This article will examine 10 foods low in carbohydrate that are high in zinc; an incredibly important micronutrient.
Just like in the recent posts on potassium and magnesium, some of the most zinc-rich foods will be listed, along with ideas on how to incorporate them into your diet.
Before we start, let’s take a look at why zinc is so important for our health.
Why is Zinc Important?
The primary function of zinc is to regulate the immune system. If we do not have adequate amounts of zinc, then our immune system will be compromised and unable to adequately defend our body.
If our immune system is not functioning at its optimal level, then we are more likely to get sick, feel tired, and suffer from burn-out in our daily lives.
Zinc plays a critical role in several other important biological functions, and it is essential for hormone production, protein synthesis, cell growth, and DNA repair.
Is Zinc Deficiency a Problem?
Are we eating enough foods that contain zinc? Unfortunately, the answer to that question appears to be no.
Zinc deficiency is a problem around much of the world, exasperated by a diet that is heavy in cereal grains and low in animal foods (1).
The number at risk of zinc deficiency globally is believed to be 17.3% of people (2).
It’s important to note that even if we are eating enough foods rich in zinc, then the rest of our diet may impact how much of the zinc we absorb. Anti-nutrients are the reason, with phytic acid (found in grains) being the primary inhibitor of zinc (1).
Even in the United States, zinc deficiency is commonplace. Estimates put citizens at risk of zinc deficiency at around 12% of the population, with the figure rising as high as 40% in the elderly (3).
The good news is that we can find a remedy for zinc deficiency by ensuring we eat enough nutrient-dense foods rich in zinc and optimizing our diet to remove anti-nutrients.
Let’s look at some of those foods now; here are ten of the best low-carb food sources of zinc.
Note: the values for meat and seafood are all based on the food being cooked.
1Oysters (78.6mg, 524% DV per 100g)
If you need to increase the amount of zinc in your diet, then oysters are the place to start.
Cooked oysters provide 78.6mg zinc per 100g, which is more than 500% of the recommended daily target (4).
Oysters are just an overall great choice for any diet; they also provide a decent amount of magnesium, iron and a massive amount of B-vitamins.
Interesting Fact: Oysters are capable of changing their gender. They usually start their life as a male but end it as a female.
Per 10 Oysters
Zinc: 55.02mg Carbohydrate: 3.82g Sugar: 0.86g
2Lamb (4.28mg, 28.5% DV per 100g)
We were a little bit spoiled by the huge amount of zinc oysters provide, so lamb seems quite a small contributor in comparison.
However, lamb is one of the most zinc-dense foods available and provides 4.28mg per 100g (5).
Per 6 oz serving
Zinc: 7.19mg Carbohydrate: 0g Sugar: 0g
3Lobster (7.27mg, 58.5% DV per 100g)
Another nutrient-dense seafood: lobster.
Lobster is a real zinc powerhouse and provides 7.27mg per 100g (5).
Zinc isn’t all lobster offers, though; rich in copper, selenium, magnesium, phosphorus and also some omega-3, lobster isn’t short of beneficial nutrients.
One of the only negatives about lobster is that they are just so expensive, but lobster tails can be found online at an economical price if you look around.
Per 1 lobster serving
Zinc: 11.85mg Carbohydrate: 5.09g Sugar: 0g
4Beef (4.76mg, 31.7% DV per 100g)
Beef (and red meat in general) is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available; full of beneficial nutrients, the zinc content is no exception.
Beef provides 4.76mg zinc per 100g (6).
Per 6 oz steak
Zinc: 8.09mg Carbohydrate: 0g Sugar: 0g
5Crab (7.62mg, 50.8% DV per 100g)
Another crustacean, and another huge contributor of zinc.
Crab provides a whopping 7.62mg zinc per 100g (7).
Crab is extremely rich in protein and contains little fat and almost no carbohydrate. It’s a good idea to use a bit of butter to increase the amount of fat (and the taste).
Crabs and Cholesterol
If you don’t include crustaceans such as crab in your diet, then you may want to start.
Avoided for decades due to the misguided war on cholesterol, more and more people are now losing their fear of crustaceans.
You should know that dietary cholesterol and plasma (in the blood) cholesterol are very different things.
As of 2015, the USDA “no longer class cholesterol as a nutrient of concern for overconsumption” (8).
Per 1 crab leg
Zinc: 10.21mg Carbohydrate: 0g Sugar: 0g
6Cashew Nuts (5.78mg, 38.5% DV per 100g)
The first non-animal food in this list, cashews, are rich in several nutrients.
