Zinc is a trace mineral that is needed by our body in small amounts. This essential mineral is necessary for many processes in the body. It helps trigger over 100 different internal enzymes that are needed for various metabolic actions.

It helps boost immunity and also aids faster wound healing. The recommended dietary allowance for zinc in the United States is 8 mg per day for women and 11 mg per day for men.

Zinc deficiency can occur when there is not enough consumption of this essential element in the diet. Lack of zinc can lead to impaired immunity, diarrhea, impotence, stunted growth in children, loss of appetite, hair loss and skin lesions.

The best method to improve your zinc intake is to add zinc-rich foods, such as lamb, shellfish, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, etc., to your daily diet. Read on to learn about how much zinc you need and how to get it.

How much zinc do you need?

The body doesn’t store zinc, so you need to get your daily dose of zinc from dietary sources. The amount of zinc you need varies with age. Here’s the average daily recommended amount for different ages (1) –

  • Birth to 6 months: 2 mg
  • 7 to 12 months: 3 mg
  • 1 to 3 years: 3 mg
  • 4 to 8 years: 5 mg
  • 9 to 13 years: 8 mg
  • 14 to 18 years (boys): 11 mg
  • 14 to 18 years (girls): 9 mg
  • Men: 11 mg
  • Women: 8 mg
  • Pregnant teens: 12 mg
  • Pregnant women: 11 mg
  • Breastfeeding teens: 13 mg
  • Breastfeeding women: 12 mg

Foods high in zinc

1. Grass-fed beef

One steak of grass-fed beef (214 grams) contains 7.7 mg of zinc, which is 52 percent of the daily requirement (2). Grass-fed beef is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid.

The CLA in beef helps fight cancer, it discourages weight gain and helps build muscle.

2. Lamb

Three ounces of lamb provides 6.7 milligrams of zinc, which is 45 percent of the daily recommended allowance (3). Lamb is also rich in protein and other vitamins and minerals including iron, selenium, phosphorus, and vitamin B12.

Regular consumption helps promote muscle growth and prevent anemia.

3. Shellfish

Oysters are a powerhouse of zinc as six medium-sized oysters contain 32 mg or 290 percent of the daily allowance for a man. Alaskan crab also contains 7.6 mg for 100 grams, which is around 69 percent of a man’s daily allowance.

Smaller fish like shrimp and mussels are also good sources of zinc. Shellfish are high in proteins and low in fats, and they provide nutrients like digestible proteins, essential amino acids, and other minerals like iron, copper, and magnesium.

4. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc. One cup of pumpkin seeds contains 6.6 mg of zinc, which is 44 percent of the daily recommended allowance.

They are also rich in other minerals and vitamins like magnesium, iron, and vitamin B, E and K. A diet rich in pumpkin seeds also helps reduce the risk of various types of cancer like stomach, breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancer (4).

5. Chickpeas

Legumes are an excellent source of zinc, with chickpeas containing the highest amount. One cup of chickpeas contains 2.5 mg of zinc, which is 17 percent of the daily recommended value.

Chickpeas are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates that are digested slowly and provide gradual, sustained energy. They increase satiety and help in weight loss (5).

6. Cashews

A one-ounce serving of cashews contains 1.6 mg of zinc, which is around 11 percent of your daily recommended allowance (6).

Cashews also contain copper, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and selenium, all of which are important for good health. Consuming cashews helps improve cardiovascular health as they help reduce blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

7. Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms contain 2 mg of zinc per cooked cup, which is around 17 percent of the daily recommended allowance (7). Other mushrooms like white button mushrooms( 12% DV), morel mushrooms (12% DV) and crimini mushrooms (9% DV) are also rich in zinc.

Mushrooms also contain B vitamins and selenium, which help support the immune system and prevent damage to cells and tissues.

8. Green peas

There is around 2 mg of zinc in one cup of cooked green peas (8). This deceptively ordinary looking vegetable is a rich source of many other vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, calcium, iron, copper, and manganese.

Green peas help lower cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, and also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

9. Spinach

One cup of cooked spinach contains 1.4 mg of zinc, which amounts to 9 percent of the daily value (9).  Spinach is also rich in magnesium, iron, manganese and vitamins A, C, and K.

