Immune Supporting Foods: Zinc

To continue with the focus on supporting your immune system through food, today’s focus is zinc. Zinc is a mineral and an essential trace element. It plays multiple roles in maintaining human health. Some of these roles include supporting growth and development, vision, taste and smell, and wound healing. It is also key in supporting immune function by activating various types of white blood cells for an immune response. Our bodies do not store excess zinc, so it is important to consume it regularly. Zinc occurs naturally in some foods, is added to other foods, and is also available in supplement form.

Foods High In Zinc

  • Meats (beef, pork loin, chicken)
  • Shellfish
  • Oysters
  • Baked beans & kidney beans
  • Fortified breakfast cereal
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Yogurt
  • Cashews
  • Chickpeas
  • Oatmeal
  • Milk
  • Cheese

Supplemental forms of zinc consist of zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, zinc acetate, or zinc-containing lozenges. An excessive zinc intake may result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headaches, and loss of appetite. A majority of Americans have adequate zinc intake; some exceptions may include vegetarians, pregnant and lactating women, and people with gastrointestinal issues. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for adult females is 8 mg/day and for adult males is 11 mg/day. 

Food First Approach

There are numerous ways to incorporate zinc-containing foods into snacks and meals:


  • Zinc-fortified breakfast cereal (Cheerios, Fiber One, Honey Bunches of Oats) with low-fat or non-fat milk
  • Yogurt with sliced almonds and berries 
  • Oatmeal with low-fat or non-fat milk topped with pumpkin seeds and peach slices


  • Beef hamburger with a slice of swiss cheese and baked beans on the side
  • Chickpea salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, bell pepper, red onions, parsley, and a drizzle of lemon juice
  • Chicken with peas and mushrooms 
  • Kidney bean salad with corn, cucumber, cilantro, red pepper, green onions, lime juice, and olive oil 
  • Yogurt to thicken soups instead of sour cream
  • Yogurt as a marinade or sauce/dressing
  • Canned Oysters added to salads
  • Pumpkin seeds added on as a salad topping


  • A handful of almonds or cashews
  • Yogurt 
  • String mozzarella cheese and crackers