;51:301-23.
  4. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.
  5. Beck FW, Prasad AS, Kaplan J, Fitzgerald JT, Brewer GJ. Changes in cytokine production and T cell subpopulations in experimentally induced zinc-deficient humans. Am J Physiol 1997;272:E1002-7.
  6. Bahl R, Bhandari N, Hambidge KM, Bhan MK. Plasma zinc as a predictor of diarrheal and respiratory morbidity in children in an urban slum setting. Am J Clin Nutr 1998;68 (2 Suppl):414S-7S.
  7. Brooks WA, Santosham M, Naheed A, Goswami D, Wahed MA, Diener-West M, et al. Effect of weekly zinc supplements on incidence of pneumonia and diarrhoea in children younger than 2 years in an urban, low-income population in Bangladesh: randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2005;366:999-1004.
  8. Meydani SN, Barnett JB, Dallal GE, Fine BC, Jacques PF, Leka LS, et al. Serum zinc and pneumonia in nursing home elderly. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:1167-73.
  9. Black RE. Zinc deficiency, infectious disease and mortality in the developing world. J Nutr 2003;133:1485S-9S.
  10. Prasad AS, Beck FW, Bao B, Snell D, Fitzgerald JT. Duration and severity of symptoms and levels of plasma interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor, and adhesion molecules in patients with common cold treated with zinc acetate. J Infect Dis 2008 ;197:795-802.
  11. Turner RB, Cetnarowski WE. Effect of treatment with zinc gluconate or zinc acetate on experimental and natural colds. Clin Infect Dis 2000;31:1202-8.
  12. Eby GA, Halcomb WW. Ineffectiveness of zinc gluconate nasal spray and zinc orotate lozenges in common-cold treatment: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Altern Ther Health Med 2006;12:34-8.
  13. Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Contribution of selected vitamins and trace elements to immune function. Ann Nutr Metab 2007;51:301-23.
  14. Black RE. Therapeutic and preventive effects of zinc on serious childhood infectious diseases in developing countries. Am J Clin Nutr 1998;68:476S-9S.
  15. Bhutta ZA, Bird SM, Black RE, Brown KH, Gardner JM, Hidayat A, et al. Therapeutic effects of oral zinc in acute and persistent diarrhea in children in developing countries: pooled analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72:1516-22.
  16. Lukacik M, Thomas RL, Aranda JV. A meta-analysis of the effects of oral zinc in the treatment of acute and persistent diarrhea. Pediatrics 2008;121:326-36.
  17. Fischer Walker CL, Black RE. Micronutrients and diarrheal disease. Clin Infect Dis 2007;45 (1 Suppl):S73-7.
  18. Van Leeuwen R, Boekhoorn S, Vingerling JR, Witteman JC, Klaver CC, Hofman A, et al. Dietary intake of antioxidants and risk of age-related macular degeneration. JAMA 2005;294:3101-7.

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