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Ralph Teller

Zinc Natural Food Sources and Health Benefits

by Ralph Teller

Zinc Facts and Health Benefits

Zinc is an essential mineral that is naturally present in some foods. Zinc plays a key role in metabolism, immune system health, wound healing, and for men, testosterone production. See How to Increase Testosterone Naturally. Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence and is required for proper sense of taste and smell. Zinc also plays a role in cold and coughs prevention. See How to Prevent and Treat Colds Naturally

Daily dietary intake of zinc is necessary to maintain a steady level of zinc because the body has no specialized zinc storage system. Obtaining zinc from natural food sources is preferred.

Natural Food Sources of Zinc

In general foods high in protein contain the highest amounts of zinc. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, fish, shellfish, beef, pork, lamb, poultry and cheese are good sources of zinc. Except for oysters, meat and many cheeses contain more zinc than fish and shellfish. Some cuts of meat contain more zinc than others. For instance, the dark meat of chicken contains more zinc than the light.

Vegetables and fruit have lower levels of zinc than meat, fish and cheese. Also, zinc from plant sources is generally not as easily absorbed as zinc from animal sources. As a result, people who follow vegetarian or vegan diets may have deficient zinc levels. Plant sources of zinc include lima beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, peanuts, whole grains, wheat germ, green beans, brewer's yeast, mushrooms, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Selected Food Sources of Zinc
FoodMilligrams (mg)
per serving
Percent DV*
Oysters, 6 medium, breaded and fried76.7511
Beef shanks, cooked, 3 ounces8.959
Crab, Alaska king, cooked, 3 ounces6.543
Pork shoulder, cooked, 3 ounces4.228
Turkey, 152 grams10.8 72
Wheat flour, whole-grain, 1cup 3.1 20
Lobster, cooked, 3 ounces 3.423
Chicken leg, roasted, 1 leg2.718
Pork tenderloin, cooked, 3 ounces2.517
Baked beans, canned, ½ cup1.711
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce1.611
Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 1 cup1.611
Seeds, sunflower seed kernels, ¼ cup 1.6 11
Chickpeas, ½ cup1.39
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce1.28
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce1.07
Milk, whole, 1 cup1.07
Chicken breast, roasted, ½ breast with skin removed0.96
Cheese, cheddar or mozzarella, 1 ounce0.96
Peas, boiled, ½ cup0.96
Kidney beans, cooked, ½ cup0.85
Oatmeal, instant, 1 packet0.85
Flounder or sole, cooked, 3 ounces0.32

Zinc Deficiency

Zinc deficiency can cause growth retardation, loss of appetite, impaired immune function, hair loss, diarrhea, delayed sexual maturation, impotence, eye and skin lesions, weight loss, delayed healing of wounds, taste abnormalities, and mental lethargy.

There are some special considerations regarding zinc:

Pregnant and Lactating Women. Pregnant women, particularly those starting their pregnancy with marginal zinc status, are at increased risk of becoming zinc insufficient due, in part, to high fetal requirements for zinc. Lactation can also deplete maternal zinc stores.

Older Infants. Older infants who are exclusively breastfed breast milk provides sufficient zinc (2 mg/day) for the first 46 months of life but does not provide recommended amounts of zinc for infants aged 712 months, who need 3 mg/day.

Alcoholics. Approximately 30%50% of alcoholics have low zinc status because ethanol consumption decreases intestinal absorption of zinc and increases urinary zinc excretion [44]. In addition, the variety and amount of food consumed by many alcoholics is limited, leading to inadequate zinc intake.

Health Risks from Excessive Zinc

Acute adverse effects of high zinc intake, most often from zinc supplements, include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches.

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Articles on Zinc

Food Sources of Natural Vitamin E, Livestrong

Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Zinc, National Institute of Health.

PublicationFood Sources of Zinc, US Department of Agriculture

PublicationFoods With High Levels of Zinc, Livestrong


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