An essential trace mineral, zinc plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Other functions include supporting reproductive and thyroid health, promoting a good sense of smell and taste, and assisting with wound healing. You don’t need much zinc daily, and the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that deficiencies are rare.
The National Academy of Sciences recommends that adult men get 11 milligrams of zinc daily, while adult women need just 8 milligrams. Women who are pregnant require 11 milligrams a day, while breast-feeding women should aim for 12 milligrams. You can get most if not all of the zinc you need from a well-balanced diet.
Oysters are by far the richest source of zinc, supplying 67 milligrams in one 3-ounce cooked serving. Different cuts of beef will give you more than enough zinc, with one boneless chuck steak providing almost 15 milligrams, a rib-eye steak containing just over 14 milligrams and a sirloin cut with 9 milligrams. Poultry offers smaller amounts of zinc, with a cup of chopped chicken breast meat containing 1.4 milligrams of the mineral. Cheeses, particularly Swiss and ricotta, are also good sources of zinc.
If you don’t eat meat or are trying to consume more vegetables, many plant foods also supply zinc, although it is not as easily absorbed. Legumes tend to be the richest plant sources of zinc. Green soybeans or edamame are at the top of the list, supplying 2.5 milligrams in a cup, and black-eyed peas give you 2.4 milligrams in the same measure. A large baked potato and a cup of sweet corn each yield a little over 1 milligram of zinc. Among green veggies, a cup of frozen broccoli provides 0.75 milligram, while the same serving of frozen asparagus offers 0.74 milligrams. You’ll get about 0.7 milligram in a cup of cooked turnip greens, and just under 0.4 milligram from a cup of raw kale.
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that zinc from meat is better absorbed than zinc from plant foods. Also, eating zinc-containing foods with a source of protein, such as shellfish, meat, beans, nuts or dairy, ensures better absorption. You absorb only about 20 to 40 percent of the zinc you take in from food, notes the medical center. Deficiency may occur in alcoholics, anorexics, seniors, strict vegetarians and people with absorption-related conditions such as celiac disease. Talk to your doctor if you suspect a lack of zinc in your diet.