If you follow a plant-based diet, there are several vitamins and minerals you need to make sure you’re getting enough of. These include calcium and iron as well as another mineral you might be less familiar with: zinc. Zinc helps your body metabolize the foods you eat. It also strengthens your immune system and helps heal wounds.
Research has found that intake of zinc can be lower in people who follow plant-based diets, especially when little to no animal foods are eaten. At the same time, the daily requirement for zinc can be significantly higher. This is because zinc from plant-based foods is often bound by substances called phytates which make the zinc harder for your body to absorb. These are two good reasons to give some thought to this mineral.
How Much Zinc Do I Need?
This table gives the standard requirements for zinc for different age groups. Some research suggests that requirements for those following a plant-based diet may be as much as 50% higher. Because of this, you may want to take these numbers as a baseline and aim for half again as much. Just make sure not to exceed 40 mg per day from food or supplements, as this is the maximum safe limit for adults.
|Group||Zinc Requirement (mg)|
What Are Some Good Sources of Zinc?
If you choose to include seafood, dairy, and/or meat in your diet, these foods will supply some of your daily zinc. The rest will come from plant foods such as the following:
|Food||Amount||Zinc (mg) (approximate)|
|Wheat germ||2 tbsp||2.4|
|Bran cereal||1/2 cup||1.7|
|Wild rice||1/2 cup cooked||1.2|
|Baked beans||3/4 cup||4.3|
|Nuts (e.g. pine nuts, peanuts, cashews, almonds)||1/4 cup||1.7|
|Pumpkin seeds||1/4 cup||2.7|
As mentioned above, legumes and grains are good sources of zinc, but they also contain phytates which make it harder to absorb. You can decrease the amount of phytates in these foods by doing the following:
- Soaking dried legumes before cooking and discarding the soaking water.
- Sprouting at least some of the legumes and grains you eat.
- Choosing whole grain products that have been leavened (such as bread or rolls) more often than unleavened products (such as tortillas or flatbread).
- Eating some fermented soy products such as tempeh or miso.
Putting It All Together
With a bit of careful planning, it’s not hard to meet your zinc requirements on a plant-based diet. You might have bran cereal for breakfast, a tempeh and roasted vegetable sandwich for lunch, a handful of roasted nuts as a snack, and a lentil stew on rice for dinner.
Do you have any other ideas for nourishing zinc-rich meals? Let us know in the comments!
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- Dietitians of Canada. (2017). Food Sources of Zinc. Retrieved from: https://www.dietitians.ca/getattachment/e7b8fc00-09ad-4d4e-860a-eb9722f21adf/FACTSHEET-Food-Sources-of-Zinc.pdf.aspx
- American Dietetic Association. (2003). Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 103(6), 748-765. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12778049
- Institute of Medicine. (2006). Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/read/11537/chapter/1
- Government of Canada. (2018). Canada Nutrient File. Retrieved from https://food-nutrition.canada.ca/cnf-fce/index-eng.jsp
- Garcia-Mantrana, I., Monedero, V., & Haros, M. (2015). Reduction of Phytate in Soy Drink by Fermentation with Lactobacillus casei Expressing Phytases from Bifidobacteria. Plant Foods in Human Nutrition, 70(30), 269-274. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26003176