Our bodies need zinc for many different functions. From wound healing to powering your immune system, the mineral is critical to our health and vital operating (even more so for women). However, most of the best sources of zinc are meat, dairy products or other non-vegan items.
Does this mean that getting the right amount of zinc is impossible for vegans? Not at all! There are many vegan zinc foods, including beans, nuts and seeds, and tofu, that can help you get your recommended dose of zinc per day intake while on a vegan diet.
If you’re wondering what’s the best vegan food you can have that is high in zinc, look no further: we’ve put together a brief guide on why you need to get enough zinc and selected for you the ten best zinc vegan foods!
Why Do You Need Zinc?
Zinc is an essential nutrient, required for numerous processes in your body and naturally found in a wide variety of both plant and animal foods.
The main problem with zinc is the fact that our bodies can’t naturally produce it, so we must obtain it through food or supplements.
The human body can’t store zinc, so we also need to get the correct daily zinc intake to avoid a possible deficiency. Symptoms of vegan zinc deficiency include appetite loss, hair loss, delayed healing, and poor immune function.
Dietary zinc is necessary for our overall health, and the human body uses it in countless ways.
- Immune function: The nutrient is an essential mineral for our immune system; a low zinc intake can increase the risk of developing infections, like cold or pneumonia, while the correct zinc intake can help activate the cells that control and regulate your immune response.
- Collagen formation: Zinc plays a role in cell growth, collagen formation, skin health, and inflammatory response, thus, is a critical player for proper wound healing.
- Reduces inflammation: Getting enough zinc can help decrease oxidative stress (which occurs as a result of free radicals in the body), and reduce inflammation in the body.
- Reduces risk of certain diseases: Zinc can help reduce the risk of certain age-related diseases like pneumonia and vision loss.
- Taste and smell: One of the enzymes crucial for proper taste and smell depends on zinc for its functioning, so a zinc deficiency can reduce your ability to smell and taste properly.
The 10 Best Sources of Zinc for Vegans and Vegetarians
Legumes are high in protein and contain important vitamins and minerals. They have a remarkable nutritional profile and are also a rich source of healthy fibers.
Chickpeas can provide up to 1.3 mg of zinc per half-cup, kidney beans can provide up to 0.9 mg of zinc per half-cup, and lentils can provide up to 3 mg of zinc per 1 cup. Black beans, pinto beans, and navy beans are also good zinc source options for vegans and vegetarians.
It’s important to keep in mind that legumes also contain phytic acid, which is an antioxidant found in all edible plant seeds that can hinder the absorption of zinc.
The increase in phytic acid isn’t usually a problem when the meat intake is high, but it can definitely impair the iron, calcium, and zinc absorption and increase the risk of mineral deficiencies in people who rely on legumes for their vegan diet.
Cooking, sprouting, and fermenting legumes can help reduce the amount of phytic acid in the legumes, making it easier for you to achieve a higher zinc status.
Soybeans are an amazing option when it comes to vegan zinc sources. They’re known as one of the better plant sources of protein, and they can also deliver a good dose of zinc. 1 cup of soybeans can provide half the daily amount of zinc required for an adult.
One of the most important food sources of zinc vegan is nuts. Nuts are full of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and other different vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium.
Nuts are also loaded with antioxidants, have strong anti-inflammatory properties, can help control your cholesterol, and can even help lower heart disease and stroke risk.
Different types of nuts can provide varying amounts of zinc: for example, cashews can provide up to 1.6 mg of zinc per 1-ounce serving, and almonds can provide up to 0.9 mg of zinc per 1-ounce serving.
Pecans can provide up to 5 mg of zinc per 100g, while brazil nuts can provide up to 4 mg of zinc per 100g.
The best thing about nuts is that they’re really easy to include in your plant-based diet: you can eat them as a snack, use them as a garnishing for your vegan yogurt, or add them to your favourite savory dishes.
When it comes to zinc-rich foods, we definitely can’t overlook seeds: pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds all have a high zinc status.
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of vegetarian protein, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, have proven anti-inflammatory properties and can be beneficial for heart health. Hemp seeds can provide up to 3 mg of zinc per 3-tablespoon serving.
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of phosphorus, monounsaturated fats, and omega-6 fats, and can provide up to 2.2 mg of zinc per ounce.
Sesame seeds may help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress and are also a great source of zinc for the body. They can provide up to 0.6 mg of zinc per tablespoon.
Sunflower seeds contain a high amount of protein, monounsaturated fats, and vitamin E, and can provide up to 5mg of zinc per 100 gr.
Chia seeds are packed with fiber and omega-3 fats, along with many other nutrients like vitamin B1, magnesium, and manganese. They can provide up to 5mg of zinc per 100 gr.
Seeds, much like nuts, are really easy to incorporate into your vegan diet: you can sprinkle them on top of oatmeal, cereal, and salads, or mix them into yogurt or smoothies.
Oats are among the best zinc vegan foods you can find; they contain different important vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, and they’re also linked to a reduced risk of heart diseased and other issues.
They’re rich in carbs and fiber, but also higher in protein and fat than most other grains. Oats can provide up to 1.5 mg of zinc per half-cup.
