Now more than ever, people are looking for ways to strengthen their immune system and fight off disease. While a healthy diet isn't a cure-all for anything, what you eat can play a part in protecting you from illness and keeping you healthy.
Case in point: zinc. "Zinc has a variety of health benefits — it can help support metabolic function, memory function and wound healing to name a few — but it's most commonly known for its benefit on the immune system and common cold symptoms," Erika Fox, RDN, registered dietitian and community manager for 310 Nutrition, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"Studies show that when taken within 24 hours of the start of symptoms, zinc can help reduce the length of a cold," she says. In fact, people who took zinc lozenges with dosages between 80 and 207 milligrams per day reduced the duration of their colds between 28 and 40 percent, according to a May 2017 study in JRSM Open.
That's a lot of zinc, and you don't need that much on the daily. The recommended daily dose is 8 milligrams for women and 11 milligrams for men, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Is Your Diet Missing Certain Nutrients?
If you eat a diverse diet, you're likely to get enough without a daily supplement. And while zinc is bountiful in chicken and red meat, there are plenty of plant-based foods that can help you hit your daily target whether or not you're on a vegetarian diet.
Try these six plant-based recipes packed with foods high in zinc to help keep your immune defenses in tip-top shape.
1. Wilted Kale Salad With Roasted Squash and Maple Dijon Dressing
"This wilted kale salad recipe is not only full of taste and texture, but it's loaded with nutrition, containing squash for complex carbohydrates, olive oil and pepitas for healthy fats and fruit and vegetables for an abundance of antioxidants," Fox says.
Not to mention, pepitas are a stellar source of zinc. Indeed, a 1-ounce handful of the tasty pumpkin seeds serves up 20 percent of your daily recommended value. And, if you want an extra zing of zinc, avocado is a great add-on to this salad, Fox says.
To balance out the dish, Fox recommends incorporating a rich source of plant-based protein like tofu or beans to help increase its fullness and satiety factor.
Get the Wilted Kale Salad With Roasted Squash and Maple Dijon Dressing recipe and nutrition info here.
2. Hemp Protein Pancakes
"As a dietitian, I love recreating comfort foods into more nutritious creations, and this recipe does just that," Fox says.
These easy-to-prep, protein-packed pancakes (a whopping 26 grams per serving) make a brilliant at-home brunch option perfect for even the laziest Sundays. And with 12 grams of fiber, these filling flapjacks will keep your stomach satisfied for hours.
These griddlecakes give you a great balance of both macro and micronutrients, including a hefty helping of zinc thanks to hemp seeds. Just three tablespoons of these versatile seeds provide 27 percent of your daily value. That's why they're ranked fourth on the USDA's list of high-zinc vegetarian foods.
Get the Hemp Protein Pancakes recipe and nutrition info here.
3. Lentil and Tomato Spinach Salad
You can toss this simple salad together in five minutes flat with just a handful of pantry staples.
"This recipe is perfectly light but satisfying and filled with nutritious whole-food ingredients," Fox says. Between cherry tomatoes, red onions and zinc-rich lentils and baby spinach, you can hit your daily veggie quota easily while supporting your immune health.
And with less than 150 calories per serving, you can have seconds even if you're tracking your caloric intake. Indeed, your body will thank you for all those extra plant-based nutrients and antioxidants.
Get the Lentil and Tomato Spinach Salad recipe and nutrition info here.
4. Savory Oatmeal With Shiitake Mushrooms, Spinach and Poached Eggs
If you're a fan of grain bowls, this savory oats recipe — perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner — is for you.
Topped with a poached egg, you can stir and swirl in the runny yolk to thicken up your oatmeal, adding another layer of tantalizing texture and gooeyness.
Fox loves this recipe for its balance of delicious whole-food ingredients that offer up a host of nutritional benefits, satisfy hunger and banish cravings. And with the tasty trio of oats, mushrooms and spinach, you get triple the zinc power for a healthy, immunity-supporting meal.
Get the Savory Oatmeal With Shiitake Mushrooms, Spinach and Poached Eggs recipe and nutrition info here.
5. Meatless Mexican Breakfast Wrap
This healthier breakfast burrito swaps out meat for black beans and organic tofu, which are both lower in saturated fats.
"Tofu is one of my favorite plant-based protein options and it contains zinc, making it a great meat alternative when you need a little extra immune support," Fox says.
And when you go to bundle up your beans, consider choosing a sprouted whole-grain tortilla wrap. Loaded with vitamins, essential amino acids and fiber, sprouted grains are also easier to digest than other types of tortillas.
To top it off, a side of juicy papaya provides a sliver of sweetness to this savory meal.
Get the Meatless Mexican Breakfast Wrap recipe and nutrition info here.
6. Cashew Maple Yogurt
"What I like about this cashew parfait recipe is that it contains Greek yogurt for an extra protein boost, multi-grain cereal for complex carbs and cashews for healthy fats and zinc," Fox says.
To make this recipe even more nutritious, Fox recommends opting for full-fat yogurt since low-fat varieties often have added sugars. Likewise, choose a whole-grain cereal with no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving.
Get the Cashew Maple Yogurt recipe and nutrition info here.
- Mayo Clinic: “Zinc.”
- My Food Data: “Hemp Seeds.”
- My Food Data: “23 High Zinc Foods for Vegans and Vegetarians.”
- My Food Data: “Roasted Squash And Pumpkin Seeds (Unsalted).”
- JRSM Open: "Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage"