Sources of Zinc

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Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in the American diet. Other good food sources of zinc include legumes (dried beans and peas), nuts, some types of seafood, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products.

Here are some examples of how much zinc is in common foods...

What About Phytates in Foods that Contain Zinc?

Phytates are compounds naturally found in plants that help protect the plant from disease and insects. Phytates are present in whole grain breads and cereals and legumes.

Phytates bind with minerals in the digestive tract, including calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, which decreases the amount of the minerals available to be absorbed and used in the body. Many phytates can be deactivated by soaking, sprouting, or boiling the phytate-rich food before eating. Leavened grain products such as bread contain more available zinc than unleavened grain products like crackers.

Who Has Special Zinc Needs?

The bioavailability of zinc from vegetarian or vegan diets is lower because meat is high in bioavailable zinc and can enhance zinc absorption. Vegetarian and vegan diets often include higher amounts of legumes and whole grains that contain phytates. Vegetarians and vegans can require as much as 50% more of the RDA for zinc than people who eat meat. 

Medications and Zinc:

Zinc supplements may interact with several different types of medications. Anyone who takes these medications should discuss zinc intake from food and supplements with your physician. Taking the medication at least 2 hours before or 4-6 hours after a zinc supplement minimizes the interaction, but it’s always best to discuss specifics for you with your physician.

Quinolone (such as Cipro) and tetracycline (such as Achromycin and Sumycin) antibiotics inhibit the absorption of both zinc and the medication.

Penicillamine, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, inhibits the absorption of zinc and the medication.

Thiazide diuretics such as Hygroton and hydrochlorothiazide increase zinc excretion and prolonged use might lead to zinc deficiency.

Where are Hidden Sources of Zinc?

Zinc is often part of homeopathic medications that are sold over the counter. In the past, the FDA warned consumers to stop using zinc-containing nasal gels or sprays because they were found to potentially cause the loss of the sense of smell due to high levels of zinc.

Excessive use of denture creams that contain zinc have also led to zinc toxicity and neurological disease in people who used 2 or more standard 2.4 ounce tubes of zinc-containing denture cream per week.

Want to learn more about zinc? Don't miss...

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, CPT, CHWC


  1. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. updated 7-15-20; accessed 11-28-20
  2. Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):1286. Published 2017 Nov 25. doi:10.3390/nu9121286
  3. Hunger and Health. Feeding America. Understand Food Insecurity. accessed 11-28-20
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Food Data Central. Oysters, steamed. published 10-30-20; accessed 11-28-20
  5. Zinc Supplements and Lozenges Review. updated 11-3-20; accessed 11-29-20
  6. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source. Are Anti-Nutrients Harmful? accessed 11-28-20
  7. Wessels I, Rolles B, Rink L. The Potential Impact of Zinc Supplementation on COVID-19 Pathogenesis. Front Immunol. 2020;11:1712. Published 2020 Jul 10. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2020.01712
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