Zinc is the second to only iron as the most abundant mineral in the human body, and most big sources are meat and dairy-based. Learn about the many plant-based sources of Zinc in our guide below to ensure you're getting enough of this essential mineral on a vegan diet.
What is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential mineral that the human body uses to create over 300 helpful enzymes - our body contains more Zinc than any other metal besides iron.
What does Zinc do for the body?
Some of the most significant zinc health benefits are stronger immune function and better wound healing; plus, our bodies use Zinc enzymes in hundreds of functions.
Take a deeper look at what Zinc does inside your body:
- Helps metabolize macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbs), turning them into useful fuel.
- Creates enzymes that aid immune system function.
- Helps create healthy red blood cells, bringing oxygen through our blood to every body part and tissue.
- Helps body cells to divide properly, which is always necessary but especially vital for growing children.
- Aids wound healing through good cellular reproduction and regeneration.
- Along with other nutrients, Zinc fights oxidation, which damages our bodies' cells.
- Helps produce essential hormones for both men and women; especially testosterone.
RDI: How much Zinc per day?
The recommended daily zinc intake differs based on your gender. Zinc is vital to balance hormone production, but more so in men than women, as testosterone is the primary hormone it affects.
Adult males should consume 11 mg each day, while adult women need only 8 mg per day.
Health professionals make this recommendation for people who eat an omnivorous diet. The numbers change slightly for vegans, as some vegetarian zinc sources do not absorb as well into our bodies.
Vegetarians and vegans should consume as much as 50% more than the typical RDI by eating high-zinc vegan foods to bring them to 15-16 mg/day for males and 12 mg for females.
Are vegans low in Zinc?
What foods contain Zinc?
Some of the main foods that contain Zinc are animal-based, namely meat and dairy. Generally, vegetarians end up with a lower zinc intake and zinc blood levels than omnivores, but not by much - only 0.88 mg, on average.
Between omnivores and vegans alike, zinc deficiencies are rare. Still, they do happen, especially in the 60+ population - experts estimate that as many as 25% of adults over 60 may not be consuming enough Zinc.
For anyone, but especially for vegans, it's essential to regularly get your blood tested to see if there are any nutrient or mineral gaps in your current diet. Keep an eye and ensure you're getting some ample plant-based zinc for vegans every day to keep your body running like a well-oiled, vegan machine.
Signs of a vegan Zinc Deficiency
Anyone with a zinc deficiency may see multiple issues come up within their bodies, making this deficiency hard to diagnose. If you notice any of these zinc deficiency symptoms, head to your doctor, who can perform a few simple tests and narrow down a proper diagnosis.
Zinc deficiency symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive hair loss
- Dermatitis and other skin irritations, especially in the mouth area
- Weakened immune system
- Weight loss
- Inability to heal wounds well
- Arrested and slowed puberty in adolescents
Children, teens, and pregnant women are most at risk for developing zinc deficiencies.
Vegan sources of Zinc
Finding Zinc in vegan diet sources isn't difficult, as many vegans already include many of these options in their meals.
Some of the best good sources of Zinc are plant-based; take a look at the Zinc offered in just one serving of the following:
- Buckwheat, dry, 4.31mg
- Hemp seeds, 3.69mg
- Oatmeal, dry 2.98mg
- Pumpkin seeds, 2.73mg
- Chickpeas, 2.65 mg
- Lentils, 2.66mg
- Sesame seeds, 2.56mg
- Tofu, firm or extra firm, 2.21mg
- Quinoa, cooked, 2.13mg
- Peas, 2.01mg
- Chia seeds, 1.98mg
- Cashews, 1.91mg
- Kidney beans 1.87mg
- Sunflower seeds, hulled, 1.78mg
- Pinto beans, 1.77mg
- Edamame, 1.73mg
- Black beans, 1.49mg
- Brazil nuts, 1.44mg
- Brown rice, cooked, 1.3mg
- Pine nuts 1.28mg
- Flaxseeds, ground, 1.23mg
- Peanuts, 1.21mg
- Whole grain pasta, cooked, 1.2mg
- Wheat germ, 1.19mg
- Tempeh, 1.14mg
- Pecans, 1.14mg
- Almonds, 1.12mg
- Corn, cooked 1.1mg
- Soy milk, 1.01mg
- Whole grain bread, 0.59mg
- Miso paste, 0.45mg
- Broccoli, raw, 0.38mg
- Mushrooms, white, raw, 0.53mg
Most vegan foods high in Zinc are legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, and some wheat. A few veggies make the list, but their levels are all pretty negligible, except for corn. Your best bet to reach your recommended zinc levels is to combine several sources in most meals you eat.
There are also plenty of plant-based foods fortified with essential Zinc, including certain breakfast cereals, plant-based milk, and mock-meat protein substitutes. Read your labels carefully to see which options will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to Zinc.
If you realize your diet isn't coming close to meeting your daily zinc requirements, there are plenty of good-quality vegan supplements that can help you out, too. Check with your doctor to determine what dosage, if any, is best for you, as taking too much Zinc can be an issue as well.
Zinc gluconate supplements tend to have the highest rate of zinc absorption, along with zinc citrate. Zinc oxide and zinc picolinate may not absorb as readily, so they're not the best supplementation choice.
Phytic Acid & improving Zinc absorption rates
One crucial consideration that's different for vegans is your body's ability to absorb what it gets from vegan foods with Zinc. Natural, plant-based foods often contain phytates, which may inhibit how much Zinc your body absorbs.
To improve your body's ability to absorb plant sources of Zinc, try:
- Fermenting foods to minimize the phytates in your zinc-rich foods.
- Leavening or adding yeast to whole-grain bread.
- Soaking beans, grains, nuts, and seeds before cooking and consumption to release phytic acids.
- Sprout grains and legumes before you consume them.
- Heating and cooking legumes and whole grains before eating.
- Toasting seeds and nuts to increase zinc absorption.
- Avoid taking an iron supplement with meals containing natural sources of Zinc.
- Eat high levels of protein in zinc-heavy meals.
Final Notes: Consuming Too Much Zinc
It's pretty rare to consume too much Zinc from a vegan diet alone, but it can absolutely happen with improper supplementation.
The safe upper limit of Zinc to consume is 40 mg/day for adult men and women, so be sure to speak with your doctor before starting any supplementation routines.Zinc isn't the only essential mineral that vegans need to ensure they're consuming enough; read more about vegan calcium here!