ZINC » a vegan's guide, simplified

Zinc in brief

The essential mineral, zinc, has about 100 enzymes depend on it to promote biochemical reactions in the body.

Zinc serves to:

+ supports immunity

+ promotes wound healing

+ helps preserve sense of taste and smell

+ promotes DNA synthesis

+ supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence

Zinc recommendations

Food sources are always recommended first, as opposed to supplements.

It is absolutely possible to obtain all zinc needs solely from food, at the exclusion of any animal products.

  • Women >19 years: 8 mg/day (pregnant women require 11 mg/day)

  • Men > 19 years: 11 mg/day

  • Maximum: stay below 40 mg/day from food + supplement combined.

plant-based zinc sources

The following are sources of zinc in plant-based foods:

Fruits & vegetables:

  • This food group contains very little of this nutrient

Grain products:

[always check the label]

  • 2 Tbsp (30 g) wheat germ: 2.4 mg

  • 3/4 cup (30 g) bran cereal: 1.7 - 1.9 mg

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) wild rice, cooked: 1.2 mg

Dairy alternatives:

[always check the label]

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) plant-based yogurt: 0.7 - 1.0mg

  • 1 cup (250 mL) plant-based milk: 1.0 mg

Plant-based proteins:

[always check the label]

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) pumpkin or squash seeds, kernels: 2.7 - 4.4 mg

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) baked beans, cooked: 4.3 mg

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) tempeh, cooked: 2.4 mg

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) pine nuts, peanuts, cashews, almonds: 1.1 - 2.2 mg

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) lentils, cooked: 1.9 mg

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) chickpeas, black-eyed beans, split beans, cooked: 1.1 - 1.9 mg

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) sunflower seeds: 0.6 - 1.8 mg

  • 2 tbsp (30 g) cashew butter: 1.7 mg

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) tofu*: 1.2 - 1.7 mg

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) soy nuts: 1.4 mg

  • 2 tbsp (30 g) tahini: 1.4 mg

  • 1 patty (70 g) soyburger: 1.3 mg

*prepared with magnesium chloride or calcium sulphate

Is zinc a concern?

For vegans, zinc deficiency can be concern if attention is not given. There are a few reasons for this:

1) Supplements + competition: zinc competes with calcium, copper, iron, and magnesium for absorption. This is only a concern if individuals are taking mega-doses of one of those minerals, such as in supplements. If you use a single-mineral supplement (example: calcium-only supplement), this can inhibit the absorption of the other minerals, such as zinc.

Tip: if you take a mineral supplement do so between meals, if possible, to distance it from when zinc-containing foods are eaten. This will help to ensure more zinc is absorbed.

2) Phytates: zinc, in certain food sources, can be bound to phosphorus in compounds called phytates, rendering it unavailable for absorption.

Tip: to increase availability of zinc when bound to these compounds, simply soak, sprout, ferment or blend

(more on this below).

3) Absorption rate (bioavailability): zinc is more readily absorbed when derived from diets high in animal protein compared to plant-based diets. Therefore, vegetarians/vegans are more likely to become deficient if zinc-rich food sources are unknown, or if these foods are not sufficiently included.

Tip: review the plant-based zinc sources above to ensure adequate intake.

Fun fact: if the body is short of zinc, its ability to absorb this mineral becomes more efficient & body losses are reduced (1).

How to increase Zinc absorption

+ Soak

+ Sprout

+ Ferment

+ Blend

Soaking, sprouting, fermenting and/or blending plant foods significantly increases the bioavailability of zinc (the capacity of absorption by the intestine). This is not only true for the absorption of zinc but also for calcium, iron, and magnesium! These traditional food practices possess more benefits such as removing gas-causing compounds for easier digestion, promoting enzyme production, and reducing anti-nutritional enzyme inhibitors.

To learn more about the many benefits of soaking your nuts, seeds, and grains, read this PUL article!

Get started!

Don’t know where to get started?

+ Try this Macaroni & “Cheese” recipe by Ellazondo Nutrition, which calls for soaked cashews.

+ Try this Stuffed Bell Pepper recipe by PUL, which calls for tofu and lentils.

Bottom Line

  • Zinc can be adequately obtained: on a well-planned vegan diet, without the need for supplements.

  • Include more zinc-rich sources: such as tempeh, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, nuts and seed butters and plant-based dairy alternatives.

  • When possible, try to soak: your beans, lentils, nuts and grains to increase zinc absorption. Sprouting, fermenting, blending and juicing are other methods that help to increase zinc absorption.

Additional Reference

(1) Davis, Brenda, and Vesanto Melina. "Becoming Vegan: the Complete Reference on Plant-Based Nutrition." Becoming Vegan: the Complete Reference on Plant-Based Nutrition, Book Publishing Company, 2014, pp. 431-437.

Psst: » Find this book in our shop! Choose between the comprehensive edition or the express edition.

Hungry for more?

Read this previous nutrition article called COFFEE » the strengths & weaknesses for your health

❤ Written by: Gabriella Elizondo, MS, RD, LD of EllazondoNutrition, & Sadia

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