13 Foods That Are High in Zinc to Help You Fight Your Next Cold

Updated: May 09, 2022

When flu season comes around, you'll want to make sure you're eating well to keep your immune system strong. Eating certain foods, especially those high in zinc, can help protect against the cold and flu.

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high-zinc foods
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Why zinc?

Most usually think to load up on vitamin C when it comes to beating a sickness, so it might come as a surprise that you might be better off focusing on zinc. Studies have shown that zinc is most effective in shortening the length of a cold when taken on the first day of symptoms. “This is due to the mineral’s ability to help prevent the bacteria or virus from replicating in the body,” says Rebecca Lewis, MS, RD. “Zinc is essential for the body to make DNA in order to promote tissue growth and repair, and it helps wounds heal faster and ensures the immune system works properly.”

To make sure you’re getting enough of the nutrient in your diet, be sure to incorporate some of these foods high in zinc.

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oysters on a tray
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Sure, they’re considered an aphrodisiac. But what better way to fight off sickness than to indulge in some seafood? “One large oyster has about one mg of zinc, about 10 percent the daily value,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. “Most people slurp down a few oysters at a time, which provides a heaping serving of the mineral. I would suggest eating them raw as a nice appetizer.”

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beef stir-fry with chopsticks
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While it’s been on the bad list for years, with easy tips you can eat beef healthfully. A three-ounce serving of beef has about seven mg of zinc. “That’s almost 100 percent of the daily value for women and a little less for men,” says Rizzo. “Try using it in a stir-fry, a veggie soup or paired with a vegetable side.”

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Strawberry yogurt in a jar
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“An 8-ounce container of plain low-fat yogurt has about two mg of the mineral, or close to 20 percent the daily value,” says Rizzo. “Yogurt is great in a smoothie, topped with granola, or just eaten plain.”

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Swiss cheese on a cutting board
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Swiss Cheese

Spruce up your sandwiches with some Swiss cheese, or pair it with some veggie sticks for an extra boost of nutrients. “One ounce of Swiss cheese has 1.2 mg—or about 8 percent your daily value,” says Rizzo.

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bowl of roasted garbanzo beans
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Garbanzo Beans

They’re a smart choice, since they’re among the top 25 brain-boosting foods. “Roasted garbanzo beans are a totally delicious and portable way to get a healthy dose of zinc, folate, and manganese,” says Keri Glassman, RD. A 1⁄2 cup of the legume contains 2.8 mg of the mineral.

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Bowl of chili with cheese on top
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Kidney Beans

“A 1/2 cup of these dark red beans will not only serve up 0.9 mg of zinc—or 6 percent of your daily value—but they are also loaded with antioxidants and iron,” says Rizzo. “You can substitute them in any recipe that calls for pinto beans, and they are fantastic in chili.”

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Chopped chicken on a board
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Dark Chicken Meat

There’s a reason we always want chicken soup when we’re sick: A four-ounce serving of dark meat chicken will give you 3.2 mg of zinc. “For the best bang for your buck, buy a whole pasture-raised chicken rather than individual pieces,” says Maria Zamarripa, MS, RD, CLT. “Mixing both light and dark meat on a whole chicken provides a more complete nutrition profile with added zinc.”

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Grilled pork chops with limes
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Avoid a zinc deficiency by filling up on some pork. Like beef and chicken, pork is also a good source of the nutrient: Just three ounces cooked contains 1.8mg of the mineral. Need a recipe? Try this jerk pork with grilled pineapple recipe.

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Fresh cashews
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Yes, it is one of the five healthiest nuts you can eat. A small handful of cashews (around one ounce) or one tablespoon of nut butter contains 1.6 mg of zinc. “Mix up your nut game by adding cashews for a boost of zinc to ward off the common cold,” says Zamarripa. “For an easy and cost-effective option, make your own homemade cashew butter by blending roasted, unsalted cashews in a blender until smooth.Pair one to two tablespoons of homemade cashew butter with a banana, apple slices, or whole wheat toast for a nutritionally complete snack.”

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Buddha bowl with quinoa and garbanzo beans
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“Quinoa is a gluten-free ancient grain that’s high in zinc and protein and its mild flavor goes well with pretty much anything,” says Glassman. “You can basically throw any combination of vegetables, beans, cheese, or diced meats in it and end up with a balanced, tasty meal.” A 3/4 cup serving of quinoa has about 2 mg of the nutrient.

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Oatmeal with blueberries, nuts and bananas
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Time to eat those grains for breakfast, since 1/2 cup of oatmeal provides 1.6 mg of the mineral. “Spice up plain oatmeal by sprinkling with cinnamon, and an antioxidant-rich fruit of your choice, such as berries,” says Zamarippa. “To enhance the zinc profile even more, add a small handful of sliced almonds to your oatmeal for an easy, protein-packed breakfast.”

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Hulled sunflower seeds in a wooden spoon
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Sunflower Seeds

Start with the fact that they’re one of the six superseeds you should be eating. Then consider that one ounce of dry sunflower seeds contains 1.5 mg of zinc. “For those of us who like to have something to munch on while we’re out and about, sunflower seeds are a fun way to add a touch of zinc in a snack,” says Anna Mason, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Ventura County, California. “My caution here is to watch out for the salt, so look for unsalted sunflower seeds if you can.”

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Broccoli florets
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Each 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli contains about .25 mg zinc. “The total amount zinc in broccoli is certainly on the low end of this list,” says Mason. “However, broccoli contains one of the highest amounts of zinc per kcal of any vegetable, so while it’s not going to get you to your recommended daily amount itself, it can certainly play a supporting role as a dipper or in a stir-fry.” Ever wondered why you can’t find canned broccoli? Here’s why.