Zinc is another extremely important mineral that can be low in some vegans. Zinc is used for many functions in the body including protein digestion, healing and repair, production of hormones, production of enzymes and as part of our antioxidant and immune systems. It is also helpful in getting rid of cadmium in the body. High cadmium levels are possibly associated with risk for heart disease and very high levels can impact bone health and both liver and kidney function. Zinc enhances production of a protein that binds to cadmium and prevents its damaging effects.
The recommended daily intakes of zinc are 7 mg for women and 9.5 mg for men. This is because zinc is used up in the production of semen. As we have seen with iron, there are many plant based sources of zinc but there is evidence that they are less biologically available for the body to use, so again a vegan needs to think more about including zinc rich foods in their diet, than someone who also eats meat and fish.
The best sources of zinc in vegan diets are legumes (beans, soy foods and peanuts), nuts and seeds. The table below shows some good sources and the amount of zinc they provide. These foods are also good sources of both beneficial oils and protein too and some of them also contain iron.
|Amount of food||Amount of zinc mg|
|30g hulled hemp seeds||3.0|
|30g pumpkin seeds||2.0|
|30g cashew nuts||1.8|
|150g cooked quinoa||1.6|
|30g chia seeds||1.4|
|30g ground flaxseeds||1.3|
|2 slices medium wholemeal bread||1.2|
|80g cooked red lentils||0.8|
|80g cooked kidney beans||0.6|
|80g canned chickpeas||0.6|
This again demonstrates the importance of a vegan having a good variety of food and not having too much reliance on grains. Consuming some whole grains as bread may also help since leavening with yeast or sourdough improves zinc absorption. Sprouting beans, chickpeas and lentils may also be beneficial.
Some ideas for meals and snacks could be:
• Adding hemp, pumpkin, chia or flax seeds to cereals or non-dairy yoghurt or sprinkling them on your salads.
• Having walnuts as a snack with a piece of fruit (walnuts also contain some omega 3)
• Adding cashew nuts to a curry or stir-fry
• A tofu stir-fry or casserole
• A lentil and kidney bean chilli or bolognaise style sauce
• A quinoa base to your salad with salad vegetables and some chickpeas, or you can have chickpeas in hummus or baked in the oven.
Depending on your personal preference some vegans may choose to supplement zinc. A level of around 15 mg per day is recommended. Many good multi-nutrient supplements contain this sort of level.