Foods High in Zinc for Vegans and Vegetarians

Zinc is an essential mineral that plays an important role in many processes throughout your body. It keeps your immune system healthy, aids in wound-healing, and helps keep your senses of smell and taste sharp. The mineral is especially vital during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood for proper growth and development. 

The best sources of zinc are meat and dairy. This means if you’re a vegetarian and don’t eat meat, or vegan and don’t eat any animal products, you may not be getting enough zinc in your diet.

A majority of multivitamins contain zinc; you can also take a zinc supplement. But there are several plant sources of zinc, too, which help vegans and vegetarians meet their recommended daily intake. It’s important to note, though, that some of these plant foods contain phytates, which may bind to zinc, preventing proper absorption.

Getting enough zinc as a vegan or vegetarian helps your body fight off bacteria and viruses, heal from injuries, and more. 

Why You Need Zinc

Your body doesn’t store zinc, so you need to get enough every day to avoid a deficiency. While rare in the U.S., symptoms of a zinc deficiency include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Poor immune function
  • Delayed healing
  • Hair loss
  • Difficulty tasting properly

Children, teens, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with conditions such as digestive disorders or sickle cell disease, and those who eat a plant-based diet are most at risk for zinc deficiencies.

The amount of zinc you need varies based on factors such as age and sex. On average, adult women need 8 milligrams (mg) of zinc daily, and adult men need 11 mg a day. Women who are pregnant require at least 11 mg daily, and those who are breastfeeding should aim for 12 mg daily. 

Zinc plays many important roles in your overall health. It’s necessary for:

Immune Health

Zinc is an essential mineral for your immune system. Too little zinc may increase your risk of developing a cold, pneumonia, or infection. Zinc helps activate T-cells, which control and regulate your immune response and attack and destroy infected cells. 

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Wound Healing

Your skin holds about 5% of your body’s total zinc content. The mineral plays a role in cell growth, collagen formation, and inflammatory responses, making it essential for proper wound healing. 

Reduced Inflammation

Oxidative stress, which occurs as a result of free radicals in the body, contributes to increased inflammation in the body. This raises your risk of developing chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. Zinc can help decrease oxidative stress and reduce inflammation in the body. 

Reduced Risk of Certain Age-Related Diseases

Zinc may reduce your risk of developing certain age-related conditions like pneumonia and age-related macular degeneration. Studies show that zinc, combined with antioxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E, can help decrease vision loss

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Foods with Zinc

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you might have a greater risk of a zinc deficiency. But there are plenty of plant foods to help you meet your daily requirements. These five plant foods are good sources of zinc:

  1. Legumes
    Legumes—including lentils, beans, and chickpeas—are high in protein and important vitamins and minerals like zinc. A half-cup of chickpeas has 1.3 mg of zinc, and a half-cup of kidney beans has 0.9 mg. Keep in mind that they do contain phytates, which can affect the absorption of zinc. Cooking, sprouting, or fermenting legumes can help reduce phytates, making it easier for your body to absorb the mineral. 
  2. Nuts
    Nuts are full of protein, heart-healthy fats, fiber, and other essential vitamins and minerals. They can provide varying amounts of zinc, too. For instance, a 1-ounce serving of cashews has 1.6 mg, while the same amount of dry-roasted almonds has 0.9 mg.
  3. Seeds
    Seeds are another excellent source of zinc. An ounce of pumpkin seeds contains 2.2 mg. Sesame seeds have 0.6 mg per tablespoon, and a 3-tablespoon serving of hemp seeds has almost 3 mg. 
  4. Oats
    Oats provide many important vitamins and minerals, and they’re linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and other health issues. A half-cup of oats provides 1.5 mg of zinc. Like legumes, oats (and other whole grains) contain phytates, which can affect how well your body absorbs the mineral. 
  5. Tofu
    Made from soybeans, tofu is an excellent source of protein, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and zinc. A 4-ounce serving has 1.8 mg of zinc. Since it absorbs flavors well, many vegans and vegetarians use tofu to replace meat in various types of recipes.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 22, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institutes of Health: “Zinc: Fact Sheet for Consumers.”

The Journal of Nutrition: “Dietary Factors Influencing Zinc Absorption.” 

National Institutes of Health: “Zinc: Fact Sheet for Professionals.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

European Journal of Immunology: “Zinc signals promote IL-2-dependent proliferation of T cells.”

Nutrients: “Zinc in Wound Healing Modulation.”

Nature Medicine: “Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span.”

Nutrients: “Zinc in Infection and Inflammation.”

JAMA: “Lutein + Zeaxanthin and Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Age-Related Macular Degeneration: The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Randomized Clinical Trial.”

FoodData Central: “Chickpeas, Canned, Drained.”

FoodData Central: “Red Kidney Beans, Canned, Drained.”

FoodData Central: “Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Whole, Dried.”

FoodData Central: “Seeds, Hemp Seed, Hulled.”

FoodData Central: “Oats, Raw.”

The Medical Journal of Australia: “Zinc and Vegetarian Diets.”

The World’s Healthiest Foods: “Tofu: What’s Beneficial About Tofu?”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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