Diet - zinc

Alternative names 
Zinc in diet

Zinc is an important trace mineral. This element is second only to iron in its concentration in the body.

Zinc plays an important role in the proper functioning of the immune system in the body. It is required for the enzyme activities necessary for cell division, cell growth, and wound healing. It plays a role in the acuity of the senses of smell and taste. Zinc is also involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates.

Food Sources

High-protein foods contain high amounts of zinc. Beef, pork, and lamb contain more zinc than fish. The dark meat of a chicken has more zinc than the light meat.

Other good sources of zinc are peanuts, peanut butter, and legumes.

Fruits and vegetables are not good sources, because zinc in plant proteins is not as available for use by the body as the zinc from animal proteins. Therefore, low-protein diets and vegetarian diets tend to be low in zinc.

Side Effects

Symptoms associated with zinc deficiency include the following:

  • Slow growth  
  • Poor appetite  
  • Decrease in wound healing  
  • Loss of hair  
  • Impaired sense of taste  
  • Impaired sense of smell  
  • Hypogonadism in males  
  • More frequent infections  
  • Inability or difficulty in adapting vision to the dark  
  • Various skin lesions

Zinc is one of the least toxic of the trace elements. Zinc supplements in large amounts (for example, 70 to 100 times the recommended amount) may cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting, usually occurring within 3 to 10 hours of ingestion of the supplements. The symptoms diminish within a short period of time after the discontinuation of the supplements.


The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins and minerals is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid.

Specific recommendations for each vitamin or mineral depend on age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a PDF file that lists these recommendations.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Levon Ter-Markosyan, D.M.D.

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