Keep in mind that, much like legumes, oats contain phytic acid, which can affect zinc absorption for a vegan/vegetarian.
One of the best vegan foods that are high in zinc is tofu, made from soybeans and an excellent source of proteins, magnesium, calcium, manganese, and phosphorous.
It’s also a good source of copper, vitamin B1, and of course zinc. Tofu can provide up to 1.8 mg of zinc per 4-ounce serving.
Keep in mind that tofu also contains phytic acid, which can affect zinc absorption when it comes to vegans and vegetarians. However, soaking or fermenting soybeans before making tofu reduces the amount of phytic acid in them.
6. Whole grains
We’ve already talked about oats, but it’s important to know that other whole grains rank really high in the list of the best vegan zinc foods too, and can help you with your daily zinc absorption.
Wheat, quinoa, and rice are all a good source of zinc, but you still have to keep in mind that they all contain more phytic acid than their refined version and that this can lower your zinc absorption.
However, whole grains are definitely better for your health, and are a good source of different nutrients like vitamin B, fiber, magnesium selenium, iron, and phosphorus.
As per general information, fruits and vegetables do not rank very high in the zinc status of foods. This can definitely be a bit of a problem for vegans and vegetarians.
However, there are some vegetables that contain a reasonable amount of dietary zinc, and thus can contribute to your daily zinc intake, especially if you don’t eat meat and dairy products.
Spinach can provide up to 0.8 mg of zinc per 100 gr, asparagus can provide up to 0.6 mg of zinc per 100 gr, beet greens and broccoli can both provide up to 0.5 mg of zinc per 100 gr, and okra can provide up to 0.4 mg of zinc per 100 gr.
Tahini is another good option among the different zinc-rich vegan foods: the paste, made from toasted sesame seeds, has a light, nutty flavour, and is full of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Tahini is an amazing source of phosphorus and manganese, is high in vitamin B1 and vitamin B6, and is also rich in anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats.
Consuming sesame seeds may help decrease your risks of certain diseases, such as type II diabetes and heart disease, and tahini also contains different compounds that are highly anti-inflammatory.
One tablespoon or 15 grams of tahini can provide up to 6% of the daily zinc intake; it’s an easy way to incorporate zinc when it comes to vegan diets/vegetarian diets.
9. Fortified cereals
Fortified cereals have also made it to our list of zinc-rich vegan foods. This is because zinc fortification can be an amazing strategy to enhance your zinc levels. Fortunately for us, there are a lot of breakfast cereal options available that are fortified with zinc, copper, vitamins, and calcium.
The best strategy is to check the label of the vegan fortified cereal you want to choose and just see for yourself how much is the zinc content in that particular product.
10. Vegan zinc supplements
If you’re worried about not getting enough zinc, either because of your plant foods-based dietary plans or because you just don’t enjoy any of the alternatives we mentioned before, choosing a vegan zinc supplement can really help you take care of your zinc levels and overall health. We would recommend women to especially take notes!
When it comes to choosing a zinc supplement, you’ll definitely notice that many different types of supplements can help you against zinc deficiency.
These are just a few of the best supplements that can help you get enough zinc on a daily basis. Check them out.
- Zinc gluconate: Zinc gluconate is one of the most common over-the-counter zinc sources, and it’s often used in cold remedies like nasal sprays.
- Zinc sulfate: Zinc sulfate, in addition to increasing the zinc absorption, has the added benefit of reducing acne.
- Zinc orotate: This is another really common type of supplement on the market, usually used to treat symptoms of zinc deficiency.
- Zinc acetate: Just like zinc gluconate, the Zinc Acetate supplement is often added to cold remedies to reduce symptoms and speed up the rate of recovery.
- Zinc citrate: Yet another supplement that can help you fight zinc deficiency, the zinc citrate also has the additional perk of tasting better and being better absorbed in the body (much like zinc gluconate).
- Zinc picolinate: some researches show how this supplement can help your body with zinc absorption, better than all the other types.
Keep in mind that, while all these supplements can help you with zinc deficiency, they can also lead to zinc poisoning and zinc overdose, so be careful!
How to spot a zinc overdose:
The most common signs and symptoms of zinc overdose are nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, flu-like symptoms, changes in your taste, copper deficiency, and frequent infections.
When it comes to supplements, remember that it’s always better to ask for medical advice than to opt for self-medication!
Now you have some excellent options to improve your daily absorption of zinc and fight the possibility of a zinc deficiency, it can be really easy to overlook the importance of this mineral, especially when it comes to new vegans and vegetarians. They might not be stocking up on their nutrients and may end up zinc deficient!
Here is a short recap:
Nuts and seeds are among the best sources of zinc: they’re really easy to incorporate into your plant-based diet, and you can definitely find an option you like.
Whole grains and tofu are staples for many vegan and vegetarian diets, and they can really help with your zinc levels.
Plant foods like vegetables aren’t among the foods that are rich in zinc, but some of them can still be a good way to up your zinc content without adding anything new to your diet.
If everything else fails, you can always opt for a zinc supplement!