Zinc Foods: Which Foods Are Highest in Zinc?

Zinc is one of the most important trace elements for our cellular functioning. Alongside iron, it’s one of the most abundantly-found essential elements in our bodies. Most zinc is absorbed through digestion. However, in some cases supplements are required to compensate for a zinc deficiency.

Zinc is found practically everywhere in our diet, but typically in very low concentrations. However, some foods do stand out for their high zinc content: shellfish, red meat, and whole grains, among others. We’re inviting you to learn about this trace element’s importance and discover which foods are the best sources!

Key Ideas

  • Zinc is a trace element vital for keeping in good health. Zinc deficiency can cause developmental problems, impaired sense of smell and taste, and even male infertility.
  • Zinc is found in practically all foods, particularly animal products. Red meat, poultry, shellfish, and seeds are the best zinc sources. Fruits and vegetables tend to share low levels of this micronutrient.
  • Zinc is involved in a wide variety of processes, from eyesight to sexual maturity. Zinc deficiency can lead to many disorders, some of them serious. Vegetarians and people with digestive problems may need zinc supplements. Some foods, however, can hinder zinc absorption.

Zinc Foods: Which Have the Highest Amounts?

Because it’s present in a wide range of food, most people don’t tend to suffer from zinc deficiency. Some, however, have more trouble ingesting sufficient amounts of this micronutrient – such as, for example, vegans. This table can help you choose foods with higher zinc content (1)


Zinc-Containing Food Milligrams of Zinc in a 100-Gram Serving 
Liver, kidneys 4.2 – 6.1 mg 
Red meat 2.9 – 4.7 mg 
Seeds, nuts 2.9 – 7.8 mg 
Chicken, turkey 1.8 – 3.0 mg 
Fish, shellfish 0.5 – 5.2 mg 
Eggs 1.1 – 1.4 mg 
Dairy  0.4 – 3.1 mg 
Non-refined (whole) grains 0.5 – 3.2 mg 
Bread 0.9 mg 
Tubers, fruits, and vegetables  0 – 0.8 mg 

Liver and Kidneys

Most don’t tend to include liver and kidneys as habitual parts of their diet. However, they’re a great source of essential nutrients. 81 grams of beef liver, for example, can provide up to 4.24 mg of zinc. Plus, because it’s an animal product, it doesn’t contain phytate, a substance which blocks zinc absorption (1, 2)

Kidneys are another oft-overlooked part of our diet, despite being the main ingredient in tasty recipes like kidney pie. Pork kidneys provide up to 5.81 mg of zinc in every 140-gram serving. As for beef kidneys, an 85-gram serving offers up to 3.61 mg.

Meat

Lean pork is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and other essential nutrients on top of zinc. A high-quality, no-fat cut of pork (grass-fed, for example) can provide up to 5.81 mg of zinc in every 140 grams.

Zinc is found in practically all foods, but particularly in animal products. (Source: Jojo: vVnLPgUWG0g/ Unsplash.com )

Nuts and Seeds

Vegans and vegetarians have an excellent zinc source in seeds. Snacks like salted pumpkin seeds can provide up to 9.02 mg of zinc in every 118 grams. Roasted peanuts can also offer plenty of zinc: 6.62 mg in every 100 grams. However, these foods have high phytate levels, and phytate blocks zinc absorption (1, 2)

Poultry

Chicken is one of the world’s most popular foods: it’s cheat, easy to cook, and very healthy thanks to its low fat content. 150 grams of grilled chicken breast barely clears 300 calories, but in exchange it provides nearly 32 grams of protein and a wide range of minerals. Zinc is one of those: 1.11 mg in every 150 grams of grilled chicken.

Turkey is another staple bird in our diet, whether cooked or as a cold cut. 150 grams of grilled turkey breast has fewer calories than chicken (264), yet it contains up to 1.35 mg of zinc. Turkey cold cuts offer lower zinc content, however: 0.94 mg in every 100 grams (4)

Red meat, poultry, shellfish, and seeds are the best zinc sources. (Source: Marengo: XaDsH-O2QXs/ Unsplash.com )

Fish and Shellfish

At the very peak of zinc-containing foods, we find oysters. Just 84 grams of raw oysters can contain up to 32.32 mg of zinc – almost three times the daily required amount for an adult man! Clams, which are much more affordable, contain 2.73 mg of zinc in every 100 grams (2) 

Crustaceans like crabs also have outstanding zinc content: 4.65 mg in every 85-gram serving of cooked crab. As far as fish, zinc concentration tends to be significantly lower. Canned sardines, for example, have no more than 1.31 mg in every 100 grams. Hake offers only 0.88 mg (4)

Zinc Foods: What You Need to Know

Zinc is a trace element found in every cell of your body. Its presence is required for essential functions like immune response, cell division, and metabolising carbohydrates. However, the amount of zinc in the body is limited. It must be continually replenished through the food we eat (5)

Why Is It Important to Eat Zinc-Rich Foods?

Most of the zinc we assimilate comes from animal products. Fruits, vegetables, and seeds have lower concentrations. Plus, their zinc is metabolised less due to the presence of phytate. As such, vegans and vegetarians sometimes need to take zinc supplements. Let’s look at why zinc is so important for your health (3, 6)

  • Zinc facilitates blood clotting, which allows wounds to heal.
  • It’s essential for cellular respiration and DNA and RNA replication.
  • It’s vital for building the skeletal system, as well as for its metabolism.
  • Zinc deficiency prevents the absorption of other nutrients through the digestive system.
  • It’s important for your eyes: zinc ensures good night vision and prevents age-related conditions like macular degeneration.
  • It plays a key role in sexual development, fertility, and reproduction.
  • It’s involved in your sense of smell and taste.
  • It can prevent tumor formation in the large intestine and rectum.
Zinc is a trace element vital for staying in good health. (Source: Ferrero: ODMNSWjel_I/ Unsplash.com )

What Happens if I Don’t Eat Enough Food with Zinc?

