Whilst people are quick to question whether you can source protein,iron and calcium on a vegan diet – what people never seem to have at the forefront of their minds is one mighty micronutrient: Zinc. So much emphasis is put on macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fat, that micronutrients are often overlooked but they’re just as (if not more) important in maintaining good overall health. As soon as zinc finally does get a mention, many are quick to presume that it would be hard to source on a plantbased diet – which is understandable considering that the food industry has done a wonderful job at marketing meat, dairy and shellfish as the only possible sources. It is however incredibly easy to source adequate amounts of this multitasking mineral without consuming any animal products at all and believe it or not, just a single tablespoon of nutritional yeast does the trick!
Although often overlooked, zinc is a vital mineral which is required for a range of physiological processes and to put that into perspective, is used by over 50 different enzymes within our bodies! Amongst its abundance of jobs, zinc contributes to a well-functioning immune system, is imperative for the proper digestion and utilisation of both carbs and proteins, aids in wound healing and male reproductive health, balances hormones and contributes to healthy skin, hair and nails. A deficiency in Zinc (albeit quite rare) can lead to detrimental effects on your health such as hair loss, brittle nails, little or no appetite, impaired sense of taste or smell, stunted growth, hormone imbalances, slow healing wounds and increased susceptibility to illnesses such as the common cold and flu – so it’s quite easy to see why it is so important that we consume enough.
Intake of Zinc is particularly stressed during pregnancy but it’s vital that everyone consumes adequate amounts, with the government recommending that men consume 5.5-9.5mg of iron per day, with women only requiring 4.0-7.0mg. Whilst there is no evidence that zinc deficiency is any more common amongst vegans than omnivores, it is suggested that those following a plantbased diet consume up to 50% more than the recommended daily amount in order to ensure proper absorption. If that instantly sends you into panic mode, then be reassured that it is in fact quite simple to source more than enough zinc on a plantbased diet and while I wouldn’t recommend taking a zinc supplement (as high levels of zinc can lead to toxicity, presenting itself through symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and headaches in the short-term with proper absorption of iron and copper possibly being disrupted in the long-term) the ten foods listed below will ensure that you’re consuming enough.
Top Plantbased Sources of Zinc
- Sesame Seeds 0.7mg per tbsp
- Pumpkin Seeds 1.9mg per tbsp
- Cashews 0.5mg per tbsp
- Nutritional Yeast 6.0mg per tbsp
- Peanut Butter 0.5mg per tbsp
- Oats 4.6mg per cup
- Lentils 2.6mg per cup
- Chickpeas 2.6mg per cup
- Quinoa 2mg per cup
- Peas 2mg per cup
It would be incredibly easy to incorporate a portion of each of these foods throughout the day in order to increase your intake of zinc; a cashew, oat and peanut butter smoothie for breakfast, a salad with pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and lentils for lunch and quinoa with peas, chickpeas and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for dinner. See, it couldn’t be any easier to reach the recommended daily amount of zinc and keep that pesky deficiency at bay – oh and that’s all while being plantbased!