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Home/Blog/15 Foods High in Zinc (and How Much You Need)

15 Foods High in Zinc (and How Much You Need)

By Ethan Boldt

April 22, 2024

Foods high in zinc

Zinc is one of 13 essential minerals, and it plays a role in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. In fact, zinc is second only to iron in its concentration in the body and is required for everything from healthy skin and skin integrity to supporting normal DNA synthesis, cell division, immune function and more.

Therefore, consuming foods high in zinc is so important. Fortunately, zinc is found naturally in a variety of different food sources, and most people can get enough zinc in their diet from food sources alone. However, those with restrictive diets or certain circumstances may be at risk of deficiency. Vegans and vegetarians often come up short on zinc, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding typically have higher zinc requirements.

The good news is that if you consume good sources of zinc daily, like the 15 sources listed below (and perhaps a zinc supplement), you can prevent inadequate levels and reap the benefits of this essential mineral.

Benefits of Zinc

Eating foods rich in zinc provides these health benefits:

  • Supports a healthy digestive system, including normal digestion, metabolism and nutrient absorption

  • Essential for the function and development of immune cells in the body

  • Addresses any potential zinc deficiency

  • Promotes healthy muscle growth and recovery

  • Promotes healthy cardiovascular function

Foods High in Zinc

You’ll see that animal products are the best sources of zinc compared to plant foods, like vegetables. Zinc bioavailability — the fraction of zinc that’s retained and used by the body — is high in foods like animal meat and seafood. These foods also feature sulfur-containing amino acids that improve zinc absorption.

While zinc-rich plant foods do exist, they’re less bioavailable because of their high level of phytic acid (phytates) that inhibits the absorption of zinc. Studies show that those who don’t consume meat or animal products need up to 50 percent more zinc in their diets daily to absorb what they need.

Keep in mind that the inhibitory effects of phytic acid on the absorption of zinc can be minimized with methods like soaking, heating, sprouting, fermenting and leavening. For example, soaking legumes and using yeast-based breads like sourdough.

Here are the healthiest (we omit shellfish and pork products) zinc-rich foods:

1. Grass-Fed Beef

4 ounces (113 g) of grass-fed ground beef contains 5.1 mg (46% Daily Value*)

Grass-fed beef includes conjugated linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid that supports heart health, helps build muscle and promotes health blood sugar levels.

2. Beef Liver

3 ounces (85 g) of cooked beef liver contains 4.5 mg (41% DV)

Yes, particularly if you get it grass-fed and pasture-raised, beef liver is very good for you. Along with zinc, it also contains highly absorbable heme iron, the type the body uses most easily Cook it up with onions in this recipe that has nutrition facts off the charts.

3. Lamb

4 ounces (113 g) of New Zealand leg of lamb contains 3.6 mg of zinc (33% DV)

Lamb is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals. In addition to zinc, lamb contains vitamin B12, riboflavin, selenium, niacin, phosphorus and iron.

4. Hemp Seeds

3 tablespoons (30 g) of hulled hemp seeds contains 3 mg (27% DV)

Not only are hemp seeds rich in zinc, but they are an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They support healthy inflammation levels as well as heart health.

5. Chicken Thigh

1 chicken thigh (116 g) , meat only, roasted without skin, contains 2.2 mg of zinc (20% DV)

Chicken thigh meat is a great protein source, and the dark meat contains more vitamins and minerals than the white breast meat (and also more fat).

6. Pumpkin Seeds

1 ounce (28 g) of roasted, unsalted pumpkin seeds contains 2.2 mg of zinc (20% DV)

Pumpkin seeds also are unusually high in a bunch of minerals besides zinc. This includes manganese (43% DV), magnesium (38% DV), phosphorus (33% DV), iron (23% DV) and copper (20% DV).

7. Tofu

0.5 cup (126 g) raw, firm tofu contains 2 mg of zinc (18% DV)

Soy isoflavones, which are a type of polyphenol found in tofu, help promote healthy inflammation levels. In addition, tofu is a top plant-based protein. Organic, fermented tofu is one of the best forms to consume.