Eating this highly nutritional vegetable reduces oxidative stress, improves eye health and lowers blood pressure.

10. Eggs

Eggs are also a nutritious source of zinc. One large egg contains 0.6 mg of zinc, which is around 4 percent of the daily requirement of zinc (10).

Eggs are also a good source of complete protein. Eggs provide a whole list of health benefits that include improving eye health, reducing the risk of cancer, boosting energy and supporting neurological health.

11. Yogurt

In addition to being a rich source of calcium, yogurt is also rich in zinc. One cup of yogurt contains 1.4 mg of zinc, though the values may vary slightly for different brands.

The health benefits of yogurt include improved digestion and immunity, lower cholesterol levels, and it also benefits heart health.

12. Chicken

A 100 gram serving of chicken contains 1 mg of zinc, which is 7 percent of the daily recommended allowance. Chicken is lean meat which is rich in proteins.

The health benefits of chicken include treating anemia, protecting eyesight, and supporting body cells and tissues.

13. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is a good source of zinc. A 100 bar of dark chocolate (70 to 85 % chocolate) contains 3.3 mg of zinc, which is around 22 % of the recommended amount (11).

The powerful antioxidants of dark chocolate help lower blood pressure and improve blood circulation.

14. Fortified breakfast cereals

Many breakfast cereals are fortified with various vitamins and minerals including zinc. On an average, one serving of breakfast cereal provides 3.8 mg of zinc, which is around 25 percent of the recommended amount.

Adding low-fat milk also adds to the zinc content of the cereal.

15. Almonds

A 95-gram serving of almonds provides 2.9 mg of zinc, which is 20 percent of the recommended value. Almonds are considered as one of the most nutritious nuts.

They are low in saturated fat and rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin E and phytochemicals. The health benefits of almonds include lower blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels, and reduced blood pressure.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency

Zinc deficiency occurs when you do not consume adequate zinc in your diet or when you are unable to absorb zinc from the food you eat due to poor gut health or digestive disorders.

According to the World Health Organisation, millions of people around the world have a zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency is the fifth leading risk factor for causing diseases worldwide (12).

Zinc deficiency affects numerous organs systems in our body including integumentary, gastrointestinal, immune, skeletal, reproductive and central nervous system (13).

When you are deficient in zinc, your body is unable to produce healthy cells. This deficiency leads to:

  • Digestive issues
  • Low immunity
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Decreased sense of smell or taste
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Allergies and rashes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Open sores on the skin
  • Autoimmune disease

How is zinc deficiency diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you have a zinc deficiency, he may order blood or a urine test. However, these may not give a definite result because zinc is only present in trace amounts in the cells of our body.

A test of the blood plasma provides a more accurate reading. Sometimes a strand of the hair can also be analyzed to measure the zinc content.

Your doctor will also take your full health history and ask you questions about your dietary intake. If he suspects that you are not consuming enough zinc in your diet, he may prescribe some supplements.

Sometimes some digestive disorders may cause zinc to be processed in the body but not absorbed well. In such cases, the doctor may order additional tests to get to the root cause of the deficiency. 

In the US, infants who are breastfeeding and older adults are at a higher risk of developing zinc deficiency. Alcohol makes it harder for the body to absorb zinc, so people with alcoholism are also at a higher risk of developing zinc deficiency.

Final thoughts

Zinc is a trace mineral that is needed for many vital functions in the body. It works as a powerful antioxidant and boosts immune function, promotes wound healing, aids in nutrient absorption and improves eye health.

The body doesn’t store zinc, so you need to get your daily dose of zinc from dietary sources. Grass-fed beef, lamb, shellfish, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, and chickpeas are some of the best sources for zinc.

Zinc deficiency can affect numerous organs systems in our body including gastrointestinal, immune, skeletal, reproductive and central nervous system. So, if you suspect you have a zinc deficiency, get it checked by your doctor.

You should include zinc-rich foods, such as lamb, shellfish, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, etc., to your daily diet for combating zinc deficiency