With cold and flu season upon us, now’s the time to make sure your immune system is in fighting form. Along with sleep and exercise, a healthy diet is key…and zinc-rich foods are key components to immune-boosting meals. Zinc deficiency is common among American adults, and vegetarians and those who are limiting red meat need to be especially vigilant about getting enough of the recommended 15 milligrams a day. Studies show that even mild zinc deficiency can increase your risk of infection; zinc is crucial for the development of white blood cells, which seek and destroy invaders like bacteria and viruses. Zinc helps speed the healing of wounds, maintains fertility, preserves vision and normal taste and smell, and helps maintain strong bones. And it’s important for maintaining energy levels; even slightly reduced zinc levels can leave you feeling depleted. A zinc-containing enzyme in red blood cells (carbonic anhydrase) helps cells pick up carbon dioxide in the body and deposit it in the lungs for exhaling. Muscles couldn't contract and produce energy without it.
High-zinc foods include oysters, lean red meat such as sirloin steak or lean ground beef, and dark-meat turkey like thighs and drumsticks. But vegetarians can get enough zinc, too, by eating lentils, black-eyed peas, tofu, wheat germ, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, and breakfast cereals. Eggs, yogurt, and milk contain zinc, as well. Zinc absorption can be increased by having a source of vitamin C with your meals, such as a glass of orange juice, some vegetables, or fruit.
Meat-eaters should look to lean cuts of, preferably, grass-fed, organic beef, lamb, or pork. And portion size is important so you don’t consume too much saturated fat. A three-ounce serving of lean beef—about the size of a bar of bath soap or a computer mouse—is all you need to eat to get about 30 percent of the daily recommended intake of zinc. Read on for a sampling of zinc-filled dishes for carnivores and vegetarians alike that come from the Rodale Recipe Finder.
#1: Yogurt with Fresh Fruit and Shredded Coconut and Wheat Germ. With two sources of zinc (yogurt and wheat germ), this is the perfect, quick, zinc-filled breakfast or snack. Pair it with some orange juice or slices to help your body absorb the zinc.
#2: Quick Oyster Stew. Most of us don't have oysters in our meal plans all that often, but if you don't have time to shuck your own, you can buy them in their liquor sans shells. This creamy, comforting stew is ready in 30 minutes and perfect for cool autumn evenings with some crusty bread and the salad of your choice.
#3: Beef Fajitas. A lime, cumin, and garlic marinade adds zest to this healthy, protein-packed option, for times when you’re craving Mexican food but want something more substantial than a drive-thru burrito.
#4: Breaded Turkey Thighs with Mustard. The Dijon mustard, fresh ginger, thyme, and cider vinegar marinade serves double-duty as a sauce when warmed and served with these broiled turkey thighs.
#5: Black-Eyed Pea and Vegetable Stew. This savory stovetop meal is rich in not only zinc, but offers protein and fiber, to boot. Experiment with different vegetable combos, using whatever you have on hand.
For more natural flu remedies, check out the Rodale Remedy Finder!