While it is fairly easy to get enough zinc on a vegan diet, many of the plant sources of zinc don’t absorb as well as animal sources. And at the same time, animal sources of zinc are a package deal – zinc is not the only nutrient you get from them. You also get cholesterol, fat and animal protein.
This is why you should stick to the vegan zinc sources you will learn about here, and utilize methods, described below, to make the zinc from plant foods more easily absorbable and available to your body.
Download the Plant-Based Zinc Summary
Download a PDF summary of the zinc recommendations for plant-based eaters. You will also find a list of vegan zinc rich foods. You can hang this summary on your fridge to remember this important nutrient!
What is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential trace mineral (meaning, you must get it from food, but only in very small amounts). It is used in the body for many different functions that involve immunity and wound healing, including healing infection, growth and speeding up reactions.
It is needed for more than 50 different enzymes, so a lot of physiological processes in the body depend on zinc.
However, it is difficult to measure zinc in the human body, so it’s possible that you could have a chronic minor deficiency that still has an impact on your health. Men should be particularly careful because zinc losses are high for them via skin, hair, and semen.
Vegan Sources of Zinc
The RDA for zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women, but vegans may need more because plant sources of zinc have a lower absorption rate. As such, some suggest that vegetarians and vegans could need 50 percent more zinc than omnivores. Because there is no side effect to consuming a little extra zinc, you can safely consume up to 16.5 mg for men and 12 mg for women to make up for this.
Great sources of zinc include legumes, and nuts and seeds. Examples include hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, tofu, lentils (red lentils being the healthiest), quinoa, chia seed, flax seeds, black beans (which are also packed with antioxidants), wholemeal bread, walnuts, red lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas.
You can get 1 mg of zinc from: 1 tablespoon nuts and seeds, ¼ to ½ cup cooked beans, 1 cup cooked grains, and 2 cups cooked leafy greens.
Vegan Sources of Zinc and Increasing Absorption
Since the bioavailability of zinc in plant foods is relatively low, it’s wise to use some strategies to increase it. Luckily, there are many easy and delicious ways to do so.
Sprouting legumes and grains helps increase zinc absorption, as well as eating fermented foods like tempeh and sourdough bread. In addition, soaking grains before cooking them also increases zinc absorption.
Lastly, allium-family foods help improve the bioavailability of zinc in whole grains and legumes – up to 50% more! Allium family foods include garlic, onions, green onion, shallots, leeks, chives, etc. Next time you cook whole grains and beans, be sure to cook them with some garlic and onion. Here’s a great example in this vegan lasagna recipe.
Vegan Sources of Zinc: A Note on Phytates
Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorus and is considered an “anti-nutrient” because it binds to minerals and makes them less available to the body.
Phytic acid is found in nuts, seeds, legumes and grains in various amounts, depending on where they are grown, the quality of soil, and more. The most concentrated source is in whole grains and beans.
Phytates are essential to plants because they provide them with an energy source for sprouting. When seeds sprout, the phytase enzymes break down the phytates.
Interestingly, the amount of vitamin D you have in your body regulates how much phytate remains after most of it is broken down in the stomach and small intestines. The more vitamin D you have, the more phytate remains.
The biggest issue with phytic acid is that it can bind to minerals in the gut before they’re absorbed. This is why vegans need to eat more of certain nutrients, such as zinc, manganese, and iron.
This certainly doesn’t mean you should avoid foods with phytic acid. Experts claim that phytic acid in whole grains and legumes is responsible for their protective benefits against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Phytic acid is also an antioxidant and helps remove heavy metals from the body.
Some ways to overcome phytic acid’s quality as an anti-nutrient are heating foods, soaking beans and grains, fermenting foods (which can also boost zinc and other minerals, as mentioned above), sprouting, eating phytic-acid rich plants with a dose of around 50 mg of vitamin C (less than half a cup of raw bell pepper, for example), and having enough beneficial bacteria in the gut (an easy way to do this is by making your own sauerkraut).
All that being said, recent studies are showing that the anti-nutrient effect of phytic acid only occurs when large amounts of it are consumed in combination with a nutrient-poor diet.
Vegan Blood Test
To check your levels of zinc, along with many other important nutrients, you can purchase a blood test online!
Get more info on the blood test here: https://www.healthlabs.com/vegan-testing
And get 25% OFF your test by calling 1 (800) 579-3914 and mentioning “Soul in the Raw”.
Get All Your Nutrients Easily
Download the 1-month plant-based meal plan, batch cooking guide and grocery list to easily fulfill every single nutrient without worry or wasting too much time on planning yourself: it’s all done for you!
What is one new strategy you learned for incorporating more zinc that you will start using asap?
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