Although we have a relatively small amount of zinc in our bodies, it plays a mighty role in helping our body function optimally!
It is a vital part of over 600 enzyme systems (important for chemical reactions in the body), used in the metabolism of our food, our immune system, for wound healing, healthy hair, skin and nails as well as normal growth and development at ALL ages. A deficiency can even impact our ability to taste things!
What are signs of zinc deficiency?
Serious zinc deficiency is rare, but can cause stunted growth in children and poor immune function (you get the sniffles a lot).
Moderate zinc deficiency can cause things like decreased appetite, decreased ability to taste and if you have wounds, poor healing.
How much zinc do we need in a day?
It is completely possible to meet these requirements through whole, plant foods!
Remember that the recommended max dose per day (40mg) is from food and supplements combined.
Plant sources of zinc
Fruit and veg
- Poor dietary source of zinc
- 1/2 cup wild rice, cooked, 1.2 mg
- 1 cup cooked oatmeal, 2.4 mg
- 1/2 cup kamut, cooked, 1.6 mg
- 1/2 cup quinoa, cooked, 1.1 mg
- 3/4 cup tempeh, cooked, 2.4 mg
- 3/4 cup lentils, cooked, 1.9 mg
- 3/4 cup peas (chickpeas), cooked, 1.1-1.9 mg
- 3/4 cup tofu with calcium sulfate, 1.2-1.7 mg
- 3/4 cup refried beans, 1.1 mg
- 3/4 cup baked beans, cooked, 4.3 mg
Nuts and Seeds
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, 2.7-4.4 mg
- 1.4 cup nuts (pine, peanuts, cashews, almonds), 1.1-2.2 mg
- 2 tbsp cashew butter, 1.7 mg
- 2 tbsp tahini, 1.4 mg
- 1 cup plant based milk, 1.0 mg
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast, ~2.2 mg
A word about absorption of zinc from plants
Although there are no different recommended intakes of zinc for those following a plant based diet, requirements can be up to 50% higher for those eating a very high phytate diet (grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds).
Remember, phytates are not something to fear or restrict in the diet — read more about them here.
Improving zinc intake and absorption
- Include a variety of zinc rich foods throughout the day
- Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and nut/seed butters, whole grains and dairy alternatives!
- If possible, soak whole grains, lentils, beans and nuts before cooking (at least a few hours but preferably overnight)!
- Examples of whole grains: Quinoa (gluten-free), Teff (gluten-free), Amaranth (gluten-free), Barley, Brown Rice (gluten-free), Buckwheat (gluten-free), Farro, Spelt Berries, Sorghum, Steel-Cut Oats (gluten-free)
- Cooking does reduce the phytate (AKA phytic acid) content some, but to get rid of a majority of it, try soaking whole grains and seeds overnight too help improve absorption of zinc (and other minerals)!
- Other methods of preparation that reduce phytate content — fermenting (tempeh, miso or natto), sprouting (grains, beans or seeds) and blending.
- If you are supplementing with calcium, copper, iron or magnesium, do not take at the same time as a zinc rich food/meal — these minerals compete for absorption.
- 1 cup tofu, scrambled, with turmeric, chilli, paprika (~2mg)
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (sprinkled on top) (~2.2 mg)
- 3/4 cup refried beans (~1.1 mg)
- Sauteed kale with spices (salt, pepper)
- 1 slice whole grain bread
- 1 cup fortified nut milk (~1.0 mg)
- Total zinc = ~6.3 mg
- 1/2 cup brown rice (~1.2 mg)
- 2 cups stir-fry’d veg (broccoli, caluiflower kale)
- 1/2 cup smoked tofu (~1.2 mg)
- Total zinc = ~2.4 mg
- Lentil stuffed bell pepper
- Total zinc = ~1.9 mg
- 3/4-1 cup plant based yogurt (~1.0 mg)
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (~3.5 mg)
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit
- Total zinc = ~4.5 mg
Total daily zinc = ~15.1 mg
- Food Sources of Zinc
- 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.