Zinc is an essential nutrient that your body can’t make by itself, so you need to have adequate zinc in your diet. Luckily, there are plenty of foods out there that contain high levels of zinc. If you struggle to get enough zinc-rich foods in your diet, you can always take a zinc tablet or use liquid zinc to supplement your intake.
And getting enough zinc is crucial. Zinc supports immune function, wound healing, nerve function, metabolism, digestion, and more. It’s the second most common trace mineral in your body — zinc is found in every single cell.
The trick is to get enough zinc without getting too much. Taking too much zinc can make you sick, and the only cure is to wait for the zinc to leave your system. Let’s take a look at some strong dietary sources of zinc, how to use zinc supplements, and what to do if you take too much zinc.
Eat Plenty of Zinc-Rich Foods
Your body can’t make its own zinc, but fortunately, it’s found in a wide range of foods. Meat, dairy, eggs, and shellfish all contain lots of zinc. Eat these regularly, especially cheese and dairy — these foods are high in zinc and the zinc they contain is very bioavailable, meaning your body can easily absorb it. Cheese contains more zinc than full-fat milk. Dark chocolate is another good source of zinc — about 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of 70 to 85 percent dark chocolate contains 30 percent of your daily recommended zinc intake.
Of course, that’s also a lot of calories, so while it might be a good source of zinc, dark chocolate should be eaten in moderation. Seek out zinc in vegetables like potatoes (and sweet potatoes), kale, and green beans. Nuts like almonds, cashews, peanuts, and pine nuts are also high in zinc. Seeds, including hemp, pumpkin, flax, and sesame are also good sources of dietary zinc.
Use Zinc Supplements as Needed
Zinc supplements are available in tablets and gel caps, but you can also buy liquid zinc if you’re averse to taking pills or have difficulty swallowing them. Take zinc supplements on days when you haven’t gotten enough zinc from dietary sources — like nuts and legumes, seeds, meat, cheese, milk, and dark chocolate.
Ideally, you’d use a dietary tracking app to keep track of how much zinc you’re eating, so you don’t make yourself sick by taking too much in the form of a supplement. Men need about 11 mg of zinc a day, while women only need about 8 mg. Zinc-rich foods like cheese, dark chocolate, eggs, and meat can provide anywhere from 5 to 291 percent of your recommended daily intake of zinc. If you eat a particularly zinc-rich food, for example, like oysters, which contain 32 mg of zinc per serving of six, you may want to skip doing any zinc supplementation that day. Your body doesn’t store zinc, so it needs to get a minimum amount of dietary zinc each day, but any dietary zinc exceeding the body’s needs will be secreted. Your body should have flushed out the excess zinc within about 24 hours, so you can supplement with zinc the next day if needed to meet your daily requirement that day.
If You Get Zinc Toxicity, Take a Break
Zinc toxicity occurs when you get too much zinc at once, whether through dietary sources or by taking too much in a supplement. Usually, you’ll get too much by taking too high of a zinc supplement dose, so be careful with dosing. Liquid zinc is preferable because you can have more control over the dose and easily take a larger or smaller dose each day.
The symptoms of zinc toxicity include diarrhea, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, and flu-like symptoms. Zinc toxicity can also lower your immune response, lower your blood levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol, and even cause copper deficiency and changes in your sense of taste if the state of toxicity lasts. In adults, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) of zinc is 40 mg. That means if you take more than 40 mg, you could develop symptoms of zinc poisoning.
There isn’t any antidote to zinc poisoning, but while you might feel awful and be more likely to catch a cold or virus while the zinc is in your system, it will be out of your system in 24 hours. The best thing to do is not add any more zinc in your diet until your symptoms clear up, and then proceed with caution about restarting.
Zinc is important for many body functions, so you need to make sure you’re getting enough of it each day. Choose foods rich in zinc, and take a supplement if you need one. Your body will thank you.