Cashew nuts provide large amounts of copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese among others.
The amount of zinc is also nothing to sneeze at; 5.78mg per 100g (9).
Although they are the biggest source of carbohydrate among nuts, they are still full of health benefits.
The fact that they are the most zinc and iron-rich nut is just one of their advantages.
Per 1 oz serving
Zinc: 8.09mg Carbohydrate: 8.56g Sugar: 1.64g
7Chicken (1.92mg, 12.8% DV per 100g)
Not quite matching up to the zinc levels seen in red meat, chicken is still a decent provider of the mineral.
Chicken provides an approximate 1.92mg zinc per 100g (10).
Per 6 oz serving
Zinc: 3.1mg Carbohydrate: 0g Sugar: 0g
8Mushrooms (1.33mg, 8.9% DV per 100g)
Mushrooms were believed to have medicinal powers by many of the world’s ancient tribes.
In recent years, many studies (especially from China, Japan, and Korea) are coming out on the health benefits and practical applications. More on that in a minute.
Mushrooms provide 1.33mg zinc per 100g (11).
There are many mushroom varieties, but Shiitake mushrooms are one of the best sources and in my book, they are also the tastiest.
Tip: don’t buy shiitake mushrooms from a health store – go to an Asian market (or one that specifically specializes in Chinese, Japanese or Korean food). The price will be a lot lower.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Mushrooms are cheap and incredibly healthy, so I firmly believe they should be part of anyone’s diet.
As mentioned earlier, there are many health benefits of mushrooms.
Here are just a few findings from recent studies:
- Daily consumption of shiitake mushrooms reduces C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) and improves immunity (12)
- Beta-glucans within mushrooms show impressive anticarcinogenic activity (13)
- Mushroom extracts have been shown to decrease cancer cell proliferation and reduce tumor size in clinical trials (14)
- A 2014 meta-analysis found that mushrooms may reduce breast cancer risk (15).
Something I forgot to mention; mushrooms taste great!
How does a low-carb mushroom cauliflower risotto sound? Check out this fantastic recipe from Diet Doctor.
Per cup serving
Zinc: 1.93mg Carbohydrate: 20.87g Sugar: 5.57g
9Pork Shoulder (4.84mg, 32.7% DV per 100g)
Animal foods tend to be the biggest dietary sources of zinc, and pork is no exception.
Whether you enjoy pork chop, a roast pork joint, bacon or even sausages; they are all rich in zinc.
Pork (shoulder) contains 4.84mg zinc per 100g (16).
Pork: Less Than 30-minute Meal Ideas
Here are five simple meal ideas for a tasty pork dinner:
Bacon and eggs with mushrooms, and a tomato cooked in butter.
Oven baked pork chops in a mushroom, butter, and garlic sauce. Serve with leafy greens.
Kimchi stew. Boil some kimchi in water, and add pork belly pieces to the pot for a spicy quick meal that tastes great.
Pork burgers: homemade burger patties made from ground pork, salt, pepper, mashed garlic, rosemary, and oregano. Serve with leafy greens in an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.
Pork platter: pieces of salami, prosciutto, mature cheese, and dark chocolate, with a glass of red wine (if desired!)
Per 6 oz pork chop
Zinc: 5.36mg Carbohydrate: 0g Sugar: 0g
10Eggs (1.29mg, 8.6% DV per 100g)
Possibly the most balanced food in the human diet, eggs are nature’s true multi-vitamin.
Eggs contain a complete source of protein, healthy fats, and a wide range of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Eggs contain 1.29mg zinc per 100g (17).
The great thing about eggs is just how versatile they are.
How about trying them for breakfast for one week using a different recipe every day?
Monday: Soft-boiled eggs, to be eaten using an egg cup and spoon.
Tuesday: Fried eggs – with some bacon of course.
Wednesday: Poached eggs alongside some smoked salmon and an avocado.
Thursday: Steamed eggs – break your eggs into a bowl; add some chopped chives, onions, a touch of heavy cream, salt, and pepper, and then steam over hot water until cooked.
Friday: Cheese, leek, and onion omelet.
Saturday: Crustless egg and bacon quiche.
Sunday: Soft-boiled eggs, cut into pieces and mixed into guacamole.
Zinc: 0.65mg Carbohydrate: 0g Sugar: 0g
It’s true that zinc deficiency is more widespread than desirable, but luckily we have lots of delicious food at our disposal to rectify that situation.
For those of you who are eating real food based meals, it’s highly likely you are getting enough zinc already.
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