Zinc is an essential mineral for the human body to grow and repair. Though only needed in small amounts, zinc deficiencies are common, especially among those with digestive disorders, pregnant or lactating women, vegans, and vegetarians.
While zinc is important for such varied roles as producing DNA, wound healing, and maintaining our functions of taste and smell, it’s also essential to your immune system for fighting off viruses and bacteria.1That’s why upping your intake of zinc-rich foods is often suggested when you feel a cold coming on.
How Much zinc do you Actually Need?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of zinc according to the NIH is 11 mg for male adults and 8 mg for female adults.2 With an upper dietary intake of around 40 mg. Too much zinc can make you ill with such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches.
But Can Zinc “cure” a Cold?
Turns out, though there have been many studies on the effectiveness of zinc on the common cold, the jury is still out. Some studies have shown promising effects with one particular study concluding that: 3
“Zinc administered within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms reduces the duration of common cold symptoms in healthy people.”
However, it’s always best to get your vitamins and minerals naturally where possible, so when you feel the twinge of a cold approaching, or everyone in the office is falling sick around you, try fueling your diet with these zinc-rich foods to keep your immune system functioning at optimal health.
Your Zinc-Rich Shopping List
1. Oysters (and other shellfish)
Coming in at number one is the greatest source of zinc that we know of – Oysters! One hundred grams of raw, wild eastern oysters pack a punch of 90.8 milligrams of zinc! That’s around 10 times your daily needs and over 23 times more than beef! 4 Shellfish, in general, runs high in zinc: crab contains around 5.9 mg and lobster, 3 mg.5 However, because shellfish is such a zinc-rich food it’s advisable to enjoy in moderation. Too much zinc can make you ill.
2. Wheat Germ
Wheat Germ is the “germ” of the wheat crop which means that it’s the reproductive part – the embryo of the seed. It’s a concentrated source of many essential nutrients yet it’s often discarded from the bread making process. You can utilize wheat germ by sprinkling it over your salads or breakfast cereals and it’s certainly worth it when you learn that wheat germ has
12.3 mg of zinc per 100 grams, 82% of your daily needs.6
3. Lean Meats
Lean meats are also a good source of zinc. Red meat like beef tops the list at around 3.8 mg per 100g, lean pork at 2.4 mg, and one roasted chicken drumstick comes in at 1.4 mg.7,8 All meat should be eaten in moderation, as our forefathers did. Our modern world has increased meat consumption to levels that are no good for our bodies and red meat, in particular, should be enjoyed in moderation. Keep all animal protein servings to a portion that is no larger than the palm of your hand.
The humble seeds of many plants contain concentrated amounts of vitamins and minerals and pumpkin and sesame are two of the best when it comes to zinc. Roasted pumpkin seeds (and squash seeds) have 7.4mg of zinc per 100 grams and sesame seeds have 10.2 mg.9 The best thing about pumpkin seeds is that come Fall, you’ll have easy access to loads of these little zinc-rich bites as pumpkin carving and butternut roasting season arrives.
Most meat-eaters are able to easily meet their zinc requirements but for vegetarians and vegans, a great place to find zinc is in beans, nuts, and seeds. When it comes to beans, check out chickpeas (garbanzo beans, 1.5 mg zinc per 100 grams), kidney beans (1 mg), or reach for a low-sodium, low sugar can of baked beans for a quick snack – they boast around 2.3 mg of zinc.10
Nuts are always a great protein-filled snack to have on hand provided you keep your portions small and choose the unsalted variety. But they can also up your zinc intake. Pine nuts come in at a hefty dose of 6.4 mg of zinc per 100 grams, dry-roasted cashews provide 5.8 mg, and at 4.5 mg, pecans are also a good source.11 Nuts can also be added to cereal, salads, and even pasta dishes to boost your daily zinc content.
7. Dark Chocolate
The next time you get caught scarfing dark chocolate you need only shout, “But I need to meet my zinc requirement!” And, you wouldn’t be lying. Just remember portion control. Dark chocolate is zinc-rich due to its high level of cocoa. Cocoa is a vitamin and mineral powerhouse and a 100g bar of 70-85% dark chocolate contains 3.3 mg of zinc.12
Though dairy can be high in fat it does contain a substantial amount of zinc. Moderation as always is key. A dairy product like Mozzarella (2.9mg) or Cheddar cheese (3.1mg) can be a great choice.13 Sheep’s milk products contain the most zinc of any milk, but cow’s milk is still a great choice – including 2%, 1%, and skim. Soy and almond milk – because of their respective bean and nut base – will also provide a good dose of zinc.
Seriously, is there anything an avocado can’t do? This superfruit appears in almost every healthy living list so it’s not surprising that it’s also a food rich in zinc.
One medium sized avocado contains about 1.3 mg of zinc and as an added bonus you’ll gain a nice serving of monounsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins C, E, K, and B-6, niacin, folate, magnesium, and potassium.14 Do you need any further excuse to stock up on avocados?
10. Seaweed (Kelp)
Seaweed has been a staple of Japanese cuisine for centuries and there’s little wonder as to why – seaweed is a nutrient-dense food that towers over most land vegetables. It’s a great source of vitamins and minerals, including around 1.1 mg of zinc per 100 grams.15 Seaweed is also one of the richest sources of iodine available, required for our thyroid to produce hormones. Seaweed flakes can be sprinkled over food, and both seaweed salad and dried seaweed are tasty snacks.
According to some research, if you’re immune system is struggling with a cold, a zinc supplement containing around 13 mg of zinc may be effective on the severity and duration of the cold.16
If you’d like to test this out for yourself, you can find zinc lozenges with similar amounts to this at various major drugstores. Or, you can go and treat yourself to some zinc-rich foods. Which sounds like a great excuse to shell out some dough for some shellfish, no?