Top 13 Best Zinc Rich Foods to Strengthen Your Immune System

Essential for immune support and various bodily functions, zinc is a vital mineral. While many people acquire sufficient zinc through their diets, certain groups like those with digestive issues, vegetarians/vegans, and pregnant or breastfeeding individuals may find it challenging.

To ensure an adequate intake of this crucial nutrient, consider incorporating zinc-rich foods into your meals. Here’s a list of both animal and plant-based sources known for their high zinc content.

What Does Zinc Do?

Zinc is a crucial mineral that supports various bodily functions, such as cell division, immune response, and wound healing. Since your body doesn’t produce zinc naturally, you must obtain it through your diet or supplements.

Fortunately, maintaining adequate zinc levels is achievable through a balanced diet. Many foods, including meats, seafood, plant-based proteins like beans, nuts, and seeds, as well as whole grains and dairy products, offer ample amounts of zinc.

Oysters stand out as an exceptional source of zinc.

However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before adding zinc supplements to your routine. Zinc supplements may interact with certain medications, such as antibiotics, penicillamine (used for rheumatoid arthritis), and thiazide diuretics (for blood pressure). Additionally, taking oral zinc supplements can lead to side effects like indigestion, diarrhea, headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Zinc Deficiency

Since your body doesn’t retain zinc, it’s essential to consume sufficient amounts daily to prevent deficiency. While uncommon in the U.S., signs of zinc deficiency encompass:

  • – Loss of appetite
  • – Weakened immune function
  • – Delayed wound healing
  • – Hair loss
  • – Altered taste perception

Individuals most susceptible to zinc deficiency include those who:

  • – Have alcohol use disorder
  • – Experience digestive disorders like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • – Have sickle cell disease
  • – Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • – Follow a vegetarian or vegan diet

Benefits of Zinc

Zinc serves a multitude of vital functions in maintaining your well-being:

1. Enzyme Function

Zinc is indispensable for the proper functioning of more than 300 enzymes in your body. It actively participates in essential processes like digestion, metabolism, and nerve function.

2. Child Growth and Cell Division

Research indicates that zinc is instrumental in promoting healthy growth and development in children. Moreover, it plays a pivotal role in facilitating cell division, a fundamental process for the body’s renewal and repair.

3. Healthy Skin

Zinc is vital for maintaining skin health and function. Products containing zinc are commonly used to address various skin issues, such as infections, acne, ulcers, and other skin disorders.

4. Immune Support

Zinc is indispensable for a robust immune system. Inadequate zinc levels may heighten susceptibility to colds, pneumonia, and infections. Zinc aids in activating T cells, which regulate the immune response by identifying and eliminating infected cells.

Taking zinc lozenges or syrup at the onset of cold symptoms may shorten its duration, although the optimal dosage and duration remain unclear. Notably, intranasal zinc use has been associated with permanent loss of smell.

5. Wound Healing

Approximately 5% of your body’s zinc content resides in the skin. This mineral plays a crucial role in cell growth, collagen synthesis, and managing inflammation, all of which are essential for effective wound healing.

6. Reduced Inflammation

Oxidative stress, caused by free radicals in the body, can lead to heightened inflammation. While inflammation is a natural defense mechanism, prolonged or chronic inflammation is associated with various health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Zinc has shown promise in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. However, further research is necessary to determine if zinc directly impacts the risk of developing these health conditions.

Zinc-Rich Foods

Zinc is readily available in foods abundant in this essential mineral. Although supplements are an option, most individuals in the U.S. fulfill their zinc requirements through diet alone. Zinc is essential and must be obtained from food or supplements since the body can’t produce or store it.

However, not all zinc-rich foods offer the same level of absorption. The bioavailability of zinc, meaning how effectively our bodies absorb it, is higher in animal-based foods than in plant-based ones.” This difference arises from phytates present in plant foods, which can hinder mineral absorption in the intestine.

Here’s a rundown of foods known for their high zinc content:

1. Oysters

Just 3 ounces (85 grams) of eastern, wild, cooked oysters pack a whopping 51.8 milligrams of zinc (471% DV*).

While oysters are a fantastic source of zinc, it’s best to enjoy them occasionally due to potential bacterial and contaminant risks, especially when consumed raw.

2. Grass-Fed Beef

A 4-ounce (113 grams) serving of grass-fed ground beef provides 5.1 milligrams of zinc (46% DV*).

