How much do you really know about zinc? Sure, you’ve heard of it, but you may not know it plays an important role it plays in your health. And you may not realize that this essential trace mineral cannot be produced by your body, so you need to eat foods high in zinc to make sure you have enough.
This often-overlooked mineral is “important for your immune system, wound healing, and protein synthesis,” says Amy Gorin, RDN, a nutritionist in Stamford, Connecticut. Zinc’s immune benefits are so legit that it may reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, according to research published in 2015.
“Zinc contributes to the development of cells that are in charge of defending your body against toxins or threatening foreign substances,” Gorin explains. It also helps with cell growth, which is essential for healing damaged tissue.
Thankfully, you don’t need too much of the mineral. Adult women need eight milligrams of zinc per day, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), but pregnant and breastfeeding women need more. When you don’t take in enough zinc, you’re more susceptible to illness, Gorin says.
Though most people don’t need to worry about zinc deficiency, certain groups—including people with digestive disorders and certain chronic illnesses, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women—are at greater risk. Vegetarians and vegans are also more likely to fall short on the mineral, since it’s harder to absorb the zinc found in plant-based foods than that in animal sources.
To keep your immunity strong and sickness at bay, put the following foods—all good sources of zinc—on your shopping list next time you hit the stores.
Meet the expert: Amy Gorin, RDN, is a nationally recognized expert in nutrition and has been interviewed by several highly regarded publications. She served as a judge for the 2018 UpwaRD program for up-and-coming RDNs, a 2018 and a 2017 Unilever Agent of Change, and an April 2016 Today’s Dietitian Magazine RD of the Day.
If you’re looking for a plant-based zinc source that’s super versatile and easy to add to countless meals, go with pumpkin seeds. An ounce contains not just 2.2 milligrams of zinc (28 percent of a woman’s recommended daily amount), but also a whopping 8.5 grams of plant-based protein. Plus, some evidence suggests that eating a diet rich in pumpkin seeds could lower your risk of some cancers.
Per 1-ounce serving: 158 calories, 13.9 g fat (2.5 g saturated), 2 mg sodium, 3 g carbs, 0.4 g sugar, 1.7 g fiber, 8.5 g protein
What’s not to like about oatmeal? It’s inexpensive, versatile, and endlessly cozy. Not only do oats contain soluble fiber, which has been linked to a lowered risk of heart disease, but half a cup also contains 1.3 milligrams of zinc, which is 16 percent of a woman’s daily need. Consider it yet another reason to love this classic breakfast staple.