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Unless you’re a die-hard nutrition buff or an expert in biochemistry, you likely only associate zinc with those old-school sticks of sunscreen your mom made you use at the beach. But zinc is also an essential mineral key to a healthy diet.
Zinc is necessary for immune function, it helps your blood clot when you’re injured, and it helps regulate your blood sugar, says Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.
Zinc is indeed crucial to your health, but you only need small quantities. “Women 19 years old and older need 8 milligrams of zinc daily, a pregnant woman needs 11 milligrams, and a breastfeeding woman needs 12 milligrams,” says Gorin.
While it’s easier for your body to absorb zinc from animal sources like meat, eggs, and seafood, there are plenty of zinc-rich, plant-based foods as well. Read on for the best zinc-rich foods for any diet.
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Per ounce, oysters have the highest zinc concentration of any food. Three ounces of raw oysters contain 32 milligrams of zinc, more than three times your recommended daily intake.
Per 3-ounce serving: 50 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 4.5 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 151 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 4 g protein
Lean Sirloin Steak
Love digging into a tender cut of meat on occasion? Opt for lean sirloin with most of the fat trimmed, and you’ll get five milligrams of zinc per four-ounce serving.
Per 4-ounce serving: 144 calories, 4 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 0 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 63 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 25 g protein
Love hammering the meat out of whole boiled crabs? Or, do you prefer the ease (and delicious seasoning) of seared crab cakes? Either way, three ounces of raw blue crab meat contain three milligrams of zinc. While the exact amount of zinc varies by species, all crabs are a great source.
Per 3-ounce serving: 74 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 0 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 249 mg sodium, 15 g protein, o g fiber
Swap beef for lamb to switch things up during stew season. A four-ounce serving of lamb contains just under four milligrams of zinc, almost half of what the average woman needs in a day.
Per 4-ounce serving (fat trimmed): 168 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated), 1 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 121 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 21 g protein
Looking for plant-based sources of zinc? Hemp seeds are your best bet. Try sprinkling these seeds on your yogurt or salad to mix things up. They’re loaded with healthy fats, and a three-tablespoon serving contains three milligrams of zinc.
Per tablespoon serving: 166 calories, 14.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 2.5 g carbs, 0.5 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 9.5 g protein
Beans and legumes are another great plant-based option if you want to up your zinc intake without meat. A cup of cooked chickpeas is high in fiber and protein, and contains 2.5 milligrams of zinc.
Per 1-cup serving: 269 calories, 4 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 45 g carbs, 8 g sugar, 11 mg sodium, 12.5 g fiber, 14.5 g protein
Another excellent plant source of zinc? Black beans. Toss a cup of cooked black beans on top of a salad and you’ll get two milligrams of zinc.
Per 1-cup serving: 227 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 41 g carbs, 0.5 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 15 g fiber, 15 g protein
Greek yogurt has so many stellar health benefits, and here’s another one to add to the list: a seven-ounce container of plain, lowfat Greek yogurt packs 1.5 milligrams of zinc, nearly a quarter of your daily need.
Per 7-ounce serving: 146 calories, 4 g fat (2.5 g saturated), 8 g carbs, 7 g sugar, 68 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 20 g protein
Cashews are one of the most affordable nuts—and, in my totally biased opinion, the most delicious—so there’s no reason not to keep a container in your pantry. You can eat them roasted or raw, since minerals aren’t affected by heat, and get just over 1.5 milligrams of zinc per ounce.
Per 1-ounce serving: 157 calories, 12 g fat (2 g saturated), 8.5 g carbs, 1.5 g sugar, 3 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 5 g protein
An ounce of sharp cheddar has 1 milligram of zinc, which is decent if you want a little extra boost. Melt it on top of a burger made with lean ground beef, and you have a meal that meets more than half your zinc needs for the day.
Per 1-ounce serving: 115 calories, 9.5 g fat (5 g saturated), 0.5 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 180 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 6.5 g protein
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