Meyers-Jax Talks Zinc with Parade Magazine

New Research Says Zinc Can Help Treat the Common Cold, So Here Are 20 Zinc-Rich Foods to Add to Your Shopping Cart. 
Parade Magazine

Whether it’s loading up on vitamin C, sipping tea or eating a warm bowl of chicken soup, you probably have your own remedies for dealing with a cold. But, a new study suggests adding zinc to your cold-fighting routine could help minimize symptoms.

The study, published recently in BMJ Open, found that taking zinc could shorten the duration of a respiratory tract infection and even prevent illnesses. “Zinc is a nutrient necessary for immune system defense,” says Ryan Andrews, RD, principal nutritionist and adviser at Precision Nutrition. “Without it, the development and function of immune cells is compromised. This means that without enough zinc, we are more susceptible to infection.”

If you’re not getting enough zinc, your immune system may suffer, he says, but if you’re already getting enough zinc, adding more likely won’t supercharge your immune system. “In fact, supplementing high doses of zinc can lead to decreased immunity, copper deficiency and other health problems,” Andrews says.

Zinc lozenges have been a common cold treatment for decades, explains Christina Meyer-Jax, RDN, LDN, standard process nutrition chair and assistant professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University. “The strongest evidence for use is increasing zinc intake on the onset of symptoms to support faster recovery times versus protection against respiratory tract infections,” she says.

Zinc benefits the body in other ways, too. It’s needed for hair growth, brain health, the taste and smell senses, gut health, skin health, sexual health, eye health, tissue repair and more. “Zinc is also an important trace mineral and a key player needed for nearly 100 enzymes to do their chemical reactions properly in the human body,” Meyer-Jax says.

20 zinc-rich foods to add to your shopping cart

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for zinc is 8 mg for women and 17 mg for men. Vegetarians need slightly more, and during pregnancy and lactation, you need 11 mg and 12 mg, respectively, Meyer-Jax says.

It’s possible to get all the zinc you need from food alone, Andrews says. However, supplements can help those who don’t regularly eat zinc-rich foods.

Not sure which foods contain zinc? Here’s a list of 20 that you should add to your shopping cart:

1. Oysters

Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc, Andrews says, “Just one or two oysters will offer enough zinc for an entire day. The bonus with oysters is that they are also one of the most environmentally friendly food sources.” Three ounces of oysters contain a whopping 74 mg, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

2. Crab, lobster and other shellfish

Shellfish, including crab and lobster, are also good sources of zinc, Andrews says. A 3.5-ounce serving of crab, for example, contains 6.5 mg of the mineral, while 3 ounces of lobster contains 3.4 mg.

3. Beef

Beef is a rich source of zinc, with 7.4 mg per 3-ounce serving. It’s also rich in protein, vitamin B12, iron and other nutrients.

4. Pork

Animal-based foods, including pork and other meats, contain some of the highest levels of zinc, Meyer-Jax says. Pork, for example, has 2.9 mg of zinc for 3 ounces.

5. Poultry

Chicken and other poultry are great sources of lean protein, iron and a host of vitamins and minerals. Three ounces of chicken contains 2.4 mg of zinc, too.

6. Lamb

A lean red meat, lamb is a great source of selenium, niacin, vitamin B12 and protein. And, 3 ounces contains about 30% of your recommended daily value of zinc.

7. Baked beans

A solid plant-based source of zinc is baked beans, which contain 2.9 mg per half a cup, according to NIH. Beans are also a good source of protein and fiber.

8. Black beans

Black beans are packed with protein and other nutrients, including iron and zinc. The legumes also have a lower glycemic index compared to other carb-rich foods, so they can prevent blood sugar spikes.

9. Chickpeas

Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, contain a decent about of zinc at 1.3 mg per half a cup. The legumes are also fiber- and protein-rich, and have good amounts of iron, folate and other nutrients.

10. Cashews

Nuts, including cashews, contain a wealth of nutrients, including fiber, heart-healthy fats, copper, magnesium and zinc. An ounce of dry-roasted cashews has 1.6 mg of zinc, according to NIH.

11. Peanuts and other nuts

Peanuts, almonds, pine nuts and other nuts contain about 15% of your daily value of zinc. They’re also a good source of healthy fats, fiber and other vitamins and nutrients. Nuts are good for your heart and help lower your cholesterol, too.

12. Pumpkin seeds

Seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are a good source of fiber, vitamins and nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. An ounce of dried pumpkin seeds has 2.2 mg of zinc.

13. Whole grains

Whole grains offer many health benefits—they’re a good source of fiber and contain a wealth of nutrients, including zinc. But, they also contain phytates, a substance found in many plant-based foods that can prevent zinc absorption.

14. Breakfast cereal

Many fortified grains, such as breakfast cereal and oatmeal, are good sources of zinc, Meyer-Jax says. Many kinds of cereal contain 25% of your daily value of zinc, and oatmeal contains about 1 mg per serving, according to NIH.

15. Yogurt and cheese

Dairy products, including yogurt and cheese, are other good sources of zinc, Andrews says. Eight ounces of low-fat yogurt has 1.7 mg of zinc, a cup of milk has 1 mg and an ounce of cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella or swiss, contains 0.9 mg to 1.2 mg. These foods are also rich in protein, calcium and vitamin D.

16. Eggs

Eggs are a low-calorie source of healthy fat and protein. They contain a wealth of vitamins and nutrients, too, including B vitamins, selenium and zinc. One egg has about 5% of your daily value of zinc.

17. Mushrooms

Eating more mushrooms can add many vitamins and minerals to your diet. They contain B vitamins, selenium, copper, potassium and zinc. Mushrooms are also low in calories and rich in fiber.

18. Potatoes

Sweet potatoes and white potatoes contain about 1 mg of zinc each, which amounts to about 9% of your daily value. Potatoes are also rich in potassium, vitamin C and fiber.

19. Kale and other green vegetables

Green vegetables, like green peas, kale and green beans, contain trace amounts of zinc. The vegetables also contain compounds that limit zinc absorption in the body, however, Andrews says, “But don’t let this deter you from eating plenty of plants. Emphasizing minimally processed plant foods in the diet can help to stack your odds of better long-term health and chronic disease prevention.”

20. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate with 90% cocoa is a great source of nutrients like magnesium, selenium and iron. It also contains zinc—3.5 mg per 100 g of dark chocolate.