Copper is a naturally occurring element that’s essential for many bodily functions. It’s found in a wide range of food — there’s even trace amounts in drinking water — making it easy to get enough in your diet.
The mineral is necessary for energy production, maintaining your blood vessels, and supporting your immune system. Copper is also available as a supplement either on its own or included in multivitamins, though most people get enough through food.
Why You Need Copper
Our bodies cannot produce copper independently, so we need to get the mineral from foods in our diet. Copper requirements increase with age, but on average, adults should get 900 micrograms of the mineral every day.
Maintaining adequate copper levels in your diet helps support:
Your Immune System
Copper also supports your immune system as an antioxidant. In this role, the mineral binds with free radicals in our body, preventing them from harming our cells. Free radicals accumulate in our bodies in response to aging and lifestyle behaviors. Over time, high levels correlate with chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease.
Our bodies need copper to produce specific enzymes responsible for making the connective tissue in our ligaments, tendons, and heart. These enzymes are also involved with maintaining strong blood vessel structure and support bone formation.
Your brain has some of the highest levels of copper in your body. It uses the mineral for many neurological processes.
Research shows that copper helps carry oxygen to your brain and fights free radical cell damage. It’s also necessary for making enzymes that control nervous system functions. This activity includes regulating your stress response and dietary amines that break down food into energy.
Foods With Copper
Copper is found in a variety of foods suitable to any diet, making it easy to get your daily recommended amount. These eight foods are especially rich in the mineral.
1. Beef Liver
Beef liver contains the most amount of copper per serving of any food. Whether braised or fried, a 4-ounce serving contains 16,070 micrograms, more than 18 times your daily value. It’s such a rich copper source that sources advise eating it only once weekly to avoid possible toxicity symptoms. Chicken liver is a good alternative at 566 micrograms, 62% of your daily total.
Cooked oysters, like steamed or smoked dishes, have an exceptionally high amount of copper at 4,800 micrograms per 100-gram serving — though raw oysters contain just about half that amount. If you’re not an oyster lover, you can get much of your daily copper requirement from most seafood. For example, per 100-gram serving, cooked crab contains 663 micrograms and smoked salmon has 228 micrograms of copper.
As a high-protein vegetable, mushrooms are a great source of many essential nutrients, including copper. Raw shiitake mushrooms, native to East Asian cooking, come with 20% of your copper requirement per cup. However, when they're cooked, this content increases to 1,152 micrograms, 128% of your daily needs. Other varieties like oyster, portobello, or button mushrooms contain similar levels.
4. Cashew Nuts
A handful of cashew nuts can offer almost your entire copper serving for the day with 622 micrograms per ounce, about 18 nuts. You can eat cashews raw, add them to hot and cold dishes alike, or soak them overnight to use as a base for dairy-free spreads, cheeses, and dips.
5. Sunflower Seeds
Many seeds are high in copper, including sunflower seeds, with their impressive 519 micrograms per ounce. Some sunflower seed products have high amounts of added salt, however, so check labels and moderate your portions to reduce health risks associated with high-sodium diets.
A medium-sized baked potato contains about 610 micrograms of copper per serving, whether served baked, mashed, or fried. While bringing a bit less copper to the table, sweet potatoes are a nutrient-dense source of the mineral as well, at 120 micrograms for a similar-sized serving.
7. Dark Chocolate
Though you should moderate your sugar and calorie intake, treating yourself to a bar of dark chocolate can cover your whole day’s copper requirement.
When it comes to chocolate’s nutritional value, darker is better. Per 100-gram bar, 70-85% dark chocolate contains 1,766 micrograms of copper and 60-69% dark chocolate has 1,248 micrograms.
While it has considerably less, milk chocolate still has 491 micrograms for the same serving.
Tofu is a great source of protein and other nutrients — like calcium — often lacking in plant-based diets. With 398 micrograms of copper per 100-gram serving, it also adds about 44% of your daily copper recommendation.