If you've ever popped zinc lozenges while reaching for tissues and sipping hot soup, you probably know that the mineral helps support a healthy immune system.
Not only does zinc play a role in immune function, but it also supports wound healing as well as protein synthesis — a key part of cell growth and development, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
How Much Zinc Do You Need?
The recommended daily intake for zinc is 11 milligrams for people assigned male at birth and 8 milligrams for people assigned female at birth, according to the NIH.
Unlike other nutrients that can be stored in the body, our bodies are not designed to store zinc, so it's important to eat foods high in zinc every day, according to NIH.
So what foods are high in zinc? While animal sources contain some of the highest amounts, there are vegetarian foods that provide the nutrient as well. Note that the Daily Value (DV) percentages below are based on eating 11 milligrams of zinc per day.
1. Oysters: 52 mg, 472% Daily Value (DV)
Just six cooked oysters give you 472 percent of the DV for zinc (talk about a powerhouse!). Oysters also provide 34 percent of the DV for iron and 457 percent of the DV for vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is crucial for cell health and helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, per the NIH.
2. Fortified Cereals: 19 mg, 170% DV
Cereals are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, making them a great vegetarian food high in zinc. Some cereals can provide upward of 170 percent of the DV for zinc per 3/4 cup serving as well as iron (109 percent of the DV).
Choose cereals that are low in added sugar, which should be limited to just 10 percent of total daily calories, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
3. Beef: 9.3 mg, 85% DV
Beef contains lots of good-for-you nutrients, including protein, iron and vitamin B12. A 3-ounce cooked steak gives you 85 percent of the DV for zinc, too.
And when it comes to red meat like beef, moderation is key. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) advises limiting your intake to no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week as eating too much red and processed meats is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
4. Tofu: 4 mg, 36% DV
Tofu is one of the best vegan foods high in zinc because it's one of the only plant foods to provide complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. A 1-cup serving provides 36 percent of the DV for zinc as well as fiber, calcium and iron. Try it in these anything-but-bland tofu recipes.
5. Turkey: 3 mg, 27% DV
White and dark meat turkey is a good source of protein, vitamin B12 and zinc. A 3-ounce serving of dark meat, which is higher in saturated fat than white meat (and should be enjoyed in moderation), contains 27 percent of the DV for zinc. Try it in these delicious leftover turkey recipes.
6. Ground Pork: 2.7 mg, 25% DV
Loin cuts of pork are lower in saturated fat, which is associated with increased levels of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
7. Lentils: 2.5 mg, 23% DV
Lentils, a type of legume (and even more specifically, a pulse), are a great plant food high in zinc, packing 23 percent of the DV per cup cooked as well as 56 percent of the DV for fiber.
Lentils contribute to improved heart health thanks to their high fiber content, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Lentils are easy to make and go well in a variety of dishes, like these high-protein recipes.
8. Chickpeas: 2.5 mg, 23% DV
Chickpeas, like lentils, are legumes, making them another popular plant-based, nutrient-dense food. Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas — the base for hummus — are a good source of fiber and healthy fat.
9. Yogurt: 2 mg, 22% DV
A one-cup serving of non-fat yogurt contains 22 percent of the DV for zinc. But be choosy: Flavored yogurts — like some cereals — are high in added sugar, so opt for plain, unsweetened varieties when you can. Aside from snacking on it on its own, try it in these Greek yogurt recipes that satisfy.
10. Oatmeal: 2 mg, 21% DV
Oatmeal might really be the breakfast of champions. It's rich in complex carbs, which fuel your muscles and brain, and contains 21 percent of the DV for zinc per 1 cup cooked as well as 4 grams of filling fiber.
Oatmeal mixes well with a variety of toppings including nut butter, fruit, cacao nibs and seeds. Try it in these delicious overnight oats recipes.
11. Black-Eyed Peas: 2 mg, 20% DV
Beans are a popular vegan food high in zinc. A 1-cup serving of cooked black-eyed peas contains 20 percent of the DV for zinc and 11 grams of fiber, making them a great mix-in for salads and soups.
12. Shiitake Mushrooms: 2 mg, 18% DV
The shiitake variety is one of the more flavorful mushrooms when sautéed, making them a popular addition to omelets and stir-fry dishes. A 1-cup cooked serving provides 18 percent of the DV for zinc as well as vitamin D and potassium.
13. Green Peas: 1.9 mg, 17% DV
When cooked just right, green peas can be rich in flavor (and not mushy). Peas, like other legumes, are a good source of plant-based protein, fiber and iron. One cooked cup contains 17 percent of the DV for zinc.
Thanks to its zinc and vitamin E content, green peas can help support a healthy immune system, making them a good addition to your favorite chicken soup.
14. Cashews: 1.6 mg, 14% DV
Cashews are also an excellent source of heart-healthy fats, which will leave you feeling full between meals. Toss cashews with your favorite trail mix, eat them plain or serve them atop a chicken or veggie stir-fry.
15. Spinach: 1.4 mg, 12% DV
Spinach (and other leafy greens) seems to have a little bit of everything that's good for you: folate, plant-based iron, fiber, vitamins A, C, E, K and magnesium to name a few. But spinach happens to be one of the few vegetables that have zinc.
A 1-cup serving of cooked spinach contains 12 percent of the DV for zinc, 20 percent for vitamin C and 25 percent for vitamin E.