Why Zinc Is So Important. Plus, the Best Plant-Based Sources

When you think about precious metals, it’s unlikely you think about nutrition. Metal is a material, right? Used for creating sturdy structures, household items, jewelry, or even art. That’s all true, but many have another role. Metals are a type of mineral, and they’re important for our health. Essential metals include iron, magnesium, and zinc. The latter helps with a number of important bodily functions, including bolstering our immune systems. But where do we get zinc from? How much do we need? And can we get sufficient amounts on a plant-based diet?

What Is Zinc?

If you’re thinking, “I don’t remember chewing on chunks of metal in my food,” you’d be correct. The zinc we eat from plant-based sources comes from rocks, soil, and water. As the plants grow, they absorb the minerals. So, put simply, when we eat the plants, we eat small traces of zinc too.

Zinc is also present in animal-based foods, and that’s because the animals have already digested plants that contain zinc.

Why Is Zinc Important?

Zinc helps with a number of bodily processes. It helps our blood clot, makes proteins and DNA, helps our wounds to heal, and supports the function of a healthy immune system. It also helps with the formation and maintenance of our bones, as well as the maintenance of skin, hair, and nails. So, all in all, it’s a pretty busy mineral.

If we don’t have enough zinc in our bodies, this can lead to a number of physical symptoms, including skin conditions (like acne), as well as decreased immunity and weight loss. 

How Much Zinc Do You Need?

To prevent zinc deficiency, it’s important we know exactly how much of the mineral we need. Our bodies can’t produce it, so it’s vital that we get it from our diet or we consume it in supplement form. 

Zinc is one of the most abundant trace minerals in our bodies. Unlike major minerals, which we need in large quantities, we don’t need significant amounts of trace minerals. The recommended daily intake of zinc for an adult male is 11 milligrams. For a female, it’s 8 milligrams.

If you’re concerned about your levels, it’s always best to consult with your doctor before adding any supplements to your daily routine. Overconsumption of zinc also has negative health consequences, as it can interfere with your absorption of other essential minerals, like iron. Taking too much may also lead to zinc toxicity, symptoms of which may include diarrhea and headaches.

What Vegan Foods Have Zinc?

It is possible to get enough zinc on a healthy, balanced plant-based diet. However, there are some factors to be aware of. This study in The Journal of Nutrition notes that the phytates present in a number of plant-based foods (like cereal and rice), can impact the effective absorption of zinc.

That being said, this study published in The Medical Journal of Australia notes that cooking methods, including soaking, heating, fermenting, and leavening, can minimize the impact of phytates on zinc absorption.

The authors state: “Well planned vegetarian diets can provide adequate zinc for all age groups, and vegetarians appear to be at no greater risk of zinc deficiency than non-vegetarians.”

If you’re not sure which plant-based foods to eat to boost your zinc intake, here are seven examples.

Best Plant-Based Sources For Zinc

1. Tofu

Tofu contains around 2 milligrams of zinc per 100 grams. It’s also a good source of protein, as well as calcium, manganese, and selenium. It’s an extremely versatile plant-based food; you can fry it, bake it, enjoy it raw, or even scramble it!

Hemp seeds are packed with zinc. | Madison Inouye via Unsplash

2. Seeds: Hemp, Pumpkin, and Chia

Hemp seeds are one of the best plant-based food sources to get zinc. Per 100 grams, they contain 10 milligrams of the essential mineral. The same serving of pumpkin seeds contains nearly 8 milligrams. One ounce of chia seeds contains one milligram of zinc.

3. Pecans

One-quarter of a cup of pecans contains around 1.1 milligrams of zinc. Pecans are also a source of dietary fiber, as well as calcium, potassium, vitamin E, and vitamin A.

4. Quinoa

Per 100 grams, quinoa contains one milligram of zinc. The pseudocereal (despite common belief, it’s not a grain!) is also a good source of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber.

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc. | Tina Vanhove via Unsplash

5. Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are also a good source of zinc. Per 100 grams, they contain around 1.3 milligrams. They’re also a good source of copper, niacin, and vitamin B5.

6. Fortified Cereal

Fortified cereals are a strong source of zinc, however, not all are vegan, so make sure you check the packet carefully before you buy. Weetabix cereal is vegan, and it’s fortified with a number of vitamins and minerals, including zinc.

7. Lentils

Lentils are a super nutritious source of protein, and they contain zinc too. A 100-gram serving contains around one milligram of the mineral. 

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