Your body needs zinc for your thyroid gland and immune system to work properly. Zinc may also help prevent cancer and heart disease by acting as an antioxidant that inhibits free radical compounds from damaging DNA and cellular tissue. Women require about 8 milligrams of zinc per day, while children between 4 and 18 years old need from 5 to 11 milligrams daily, depending on their age and gender. It's relatively easy to get adequate zinc from a balanced diet, says the University of Maryland Medical Center, especially from zinc-rich foods like meat, poultry, cheese and shellfish. Plant-based foods have lower levels of zinc, but some vegetables are good sources of the mineral. Certain fruits also provide zinc, but at a lower concentration.
1. Beans and Legumes
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database, white beans have the highest concentration of zinc per serving of any vegetable, with each cooked cup of the beans providing 2.9 milligrams of zinc. For a woman, this supplies 36 percent of her daily zinc requirement. Other zinc-rich beans and legumes include lentils and garbanzo beans, each with 2.5 milligrams of zinc in every cooked cup, and black-eyed peas, which provide 2.4 milligrams per cup. To increase the amount of zinc you absorb from dried beans and legumes, the group Vegetarian Nutrition suggests discarding the liquid you use to soak dried beans before cooking.
All mushrooms are a source of zinc, but shiitake mushrooms have the highest concentration. Each cup of cooked shiitake mushrooms contains 1.9 milligrams of zinc, fulfilling nearly 24 percent of an adult woman's daily zinc requirement. Cooked white mushrooms have 1.3 milligrams of zinc per cup, and canned mushrooms provide 1.12 milligrams in every 1-cup serving. You can maximize the amount of zinc you obtain from mushrooms by eating them with a rich source of protein. Add them to milk-based sauces or use them in stir-fries containing meat, poultry, seafood or tofu.
Freshly cooked spinach contains 1.37 milligrams of zinc in every cup, or about 17 percent of a woman's requirement of zinc per day. Frozen cooked spinach contains slightly less zinc in every serving -- 0.93 milligram per cup. Because of its lighter weight per cup, raw spinach is not a significant source of zinc. For a low-fat meal high in bioavailable zinc, use cooked beans such as cooked navy beans in a quick sauté along with chopped spinach leaves. Or add several handfuls of baby spinach leaves to bean soup or meat-based stews.
Compared to other fruits, blackberries contain the highest amount of zinc per serving, with each raw cup of the berries providing 0.76 milligram of zinc -- about 9.5 percent of a woman's requirement. Canned mandarin oranges have 0.60 milligram of zinc per cup, and a 1-cup serving of raw raspberries provides 0.52 milligram. The Linus Pauling Institute reports that a high intake of calcium from dairy products like milk or yogurt may lower your body's ability to absorb zinc, though more research is needed. If you're concerned about your zinc intake and don't consume much meat, avoid mixing fruit into your morning yogurt or cereal and don't take a calcium supplement at the same time as you're eating fruit rich in zinc.
5. Other Vegetables
A variety of other vegetables can provide a woman with between 9 and 14 percent of her daily zinc needs. Some of these include 1 cup of canned green peas, 1 cup of cooked yellow corn kernels, 1 cup of cooked okra and 1 cup of cooked asparagus.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Zinc
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25: Zinc, Zn (mg) Content of Selected Foods per Common Measure, Sorted by Nutrient Content
- Vegetarian Nutrition: Zinc in Vegetarian Diets
- The Vegan R.D.: Getting Enough Zinc on Vegan Diets
- Linus Pauling Institute: Zinc
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