A diet with insufficient zinc levels can cause growth problems in children and adolescents. It can also lead to irritability, loss of appetite, hair loss, and dry, rough skin. Other symptoms include loss of smell or taste, nausea, and diarrhoea. Severe zinc deficiency can even cause retina damage (6)

Who Needs to Take Zinc Supplements?

Most people get enough zinc in their diet. However, in some cases a dietary supplement of this trace element may be necessary. Pairing your diet with a daily zinc capsule from Sundt is an excellent solution (7)

  • People who have undergone gastrointestinal/gastric surgery or who have digestive conditions.
  • Vegetarians must consume 50% more zinc than the usual daily recommended intake, since vegetables contain substances which block zinc absorption.
  • Babies over six months who only drink breast milk. There are nutritional supplements designed for babies to provide them with the zinc they require.
  • People with alcoholism or sickle cell anaemia, a hereditary disease affecting red blood cells.
Take zinc supplements with water, not coffee or caffeinated drinks. (Source: Dumlao: nBJHO6wmRWw/ Unsplash.com )

What Foods Can Block Zinc Absorption? 

Specific food groups can interact with your body’s zinc metabolising. This can reduce or even completely block zinc absorption. This property also affects the zinc in supplements (6)

  • Caffeinated drinks: Take zinc supplements with water, not coffee or caffeinated drinks.
  • Consuming lots of calcium-rich food like dairy can reduce zinc absorption.
  • Foods high in fibre.
  • Phytate: This plant molecule is found in grains, seeds, and vegetables. A plant-based diet can hinder healthy zinc absorption.
  • Protein: Some proteins, like those in cow’s milk and soy milk, can make zinc absorption more difficult.

Our Conclusions

After iron, zinc is the most abundant trace element in your body. It plays a key role in many vital functions, from manufacturing proteins to replicating DNA. Most foods contain zinc, but red meat, poultry, and molluscs like oysters have the highest concentrations.

Failing to meet daily recommended zinc intake can lead to a wide range of disorders. Some illnesses can lead to low zinc levels, as can diets with little or no animal nutrients. As such, many vegetarians use zinc supplements to complete their diet.

Were you aware of everything zinc can do for your health? If you found our article useful, let us know by leaving a comment. Plus, don’t forget to share this guide.

(Featured image source: Baibakova: 55559993/ 123rf.com)

References (8)

1. López de Romaña D, Castillo C, Diazgranados D. EL ZINC EN LA SALUD HUMANA – I [Internet]. 1st ed. Santiago de Chile: Rev Chil Nutr Vol. 37, Nº2, junio 2010; 2010 [cited 8 October 2020].
Source

2. López de Romaña D, Castillo C, Diazgranados D. EL ZINC EN LA SALUD HUMANA – I [Internet]. Revista Chilena Nutrición Vol. 37, Nº2, junio 2010; 2010 [cited 12 October 2020].
Source

3. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 [Internet]. National Institutes of Health; 2015 [cited 9 October 2020].
Source

4. Rubio C., González Weller D., Martín-Izquierdo R. E., Revert C., Rodríguez I., Hardisson A. El zinc: oligoelemento esencial. Nutr. Hosp. [Internet]. 2007 feb [citado 2020 Oct 09]; 22(1): 101-107.
Source

5. Mendoza R. Calculadora nutricional [Internet]. CalcuOnline. 2018 [citado 8 octubre 2020].
Source

6. Zinc en la dieta: MedlinePlus enciclopedia médica [Internet]. Medlineplus.gov. 2019 [cited 10 October 2020].
Source

7. Zinc: MedlinePlus suplementos [Internet]. Medlineplus.gov. 2020 [cited 10 October 2020].
Source

8. Datos sobre el zinc [Internet]. National Institutes of Health; 2019 [cited 10 October 2020].
Source

Scientific Article
López de Romaña D, Castillo C, Diazgranados D. EL ZINC EN LA SALUD HUMANA – I [Internet]. 1st ed. Santiago de Chile: Rev Chil Nutr Vol. 37, Nº2, junio 2010; 2010 [cited 8 October 2020].
Go to source
Scientific Article
López de Romaña D, Castillo C, Diazgranados D. EL ZINC EN LA SALUD HUMANA – I [Internet]. Revista Chilena Nutrición Vol. 37, Nº2, junio 2010; 2010 [cited 12 October 2020].
Go to source
Scientific Article
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 [Internet]. National Institutes of Health; 2015 [cited 9 October 2020].
Go to source
Website
Rubio C., González Weller D., Martín-Izquierdo R. E., Revert C., Rodríguez I., Hardisson A. El zinc: oligoelemento esencial. Nutr. Hosp. [Internet]. 2007 feb [citado 2020 Oct 09]; 22(1): 101-107.
Go to source
Official Website
Mendoza R. Calculadora nutricional [Internet]. CalcuOnline. 2018 [citado 8 octubre 2020].
Go to source
Official Website
Zinc en la dieta: MedlinePlus enciclopedia médica [Internet]. Medlineplus.gov. 2019 [cited 10 October 2020].
Go to source
Official Website
Zinc: MedlinePlus suplementos [Internet]. Medlineplus.gov. 2020 [cited 10 October 2020].
Go to source
Official Website
Datos sobre el zinc [Internet]. National Institutes of Health; 2019 [cited 10 October 2020].
Go to source
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