There are many who focus on the intake of macronutrients in one’s diet and are constantly worried if they’re not getting enough carbs, proteins, or fats. And rightly so – macronutrients are pretty foundational in your body’s physical health and must be carefully monitored at all costs. In doing this, however, it is important not to forget the consumption of micronutrients as well.
Here, we’ll be talking about how zinc as a micronutrient and how you can get adequate amounts of it in your vegan diet. As you will see later, it is not very easy to include vegan foods high in zinc quantities unless you’re making a conscious effort to do so. Growing children, men, women – everyone needs enough zinc in their diet for sustenance. Luckily, there are several ways to incorporate zinc into your vegan diet, so read on!
What is Zinc and Why Do You Need it in Your Diet?
As mentioned before, many micronutrients are responsible for the adequate functioning of macronutrients. Zinc is one such micronutrient that is extremely important for absorbing enzymes and other physiological functions that the body performs daily.
There are many side effects of not having enough zinc in your diet. Since zinc is responsible for strengthening your body’s immune system, not having enough zinc in your diet can lead to many problems in your body in the long run.
Digestive problems such as diarrhea and slower healing for physical wounds are only some of the symptoms of low zinc consumption. It also aids your sense of tasting and smelling, as it is one of the contributing minerals responsible for making DNA. To insure yourself against these symptoms, there are ways to make sure you’re getting enough vegan zinc sources in your diet.
How Much Dietary Zinc Do You Need A Day?
|0-6 months||2 mg*||2 mg*|
|7-12 months||3 mg||3 mg|
|1-3 years||3 mg||3 mg|
|4-8 years||5 mg||5 mg|
|9-13 years||8 mg||8 mg|
|14-18 years||11 mg||9 mg||12 mg||13 mg|
|19+ years||11 mg||8 mg||11 mg||12 mg|
|* Adequate Intake|
Now that you know how important zinc is in your lifestyle, it is also important to know how much zinc you should be consuming every day. For those who do not rely on plant-based sustenance, consumption of zinc comes easily.
The bioavailability of zinc is higher for carnivores than for vegans. This is because most zinc-rich vegan foods are not absorbed very well by the body, so vegans are recommended to consume 50% additional zinc than what is recommended as the daily intake (RDA).
For women, the recommended daily intake of zinc is around 8mg. Similarly, for men, the recommended daily intake of zinc is around 11mg. This is only suitable for non-vegans; however, for vegans, the recommended daily intake is higher for both women and men.
It amounts to up to 12mg for women and around 16mg for men. Breastfeeding or pregnant individuals need higher zinc intakes every day – for omnivores, the intake should be around 12-13 mg, while for vegans, the intake should be around 18-19 mg.
Is a Vegan Diet Inherently Deficient in Zinc?
A lot of vegan sources of zinc contain an abundance of antinutrients. These antinutrients are responsible for blocking the adequate absorption of minerals (in this case, zinc). The antinutrient present in most vegan sources of zinc is called phytates and can be found in the greatest quantity in seeds, grains, and nuts.
These substances are also where the highest concentration of vegan zinc can be found. Hence, a study from WHO notes that vegan consumption of zinc can lead to lower absorption levels than people who fulfilled their zinc needs through meat consumption.
Flavonoids and alcohol are also antinutrients for zinc and can block absorption. While vegans should not be overly worried about not getting enough zinc from their diet, it is important to closely monitor the same consumption.
Effects of Phytate On Absorption of Zinc And How to Counter It?
There have been numerous studies done on zinc absorption and its relationship with phytates. As we know already, phytates contain phytic acid, which is not conducive to zinc absorption.
This is especially true for developing countries, which might have a higher margin of individuals who are deficient in zinc. The studies also dictate that you should not get rid of phytates in your diet just to allow for mineral absorption. So how do vegans get an adequate amount of zinc in their diet without it being canceled out by antinutrients?
A good way of reducing phytic acid levels in your zinc-rich vegan foods is by soaking these foods in water. Beans, for instance, are an excellent source of zinc for vegans but contain a high amount of phytates at the same time. Soaking your beans removes the phytic acid just enough that you’re able to absorb more quantities of zinc without missing out on the essential phytates either.
Signs that may Indicate A Zinc Deficiency
While a zinc deficiency may not be immediately noticeable because the initial symptoms are very mild, it is still important to be on the lookout for specific issues that could arise in your body due to low consumption of zinc.
The first and most immediate symptom that can be a telling sign of zinc deficiency is a weakened immune system, which leaves you vulnerable to several other conditions. You may also find yourself to be constantly tired and fatigued and may find your appetite to be affected as well.
Your nails may begin to get brittle and develop white spots over them. Lastly, low zinc levels may lead to less testosterone – which brings a host of other problems with itself, such as erectile dysfunction and a lower libido than usual.
The Best Vegan Zinc Sources
Some of the best vegan sources of zinc are pine nuts, sesame seeds, oats, walnuts, peanut butter, wheat germ, adzuki beans, pumpkin seeds, rye grain, quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat groats, pepitas, cashews, hemp seeds, tahini, kidney beans (check the difference between kidney beans and black beans), bamboo shoots, spinach, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, chickpeas, lentils, and many more.
You can range the consumption of these vegan foods high in zinc from anywhere between a tablespoon for wheat germ and tahini to around a cup for oats and wild rice. For instance, with a cup of cashews, pine nuts, or pumpkin seeds, you can fulfill around 36% of your RDA for zinc.
This list is replete with mentions of legumes, seeds, and grains, which are all the best vegan sources of zinc. However, the former contains antinutrients as well, so you will need to be careful while consuming. It is recommended to mix all of these vegan zinc sources together for meals to get the maximum amount of zinc that your body can absorb.
|Food||Zinc in mg||Serving Size|
|Pine Nuts||8.70||One cup|
|Sesame Seeds||5.58||Half cup|
|Wild Rice||2.20||One cup|
|Pumpkin Seeds||6.59||One Cup|
|Wheat Germ||1.70||½ oz|
|Adzuki Beans||4.07||One cup|
Tips to Ensure You Aren’t Zinc Deficient As a Vegan
1. Combine Multiple Vegan Zinc Sources in Your Meals
As mentioned before, try your best to mix and match multiple vegan sources of zinc in your food to maximize zinc absorption in your body. For instance, you can pair quinoa with walnuts for a refreshing crunch to your healthy salad.
2. Limit Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol, as we know, is an antinutrient that can greatly reduce the amount of zinc your body absorbs. If you’re worried that your zinc levels are still low despite you consciously including zinc-rich foods in your vegan diet, then you need to cut back on your alcohol.
3. Treat Your Foods So as to Reduce their phytate content.
There are several ways you can reduce your phytic acid content in various zinc-rich vegan foods so that your body absorbs as much zinc as possible. Fermenting, soaking, or sprouting your vegan sources of zinc can be helpful in doing exactly that.
4. Start Supplementing with Zinc
If you have consciously begun to add high zinc vegan foods to your diet but still face symptoms of zinc deficiency, then it is recommended for you to began supplementing your diet with an external intake of zinc such as tablets.
As you have seen, zinc is a useful mineral that requires careful monitoring to make sure you’re getting enough of it, especially in a vegan diet. Since there is no real way to measure the quantity of zinc in your diet, it is better to consume around 50%~150% extra of the usual zinc RDA for a vegan lifestyle.
Zinc deficiency can often lead to serious problems in the future and can greatly affect your immunity, so it is imperative to start monitoring your zinc intake right away. Alternatively, an excess of zinc may also lead to several problems with zinc toxicity, so consume it in moderation!