8. Oatmeal

0.75 cup (175 g) regular and quick, unenriched, cooked oatmeal contains 1.75 mg of zinc (16 DV)

Oatmeal is a good source of fiber, trace minerals and even plant-based protein. Oatmeal even contains some healthy fatty acids since the grain’s entire germ, endosperm and bran remain intact. No wonder it makes such a great breakfast.

9. Cashews

1 ounce (28 g) of raw cashews contains 1.6 mg of zinc (15% DV)

Among many positives, cashews have a good zinc-to-copper ratio. This helps ensure that both minerals stay in balance.

10. Sunflower Seeds

1 ounce (28 g) of unsalted, toasted sunflower seed kernels contains 1.5 mg of zinc (14% DV)

Sunflower seeds are high in many nutrients, not just zinc. Although there are relatively few calories in sunflower seeds, each serving packs in a serious punch of micronutrients like vitamin E, thiamine, manganese and copper.

11. Lentils

3.5 ounces (100 g) of cooked, mature, unsalted, boiled lentils contains 1.3 mg of zinc (12% DV)

Lentils are considered a top “functional food” due to their high nutritive value, polyphenols, minerals, fiber and other bioactive compounds. It’s also a relatively high-protein plant-based food.

12. Turkey Breast

3 ounces (85 g) of cooked, roasted turkey breast (meat only) contains 1.3 mg of zinc (12% DV)

Turkey breast is a high-protein food, packing in more than 25 g per three-ounce serving. It’s also very high in vitamin B6 and selenium.

13. Eggs

2 (100 g) whole eggs contain 1.3 mg of zinc (12% DV)

Besides zinc, eggs are rich in vitamin A as well as vitamin B12 and B2. Always get free-range (and organic), as those eggs contain far more vitamin A, omega-3, vitamin E and beta-carotene.\.

14. Sardines

1 can (3.75 ounces or 92 g) of drained Atlantic sardines, canned in oil, contains 1.2 mg of zinc (11% DV)

Sardines are the fish with the most zinc, plus they’re one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. They’re particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B12 and selenium.

15. Shiitake Mushrooms

3.5 ounces (100 g) of shiitake mushrooms contains 1 milligram of zinc (9% DV)

Shiitake mushrooms are high in B vitamins, and they serve as a food source of vitamin D. Add shiitakes to soups, salads, meat dishes, stir-fries and omelets.

*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.

How Much Zinc Do You Need?

So how much zinc per day do you actually need? The recommended zinc supplement dosage can vary based on several different factors, including your age and your gender.

Below are the current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for zinc:

  • 0-6 months: 2 mg

  • 7-12 months: 3 mg

  • 1-3 years: 3 mg

  • 4-8 years: 5 mg

  • 9-13 years: 8 mg

  • Females 14-18 years: 9 mg

  • Males 14+ years: 11 mg

  • Females 19+ years: 8 mg

As said above, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also require a higher amount of zinc per day, with daily needs ranging from 11-13 mg, depending on their age, and determined by their healthcare professional.

If your diet is not providing enough zinc, you can also take a zinc supplement. Ancient Nutrients Zinc + Probiotics is a vegan-friendly supplement that contains 20 mg of enzyme-activated zinc and 2 billion CFUs* (*at time of manufacture) of probiotics to support healthy digestion, provide overall immune support and provide support for a healthy immune defense. This enzyme-activated zinc is a form of zinc that is highly potent and readily available for your body to use.

For best results, take one capsule daily with water or your choice of beverage. Ideally take at least one hour before or two hours after meals to maximize absorption. Be sure to pair with a nutritious, well-rounded diet and healthy lifestyle to maximize the potential health benefits. (You can also take an Ancient Nutrition multivitamin, which can provide up to 10 mg for women or 15 mg for men.)

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