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Healthy Foods that Contain Zinc

Zinc is mineral that your body needs in trace amounts for a variety of different mechanisms.

What Does Zinc Do in Your Body?

  • Supports a healthy nervous system and is therefore essential for mental and emotional balance.
  • Helps strengthen your immune system, which increases your capacity to deal with stress.
  • Helps keep your teeth and bones strong.
  • Helps control your blood sugar level.
  • Is involved in numerous chemical reactions that convert food into energy.
  • Helps to protect your body against free radical damage.
  • Helps to reduce your blood level of homocysteine, decreasing your risk of a variety of chronic, degenerative health conditions.

Here are some healthy, whole food sources of zinc:

Whole Food Sources Serving Zinc (mg)
Organic Beef 3 ounces 5.80
Beef Liver, cooked 100 grams 5.24
Lima Beans 1 cup 3.60
Organic / Wild Turkey, cooked 3 ounces 3.50
Chickpeas 1 cup 2.60
Split Peas, cooked 1 cup 1.96
Cashews, raw 1 ounce 1.60
Pecans, raw 1 ounce 1.28
Green peas, cooked 1 cup 1.08
Almonds, raw 1 ounce 1.00
Organic egg, poached 1 large 0.55
Ginger root, raw 1 teaspoon 0.34

Signs of Deficiency

  • Poor sense of taste and smell
  • Poor appetite
  • Emotional and behavioural disturbances
  • Poor wound healing
  • Skin rashes
  • Sterility
  • Chronic and severe diarrhea
  • White marks/lines across nails

Signs of Deficiency in Children

  • Poor growth
  • Delayed sexual maturation

People Who Have Higher Than Average Risk of Developing a Zinc Deficiency*

  • Infants and children
  • Pregnant and lactating (breastfeeding) women, especially teenagers
  • Patients who are receiving their food intravenously
  • Malnourished individuals, including those with anorexia nervosa
  • Individuals with severe or persistent diarrhea
  • Individuals with malabsorption syndromes, including sprue and short bowel syndrome
  • Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Individuals with alcohol-induced liver disease
  • Individuals with sickle cell anemia
  • Adults who are 65 years and older
  • Strict vegetarians - if you eat a lot of grains and legumes that are high in phytic acid, you have a greater than average daily requirement for zinc, as phytic acid is known to decrease the absorption of zinc into the blood stream.

Eating too many grains, spinach, and rhubarb can increase your risk of developing a zinc deficiency. Alcohol, sugar, stress, inadequate protein intake, and taking high doses of calcium in supplement form can also lead to a zinc deficiency.

Recommended DietaryAllow ance for Zinc - 1998
Life Stage Age Males (mg/day) Females (mg/day)
Infants 0-6 months 2 2
Infants 7-12 months 3 3
Children 1-3 years 3 3
Children 4-8 years 5 5
Children 9-13 years 8 8
Adolescents 14-18 years 11 9
Adults 19-years and older 11 8
Pregnancy 18 years and younger all ages - 12
Pregnancy 19 years and older all ages - 11
Breastfeeding 19 years and older - 12


Getting too much zinc in your diet can actually weaken the strength of your immune system. Taking more than 45 mg of zinc per day can lead to a copper deficiency. 80 mg of zinc per day over the long term can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease via a decrease in blood levels of HDL. Greater than 150 mg of zinc per day can weaken your immune system. Nausea, an upset stomach, and vomitting are strong signs of zinc toxicity if you are taking a zinc supplement. For these reasons, I recommend that you stay away from zinc supplements and obtain zinc from a variety of whole, minimally processed foods.

Diagnostic Test for Zinc

Some practitioners use hair analysis, while others run a plasma zinc test. As of March 14, 2005, to the best of my knowledge, there is no reliable diagnostic test for zinc deficiency. If you have any of the signs of zinc deficiency listed above and you are in the high-risk group for zinc deficiency, I recommend that you focus on improving your digestive strength, and consistently eating whole foods that are rich in zinc.

*Adapted from the Linus Pauling Institute Nutrient Index

Go To Nutrient Index


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