Zinc is an essential mineral that’s well known for supporting immune health, while also playing an important role in many important body functions, such as the production of hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen).
And you might need more of it during certain stages of life. “Since zinc plays a role in cell growth and repair, needs are higher during periods of growth, such as pregnancy,“ says registered dietitian Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
Zinc is most often obtained through animal foods and seafood (such as oysters), making it somewhat of a challenge for those on a plant-based or vegan diet to reach daily zinc requirements. But it’s not impossible! In fact, there are plenty of plant-based foods high in zinc that you can add to your diet easily.
If you’re concerned about zinc intake, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about taking zinc supplements in addition to eating more zinc-rich foods.
Zinc-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet
1. Hemp seeds
Hemp seeds are not only a tasty addition to meals and drinks, they’re also a great source of zinc.
“A three-tablespoon serving of hemp seeds provides about 30% of the daily value of zinc for women. Hemp seeds are also a good source of iron and fiber while providing more protein than other seeds,” Jones says.
All nuts are great for your health, since they’re rich in healthy fats to protect your heart and contain protein to fill you up and magnesium to fight stress. Cashews are your best bet if you’re looking to up your zinc intake, as they provide 15% of the daily value in a single-ounce serving.
“Cashews are rich in healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats and also offer iron, fiber and other minerals. You can blend cashews to make energy bars and even cream sauces, or toss in maple syrup and cinnamon for candied cashews to top salads,” she says.
3. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin season is almost upon us, but you don’t need to wait until fall to start eating more of this nutrient-rich fruit. Pumpkin seeds, available year round, are a perfect way to easily add zinc to your diet.
“A one ounce serving of pumpkin seeds is a good source of zinc offering 14% of the daily value. They’re also high in other minerals such as iron and magnesium and are a good source of protein,” Jones says.
Nosh on them plain or in trail mix, or get creative by using them in your cooking. “Use pumpkin seeds to make pumpkin energy bites or healthy pumpkin cookies, use them in homemade granola bars and add them to plant based energy bowls,” she says.
Whether rolled or “quick,” a half-cup serving of dry oats (around 1 cup cooked) offers 10% of the daily value for zinc. “Oats are also rich in soluble fiber, known for supporting healthy cholesterol levels, and are a good source of the B vitamin thiamin as well as minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus,” Jones says.
You can enjoy oats for any meal of the day, but they’re especially great for breakfast and snacks. “In addition to overnight oats and trendy savory oats, oats can also be added to smoothies for a filling fiber boost and used in easy energy bites for snacking,” she says.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a versatile legume loaded with zinc and other nutrition benefits.
“Two thirds of a cup of garbanzo beans provides 11% of the daily value of zinc as well as fiber, some protein, iron, magnesium, and plenty of manganese and folate,” Jones says.
This ancient grain is gluten-free, high in protein to fill you up, and offers a hearty dose of zinc.
“One cup of cooked quinoa offers 13% of the daily value of zinc along with metabolism supporting B-vitamins, magnesium and manganese. Enjoy quinoa on its own as a side, as your starch in a stir fry, or in stuffed peppers,” she says.
7. Dark chocolate
Indulge your sweet tooth with nutrient dense dark chocolate, and you’ll get over 11% of your daily value for zinc in a half bar of at least 70% cocoa content (the darker the better for antioxidants too!).
“Dark chocolate is also rich in iron, and its phytochemicals have been linked to lower stress and blood pressure,” Jones says.
While of course you can enjoy eating it right out of the wrapper, you can also dip dark chocolate in peanut butter and sprinkle some coconut on top for a fun twist – or try cooking or baking with dark chocolate.