Opting for grass-fed beef not only delivers zinc but also brings along beneficial nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, known to promote heart health, regulate blood sugar, aid weight management, and support muscle growth.

3. Beef Liver

Consuming 3 ounces (85 grams) of cooked beef liver offers 4.5 milligrams of zinc (41% DV*).

Beef liver stands out for its rich nutritional profile, boasting higher levels of calories, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin A, zinc, and phosphorus compared to other organ meats. Try cooking it with grass-fed butter and onions for a flavorful dish packed with essential nutrients.

4. Lamb

Enjoying 4 ounces (113 grams) of New Zealand leg of lamb provides 3.6 milligrams of zinc (33% DV*).

Lamb is not only a good source of zinc but also packs in essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12, riboflavin, selenium, niacin, phosphorus, and iron.

5. Hemp Seeds

A mere 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of hulled hemp seeds deliver 3 milligrams of zinc (27% DV*).

Apart from being rich in zinc, hemp seeds are packed with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, offering notable benefits for heart health and inflammation reduction.

6. Pumpkin Seeds

Snacking on just 1 ounce (28 grams) of roasted, unsalted pumpkin seeds offers 2.2 milligrams of zinc (20% DV*).

These seeds and pumpkin seed oil are particularly beneficial for post-menopausal women’s wellness, prostate health, and mental well-being.

7. Cashews

A single ounce (28 grams) of raw cashews offers 1.6 milligrams of zinc (15% DV*).

Besides zinc, cashews boast unsaturated fatty acids and high protein content. Research suggests that cashews may aid in combating heart disease, reducing inflammation, promoting bone health, and supporting brain function. Additionally, their satiating effect can aid in weight management, and their optimal zinc-to-copper ratio helps maintain mineral balance.

8. Sunflower Seeds

Enjoying 1 ounce (28 grams) of unsalted, toasted sunflower seed kernels provides 1.5 milligrams of zinc (14% DV*).

Sunflower seeds are a nutrient powerhouse, offering not just zinc but also significant amounts of vitamin E, thiamine, manganese, and copper per serving.

9. Lentils

Consuming 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cooked, mature, unsalted, boiled lentils yields 1.3 milligrams of zinc (12% DV*).

Lentils are renowned for their health benefits, being rich in polyphenols and micronutrients including zinc. As a plant-based protein source, they serve as an excellent zinc-rich option for vegetarians.

10. Turkey Breast

Indulging in 3 ounces (85 grams) of cooked, roasted turkey breast (meat only) provides 1.3 milligrams of zinc (12% DV*).

Turkey breast is not just a protein powerhouse, with over 25 grams per serving; it’s also essential for various bodily functions including oxygen transport, blood clotting, and tissue repair and regeneration.

11. Eggs

Two whole eggs (100 grams) provide 1.3 milligrams of zinc (12% DV*).

Eggs are nutrient powerhouses known to offer protection against various health issues like heart disease, diabetes, macular degeneration, and mood disorders. Additionally, research indicates that eggs may aid in weight loss.

12. Sardines

A single can (3.75 ounces or 92 grams) of drained Atlantic sardines canned in oil contains 1.2 milligrams of zinc (11% DV*).

Sardines stand out as one of the most nutrient-dense foods, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B12, and selenium. Their convenience, affordability, and delicious taste make them an excellent addition to any diet.

13. Shiitake Mushrooms

Enjoying 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of shiitake mushrooms provides 1 milligram of zinc (9% DV*).

Shiitake mushrooms boast numerous health benefits, including immune-boosting properties due to their antioxidant activities and anti-inflammatory effects.

Recommended Zinc Intake

The amount of zinc needed varies based on factors like sex, age, and life stage. Here are the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for zinc according to age groups:

  • – Men aged 14 and older: 11 mg
  • – Women aged 14-18: 9 mg
  • – Pregnant women aged 14-18: 12 mg
  • – Breastfeeding women aged 14-18: 13 mg
  • – Women aged 19 and older: 8 mg
  • – Pregnant women aged 19 and older: 11 mg


Zinc is a vital mineral your body can’t produce naturally. It’s crucial for immune function, skin health, and growth. While animal-based foods like fish, meat, and poultry are rich in zinc, you can also find it in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.

Zinc deficiencies are rare in the United States. If you suspect you might be lacking in zinc, consult your healthcare provider to assess your levels and safely address any deficiencies.

Zinc Rich Foods

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