Zinc, an essential mineral that’s used in every one of your cells, contributes to healthy immune response, blood clotting, metabolism and sensory organ function. Zinc is classified as a micronutrient because you don't need much daily for normal body functions. Vegetables generally don’t contain as much zinc as animal products, although they are often better sources than fruit. The highest vegetable sources of zinc are not commonly eaten as part of the standard American diet, although they can be found in most grocery stores. The amount of zinc and other minerals in vegetables and other sources is dependent on soil quality and can vary quite a bit.
Importance of Zinc
Your body needs zinc for building protein, triggering enzymes, enhancing immune cell function, copying DNA, stimulating the thyroid gland and allowing you to have a sense of smell and taste. The recommended daily amount of zinc for adults ranges between 8 and 13 milligrams, depending on age, gender, pregnancy and lactation. Zinc deficiencies are fairly rare in North America, but happen more commonly in people with extremely poor diets, anorexia and malabsorption problems. Symptoms of a zinc deficiency include stunted growth, reduced immune response, delayed healing, lack of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, hair loss, skin problems, impotence and poor sense of smell.
The vegetable with the most zinc by weight is Napa cabbage, also called Brassica rapa, Chinese cabbage or celery cabbage. One cup of cooked Napa cabbage contains a little more than 4 milligrams of zinc, which is about 30 percent of the RDA. Napa cabbage originated in China hundreds of years ago and is thought to be a cross between bok choi and turnip. It became popular in the United States in the 1970s and was initially cultivated in Napa Valley, California. Napa cabbage is an oblong vegetable with tightly clustered green leaves that taste sharp, spicy and slightly pungent, similar to mustard greens.
Other Vegetables High in Zinc
Other vegetable sources very high in zinc include balsam pear, taro shoots, bamboo shoots, amaranth leaves, palm hearts and okra. Better-than-average sources of zinc that are more familiar to most Americans include green peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, lima beans, zucchini, potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, spinach and Swiss chard. For comparison, 1 cup of raw green peas contains about 2 milligrams of zinc.
Related Vegetable Foods High in Zinc
Although not considered vegetables, roasted pumpkin and squash seeds are excellent vegetarian sources of zinc. On average, 1 cup of roasted pumpkin or squash seeds contains about 6.7 milligrams of zinc, which is more than 50 percent of the RDA. Peanuts and many other nuts and seeds are also good sources of zinc.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero, et al.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.