Do you know any of the signs of zinc deficiency? I notice zinc deficiency in my clinic all of the time, and it’s not surprising seeing as zinc is used in over 300 different reactions in the body. 

It plays important roles in the body such as growth and development, immune function, neurotransmission, vision, reproduction, and intestinal ion transport. Zinc is also essential to mood, skin health, immunity and gut health. 

People most at risk of dietary zinc deficiency include pregnant women, vegetarians/vegans, and people with gastrointestinal diseases. However, as a practising nutritionist, I have found an increase in Zinc intake to have a wide range of health and well-being benefits for many of my clients. 

So what are some common markers of Zinc deficiency? And how can you increase your Zinc intake? Let’s dive in!

Foods High in Zinc

7 Clinical Clues of Zinc Deficiency

White spots on the fingernails 

One of the first clinical signs I check for zinc deficiency is white spots on the fingernails (See image for example). Check your nails right now!

Poor immune function

Zinc deficiency can be an underlying cause of frequent colds and flu and other immune challenges such as allergies. Zinc may also help inhibit the excessive release of histamine from mast cells, with a zinc deficiency likely to increase histamine production.

Issues with taste and smell (fussy eating)

Researchers have confirmed that people with zinc deficiency have reduced sensation of taste and smell, and they’ve found that supplementation improves taste recognition and sensation. This is why Zinc is so important when someone is a ‘fussy’ eater!

Mood and neurological disturbances

Zinc plays an important part in modulating the brain’s response to stress, in fact, the highest levels of zinc in the body are found in the hippocampus. Zinc is a cofactor for neurotransmitter function and helps protect our neurology by improving BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). It is no wonder that zinc deficiency is associated with mood changes ranging from depression, to rapidly changing thoughts, nervousness, and hyperactivity

Gut problems

Supplementation with zinc may help strengthen the intestinal lining to protect against ‘leaky gut’ and heal intestinal cells. Most gastrointestinal conditions benefit from zinc supplementation and often require higher levels because the intestinal absorption of zinc may be affected.

Skin complaints

It’s common knowledge that zinc is good for the skin and is important for wound healing. Low zinc levels might present with delayed wound healing or the appearance of stretch marks. More severe zinc deficiency may cause atopic dermatitis and a cracked, fissured appearance of the skin. Also, a little-known fact is that zinc modulates sebum production in the skin, so if your teenager suddenly gets problem skin, zinc deficiency may be playing a role here.

Thinning hair

Zinc is also an essential cofactor needed for healthy thyroid function. Poor zinc status and an underlying thyroid issue may cause hair thinning and even alopecia 

White spots on finger nails
Large red, inflamed, flaky rash on the elbows
Stressed young woman with hair loss problem at home

If you suspect you are Zinc deficient and are pregnant, breastfeeding, feeling dizzy or nauseous, or have persistent headaches  – contact your GP or healthcare provider.

Increasing Your Zinc Intake

The recommended dietary allowance of Zinc for adult men is 14 mg/day and 8 mg/day for adult women, though up to 40mg/day is considered safe for most adults. For those looking to increase their daily Zinc intake, whole foods are the best place to start.

Foods Rich in Zinc

Food Milligrams of zinc per 100g
Rock oysters 20.25
Lamb shank 10
Beef (steak) 8.2
Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) 7.5
Crab 6.4
Cheese (tasty) 3.55
Almonds 3.5
Oats (rolled, uncooked) 2.35
Lobster 2


Food Milligrams of zinc per 100g
Muesli 1.8
Chickpeas (canned) 1
Chicken breast 0.8
Cornflakes 0.7
Yoghurt 0.6
Baked beans 0.5
Cashews 0.5
Milk (regular) 0.35


It is important to remember that some dietary factors affect Zinc absorption. Phytates and fibre in whole grains and beans inhibit absorption which can make increasing Zinc intake more difficult for vegetarians and vegans. On the other hand, animal-based proteins have been shown to enhance Zinc absorption. In short, People who eat mainly grains and legumes need more zinc than people who regularly eat meat.

Zinc Supplements

Zinc supplements are widely available in chemists and supermarkets throughout Australia.

However, this doesn’t mean you should self-prescribe! Zinc supplements can:

  • Interact with some medications 
  • The form of zinc in the product may be a cheap and irritating form
  • The dose of zinc in the product may be negligible and therefore not be clinically effective to treat symptoms 

When using supplements, always work with a qualified Nutritionist such as myself to ensure the best results. As with all supplements, it’s important to seek high-quality ingredients from reputable suppliers.

Closeup shot of scattered zinc pills

In Summary

A healthy amount of Zinc in your diet has been linked to an improved immune system, faster wound healing, improved eye, gut, and skin health and a whole lot more. When our bodies are deficient in Zinc we may experience a range of symptoms that can be signals we need to up our intake. The best way to do this is through natural foods rich in Zinc, or in specific circumstances through supplements.

If you’d like more information or personalised support in lifting your zinc levels to reach your health and wellbeing goals then please get in touch.

Sonya Reynolds, nutritionist and wellness coach portrait

About Sonya 

Sonya Reynolds is a Sydney-based degree certified Nutritionist and Life Coach with over 16 years of experience. Sonya uses a holistic approach to help her clients achieve their health and wellbeing goals by combining natural nutrition and wellness coaching.

Sonya provides holistic online nutrition and coaching consultation to clients in Sydney and throughout Australia.