Zinc isn’t the best-known dietary mineral, but it’s necessary for a variety of essential processes in the body, including proper immune function, cell growth, wound healing, and insulin activity. And because it plays a crucial role in prostate health, testosterone production, and sexual function, zinc is especially important for men.
Several factors influence how well your body absorbs zinc. Phytate, a compound found in grains and legumes, inhibits the absorption of zinc and other minerals, including calcium. Soaking dried beans and grains before cooking them dramatically reduces phytate and makes minerals more absorbable.
Iron supplements can also block zinc absorption (but iron in foods doesn’t seem to have the same effect). And while protein enhances the body’s uptake of zinc, the type of protein is important. For instance, casein—a protein found in dairy products—seems to inhibit zinc absorption.
To make sure you’re getting plenty of zinc, soak beans and grains before cooking to inactivate phytate, eat protein from varied sources, and include a variety of high-zinc foods in your daily diet. Some of the best: