Ohio State University Extension Fact sheet

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Family and Consumer Sciences

1787 Neil Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210



Updated and Revised by Kate Micucci, Dietetic Intern,
The Ohio State University, Human Ecology, Department of Human Nutrition

This fact sheet is one in a series containing information to help you select foods that provide adequate daily amounts of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Following these guidelines will put your diet in accordance with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are:

What is “a good food source”?

A good food source of zinc contains a substantial amount of zinc in relation to its calorie content and contributes at least 10 percent of the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (U.S. RDA) for zinc in a selected serving size. The U.S. RDA for zinc is 15 milligrams per day. The U.S. RDA given is for adults (except pregnant or lactating women) and children over 4 years of age.

The U.S. RDA for zinc is the amount of the mineral used as a standard in nutrition labeling of foods. This allowance is based on the 2000 Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for 24 categories for gender and age, set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences. The RDA has been set at 8 milligrams per day for women 19 to 50 years of age and 11 milligrams per day for men 19 to 50 years of age. These recommendations are found in the 2001 Dietary Recommended Intakes (DRI) for 22 categories based on gender and age, set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

Where do we get zinc?

Animal products, more specifically red meats and poultry, contain the most readily available form of zinc. Many of the cereals in today’s market are now fortified with zinc. In 2000, meat and dairy products provided approximately 55% of the zinc in the American diet (37.8% and 16.8% respectively). Grain products supplied 25.6% of the zinc recommended. Foods that contain small amounts of zinc, but are not considered good sources, can contribute significant amounts of zinc to an individual’s diet if these foods are eaten often, or in large amounts.

Average Intake of Zinc in the Typical American Diet.

Why do we need zinc?

Zinc, a mineral, plays an important role in the formation of protein in the body and thus, assists in wound healing, blood formation, and general growth and maintenance of all tissues. Zinc also supports immune function and the storage, release, and function of insulin. Zinc is a component of many enzymes, so it is involved in most metabolic processes.

Do we get enough zinc?

The median intake for zinc reported in 2000 by the Food and Nutrition Board and National Institute of Medicine, was 9 milligrams per day for women and 14 milligrams per day for men. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for safety and health is 40 milligrams per day for adults.

How can we get enough zinc?

Eating a variety of foods that contain zinc is the best way to get an adequate amount. Healthy individuals who eat a balanced diet rarely need supplements. It is important to take special care to ensure an adequate intake, especially if you don’t consume animal products. A good rule of thumb is that protein rich foods tend to be rich in zinc as well. Lean meats (beef, other red meats, and shellfish) are some of the best sources. However, nuts, beans, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals contain zinc. The list of foods below will help you select those that are good sources of zinc as you follow the Dietary Guidelines. The list of good sources was derived from the same nutritive value of foods tables used to analyze information for recent food consumption surveys of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Service.

How to prepare foods to retain zinc

Zinc is lost in cooking some foods even under the best conditions. To retain zinc:

What about whole-grain cereals?

Most fortified ready-to-eat cereals usually contain 10 percent of the U.S. RDA for zinc. Since cereals vary, check the label on the package for the percentage of the U.S. RDA for a specific cereal.

What is a serving?

The serving sizes used in this list of good sources are only estimates of the amounts of food you might eat. The amount of nutrient in a serving depends on the weight of the serving. For example, the edible part of a cooked chicken leg (thigh and drumstick) weighs more than the edible part of a cooked chicken breast half. Therefore, the chicken leg appears on the list while the chicken breast half does not. The chicken breast half provides the nutrient—but just not enough to be considered a good source.

Food Serving Amount Percentage of U.S. RDA1
Breads, cereals, and other grain products
Ready-to-eat cereals, wheat, puffed, fortified 1 cup +
Wheat flour, whole grain 1 cup +
Meat, poultry, fish, and alternates
Meat and Poultry
Ground; extra lean, lean, or regular; baked or broiled 3 ounces ++
Pot roast, braised, lean only 3 ounces +++
Roast, rib, roasted, lean only 3 ounces ++
Short ribs, braised, lean only 3 ounces +++
Steak, lean only: baked or broiled 3 ounces ++
Braised 3 ounces +++
Stew meat, simmered, lean only 3 ounces +++
Chicken, leg (thigh and drumstick), broiled or roasted, without skin 1 leg +
Ham, fresh, smoked or cured, roasted, lean only 3 ounces +
Lamb chop, shoulder; braised, broiled, or baked; lean only 1 chop ++
Ground, cooked 1 patty +
Roast, shoulder, roasted, lean only 3 ounces ++
Liver, braised, beef or pork 3 ounces ++
Calf 3 ounces +++
Chicken or turkey 1/2 cup diced +
Chop, baked or broiled, lean only 1 chop +
Ground, cooked 3 ounces +
Roast, loin, roasted, lean only 3 ounces +
Roast, shoulder, roasted, lean only 3 ounces +
Tongue, braised 3 ounces ++
Ground, cooked 3 ounces +
Light or dark meat, roasted, without skin 3 ounces +
Chop, braised, lean only 1 chop +
Ground, cooked 1 patty +
Roast, leg, roasted, lean only 3 ounces ++
Fish and seafood Carp, baked or broiled 3 ounces +
Crabmeat, steamed 3 ounces +
Lobster, steamed or boiled 3 ounces +
Mussels, steamed, boiled, or poached 3 ounces +
Baked, broiled, or steamed 3 ounces +++
Canned, undrained 3 ounces +++
Nuts and seeds Pumpkin or squash seeds, hulled, roasted 2 tablespoons +
Milk, cheese, and yogurt Cheese, ricotta 1/2 cup +
Flavored, made with whole or low-fat milk 8 ounces +
Plain, made with low-fat or nonfat milk 8 ounces +
1 A selected serving size contains:
+ 10–24 percent of the U.S. RDA for adults and children over 4 years of age
++ 25–39 percent of the U.S. RDA for adults and children over 4 years of age
+++ 40 percent or more of the U.S. RDA for adults and children over 4 years of age


Escott-Stump, Mahan. Krause’s Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy, 10th Ed. W. B. Sanders Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 2000.

Gerrior, S., Bente, L., & Hiza, H. (2004). Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply, 1909–2004. (Home Economics Research Report No. 56). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. November 2004.

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Life Sciences Research Office. Prepared for the Interagency Board for Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research. 1995. Third Report on Nutrition Monitoring in the United States: Volumes 1 and 2. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.

Panel on Micronutrients, Subcommittees on Upper Reference Intakes of Nutrients and of Interpretation and the Uses of Dietary Reference Intakes, and the Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 2001. www.nap.edu

USDA, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17. Adapted from the 2002 revision of Home and Garden Bulletin No. 72, Nutritive Value of Foods. www.nal.usda.gov

U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2005. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 5th ed. 12 January 2005. www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines. Accessed 26 May 2005.

Wardlaw, G. M., & Kessel, M. Perspectives in Nutrition. McGraw Hill, New York. 2002.

Browne, M. B. 1993. Label Facts for Healthful Eating. Mazer Corporation, Dayton, OH.

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OSU Extension embraces human diversity and is committed to ensuring that all educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, age, gender identity or expression, disability, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Director, OSU Extension

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