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How to prevent zinc deficiency as a vegan + list of zinc-rich foods

by tamarajune
Published: Last Updated on

Zinc is an essential nutrient that is present in every cell of the body. Because of that making sure that you get enough of the mineral is critical. While deficiencies are rare, absorption from plant sources can be more difficult.

That’s why in this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about zinc as a vegan. We’ll cover how you can meet the requirement, what foods are good sources, and what zinc deficiency symptoms to look out for. 

Let’s get started.  

What are the functions and benefits of zinc?

Zinc is a part of over 300 different processes in the body. It is especially crucial for the production of DNA, RNA, and proteins. Moreover, it plays a role in the immune system and promotes wound healing. It also influences reproduction and growth, as well as brain and bone development.

Further, zinc participates in the metabolism of fat, carbs, and proteins, 

The benefits of the mineral include its function as an antioxidant and its ability to protect against cell damage. Moreover, it plays a role in the immune system, promotes wound healing, and can help treat the common cold. 

Who is at risk for zinc deficiency?

Zinc deficiencies are rare. As long as you eat a balanced vegan diet and consume enough calories, you should be good. Although zinc from plant sources is more difficult to absorb, vegans usually have no problems meeting the recommended intake. 

Nevertheless, it is a good idea to implement specific preparation methods that improve the absorption of zinc.

How much zinc should you consume daily?

The body does not store zinc, so you need to take it in with food regularly. In general, men require 10 mg and women 7 mg per day. However, the daily recommended intake varies throughout different life stages, so you’ll find a detailed list of the RDI in the table below.

Age Daily recommended intake
0-4 months 1 mg/day
4-12 months 2 mg/day
1-4 years 3 mg/day
4-7 years5 mg/day
7-10 years7 mg/day
10-13 years9 mg/day (boys), 7 mg/day (girls)
13-15 years9.5 mg/day (boys), 7 mg/day (girls)
15 and older10 mg/day (males) and 7 mg/day (females)
Pregnant women10 mg/day
Breastfeeding women11 mg/day

Dietary organizations in the US recommended that those on plant-based diets consume 50% more zinc than the general RDI to compensate for the reduced absorption from plant sources.

Which plant foods are good sources of zinc?

The best plant sources are whole grains, pseudo-grains, nuts, seeds, and legume. Fruits and vegetables only contain small amounts of zinc and are not good sources. 

List of foods high in zinc

  • Oats
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Chia Seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans

Moreover, here are some delicious zinc-rich recipes you can try. 

Do animal products contain zinc?

Animal foods like red meat, seafood, and dairy products are sources of zinc.

How to increase zinc absorption

  • Choose whole grains because zinc is lost in the processing of grains 
  • Soak, ferment or sprout legumes, nuts, and seeds because this increases the bioavailability
  • Add an organic acid, like lemon juice, to your meals
  • Avoid drinking tea or coffee before, with, or directly after a meal.

How can you check if you are getting enough zinc?

It is difficult to reliably test the zinc status because the body strictly regulates the mineral. Thus, a deficiency is usually only detected once it is severe.

One possibility would be to test zinc concentration in the blood serum (reference value: 70-150 µg/dl ). However, as mentioned above, the validity of the result is limited.

Therefore, if your doctor suspects a zinc deficiency, the first choice is usually to analyze the diet. 

What are the symptoms of zinc deficiency?

In industrialized countries, zinc deficiencies are very rare. Usually, they only occur when there is a problem with absorption, or the body excretes more due to illness or alcohol abuse. 

Typical deficiency symptoms are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakened immune system
  • Night blindness
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Dermatitis
  • Problems with tasting and smelling

Is it dangerous to take in large amounts of zinc?

Usually, there are no adverse side effects to consuming large amounts of zinc. A poisoning is extremely rare and only occurs with massive doses.

Summary: How to avoid zinc deficiency

Infographic summarizing the most important information about zinc like how to avoid zinc deficiency, what deficiency symptoms are and how to meet the need

Have you ever kept a food diary and analyzed if you are getting all the nutrients?

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