Immunity and Nutrition #2: Zinc sources

We found out earlier this week that we can’t afford to be low in zinc if we want to give our bods the best chance of fighting off those vicious viruses. We've produced this groovy graphic so we can easily see the top whole food plant-based sources of zinc [11]. You can also get high amounts from beef and lamb but we’re focusing on plant foods because when you look at these nourishing ninjas as a whole package, every element of them is health-promoting. Why get your zinc from other sources when you can get the full amount you need from tasty whole plant foods that also give you a jug load of other benefits?

These plentiful plants contain no cholesterol or trans fats and less saturated fat while packing more mono and polyunsaturated (the good) fats. Plants are also crammed full of fibre, polyphenols (a mighty anti-oxidant) and other health-boosting phytonutrients which meat and dairy just don't have [1]. According to some serious scientists, munching plants can ‘aid in weight loss/maintenance, enhance glycemic control and insulin regulation, reduce blood pressure, improve vascular health and decrease inflammation, thereby lowering coronary heart disease risk’ [1]. Wowsers that's a lot of goodness, what else could we want from the food we're munching to fuel our hardworking cells?

On top of zinc’s immunity magic it’s also vital for protein production [2], healing up wounds [3], DNA manufacturing [2,4], and cell division [2]. It supports normal growth up to adolescence [5-7] and we need it to keep our nose and tongue tasting and smelling all the yummy whole foods we’re cooking up [8]. According to those legends at the NHS ‘the amount of zinc you need is about:

- 9.5mg a day for men (aged 19 to 64 years)

- 7mg a day for women' [9]

Now our bods can't do everything and so we can’t store zinc, which means we need to munch it daily [10], here are some zinc heavy meal ideas (so grab your cooking apron and have your spatula at the ready!):

- 5 bean chilli

- Peanut butter on wholegrain seedy toast

- Snacking on trail mix

- Black bean burritos (add some hot sauce for some extra zing!)

- Pumpkin and sunflower seed flapjacks

- Sliced apple dippers and peanut butter

- Bean salad with a seed topper

Supplements are always an option and follow the advice of your health professional if advised to do so, but for the rest of us, it’s not necessary. According to our good pals at the NHS ‘you should be able to get all the zinc you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.’ They also say that if you do pop some supplements ‘don't take too much as this could be harmful.’ This is because ‘high zinc intakes can inhibit copper absorption, sometimes producing copper deficiency and associated anaemia [12,13].’ So, if possible take responsibility for your overall health and stick to whole foods. This way you’ll benefit from that package of power whole plant foods provide (mentioned above), keeping us healthier and reducing the strain on the NHS.

As always don’t just take our word for it, have a read of the evidence below:


1] Hu FB. Plant-based foods and prevention of cardiovascular disease: an overview.Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 78(3 suppl):544S–551S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.3.544S

2] Prasad AS. Zinc: an overview. Nutrition 1995;11:93-9.

3] Heyneman CA. Zinc deficiency and taste disorders. Ann Pharmacother 1996;30:186-7.

4] Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zincexternal link disclaimer. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

5] Simmer K, Thompson RP. Zinc in the fetus and newborn. Acta Paediatr Scand Suppl 1985;319:158-63.

6] Fabris N, Mocchegiani E. Zinc, human diseases and ageing. Aging (Milano) 1995;7:77-93.

7] Maret W, Sandstead HH. Zinc requirements and the risks and benefits of zinc supplementation. J Trace Elem Med Biol 2006;20:3-18.

8] Prasad AS, Beck FW, Grabowski SM, Kaplan J, Mathog RH. Zinc deficiency: changes in cytokine production and T-cell subpopulations in patients with head and neck cancer and in noncancer subjects. Proc Assoc Am Physicians 1997;109:68-77.

9] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/ [accessed 31.03.2019]

10] Rink L, Gabriel P. Zinc and the immune system. Proc Nutr Soc 2000;59:541-52.

11] https://www.nal.usda.gov/sites/www.nal.usda.gov/files/zinc.pdf [accessed 01.04.2020]

12] Broun ER, Greist A, Tricot G, Hoffman R. Excessive zinc ingestion. A reversible cause of sideroblastic anaemia and bone marrow depression. JAMA 1990;264:1441-3.

13] Willis MS, Monaghan SA, Miller ML, McKenna RW, Perkins WD, Levinson BS, et al. Zinc-induced copper deficiency: a report of three cases initially recognized on bone marrow examination. Am J Clin Pathol 2005;123:125-31.