Zinc-Rich Foods To Boost Your Immunity & Metabolism

Zinc is a trace element that is present in every cell of the human body. In fact, after iron, it is the second most abundant trace mineral in the body. It is considered an essential nutrient because the human body can neither produce nor store it, so recommended levels must be procured either through food or supplements. Zinc is involved in such vital processes in the body as gene expression, immune function, DNA synthesis, protein synthesis, enzymatic reactions, wound healing, growth, and development. It is also fundamental to skin health – I am sure you have seen sunscreens that claim to have zinc in them.   

In recent times, we have understood more about zinc’s role in mediating the body’s immune response. A recent review of seven studies demonstrated that 80–92 milligrams per day of zinc may reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33%. Zinc is commonly used in hospitals as a treatment for burns, certain ulcers, and other skin injuries as it plays a role in collagen synthesis, immune function, and the inflammatory response, and therefore becomes necessary for proper healing. In fact, diabetic foot ulcers have been found to heal faster when the patients were on zinc supplements.   

Zinc is especially important as we age – supplements have been found to improve immune response, lower pneumonia risk, prevent macular degeneration (eyesight) and enhance mental performance. Importantly, as zinc reduces oxidative stress, it also plays a role in preventing chronic illnesses, including cancer.  

Unfortunately, however, although severe zinc deficiency is rare, mild to moderate zinc deficiency is quite rampant. It’s been estimated that over 2 billion people in the world may have a mild to moderate degree of zinc deficiency. Symptoms of mild zinc deficiency include diarrhea, decreased immunity, thinning hair, impaired taste or smell, dry skin, fertility issues, impaired wound healing, and, among small children, frequent infection due to an inadequate immune response.   

How can we then shore up our bodies with the requisite amounts of zinc? Here are a few food items that might help us in this regard, and a few of our favorite recipes:  

For Non-Vegetarians

Shellfish: oysters, crab, mussels, lobster, and clams—these constitute the best source of zinc. The drawback is, obviously, that they can be expensive. But they are also among those food sources from which zinc can be absorbed by the body the easiest.   

We are ourselves partial to a good crab meal. The famous Irish chef Richard Corrigan's lovely crab ravioli recipe is a simple ravioli with delicious crab meat filling. It’s a great recipe that makes for a quick but fancy dinner.   

Red meat: while red meat is rich in zinc, and contains protein, we recommend moderation when it comes to the consumption of red meat. Pork, lamb, bison, and beef, are great sources of zinc.   

Who doesn’t like a good lamb? Make this exquisite lamb korma for a special occasion, and along the way, get the zinc your body so needs.   

White meats, including fish, turkey, and chicken: These could be part of your regular, daily meals, packed as they are with most of the essential nutrients a body needs to be healthy. Fish like sardines, salmon, sole, and flounder are particularly good for your zinc needs.   

Indian salmon (rawas or gujrali) is an excellent option. Try this recipe for Sunehari salmon—it makes for a quick and delicious entrée for your busy workdays.   

For Vegetarians And Vegans 

Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans are a great source of zinc, as are nuts and seeds including cashews, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds. Whole grains—oats, quinoa, and brown rice—are an excellent way to add zinc to your diet. When you are in the vegetable market, keep an eye out for and buy mushrooms, kale, asparagus, and peas because they can also amp up zinc levels. For those who do consume dairy and eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, and eggs are a great addition to your diet for your zinc needs.   

Here is a quick recipe for a delicious and nutritious salad for vegetarians, packed with food items that are rich in zinc:  

Quinoa, Spinach, And Mushroom Salad By Martha Rose Shulman  


Yield: 6 servings  

  • ¾cup quinoa  
  • 1¼cups water  
  • Salt to taste  
  • 1 bag of baby spinach, rinsed and dried  
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced  
  • ¼cup chopped walnuts and pumpkin seeds  
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley  
  • Feta cheese, crumbled (optional)  
  • Soaked chickpeas can also be added  

For The Dressing 

  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice  
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar  
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard  
  • 1 garlic clove, puréed  
  • Salt to taste  
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil  
  • ⅓ cup buttermilk  
  • Freshly ground pepper  


  • Place the quinoa in a strainer and rinse several times with cold water. Place in a saucepan with 1¼ cups water and salt to taste.  
  • Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, until the grains display the spiral and the water is absorbed.  
  • Remove from the heat, remove the lid, and place a dish towel over the pan.  
  • Then, return the lid to the pan and let sit for 10 minutes or longer, undisturbed. Transfer to a salad bowl and fluff with forks. Allow to cool.  
  • Add the spinach, mushrooms, walnuts, parsley, and optional cheese to the bowl.  
  • Whisk together the dressing ingredients and toss with the salad just before serving.