One of the critical nutrients all babies need is zinc. Luckily, many of the foods that contain zinc, also contain iron, so if you focus on iron-containing foods, your baby should get all the zinc that they need.
What does zinc do?
Zinc supports healthy growth and development during pregnancy, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. It’s also involved in the sense of taste. It is used by the immune system to help fight off bacteria and viruses. It’s also crucial for wound healing. Our bodies also use zinc to make proteins and DNA.
Some studies have suggested that zinc can help speed up recovery from the common cold, however more research is needed to determine the best dose and form of zinc.
Where can you get zinc?
Zinc can be found in a lot of different foods. The richest food sources include meat, fish, and seafood. Eggs, dairy products, beans, nuts, and whole grains also contain zinc. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc and breakfast cereals make up a major source of zinc in the US diet.
Zinc for Vegetarians
Beans, nuts, and whole grains contain zinc, however the zinc from these foods is not as well absorbed as from animal foods. These plant foods contain phytates, the storage form of phosphorus, that bind with minerals like zinc that inhibits absorption.
There are ways to help reduce the binding of zinc with phytates. You can soak beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours prior to cooking. Also, organic acids in fermented foods may help increase absorption. You can also speak to your doctor about whether or not a supplement is appropriate for you or your child.
I generally do not recommend closely monitoring zinc intake. My goal is to decrease stress and trying to estimate your child’s intake of anything will undoubtedly increase yours. However, I know it can be helpful to have ballpark ranges. You can use this information to look at food labels and determine if a food is a good zinc source.
|Age||Recommended Intake in the US|
|0-6 months||2 mg|
|7-12 months||3 mg|
|1-3 years||3 mg|
|4-8 years||5 mg|
Recommended intakes vary by country. Information based on RDA/AI for the United States (1)
What if you don’t get enough zinc?
Zinc deficiency is rare in the US. Those at highest risk for a deficiency include people with gastrointestinal disorders, vegetarians, vegans, pregnant people, breastfeeding older infants who do not start solids, and children with sickle cell disease.
Many of the signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency can be caused by other problems, so if you or your child are experiencing any of this symptoms, it’s important to see a health professional.
Signs of Zinc Deficiency
- slow growth in infants and children
- delayed sexual development in adolescents
- impotence in men
- hair loss
- eye and skin sores
- loss of appetite
- problems with wound healing
- decreased ability to taste food
- lower alertness levels
Can you get too much zinc?
Yes. Too much zinc can lead to nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. If you take excessive zinc for a long time, it can lead to low copper levels, lower immunity, and lower HDL levels. Many times excessive zinc intake occurs with supplementation.
Zinc Foods for Baby
- Breakfast cereals (fortified)
- Greek yogurt
- Pumpkin Seeds
If you are feeling overwhelmed with starting solids, definitely check out my Starting Solids Course! It’s designed to give you everything you need to know to introduce solids safely and confidently. If you’re just looking for a simple list of foods to offer your baby, check out my Nutrients of Concern Guide. It focuses on the main nutrients we worry about with young kids.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.