Zinc is becoming increasingly known for its role in immunity, and zinc deficiencies have been linked to an impaired immune response. Some of the best sources of zinc are not suitable for a vegetarian or vegan diet, so I have compiled a list of some of the best zinc rich foods for vegetarians and vegans!
Zinc is a mineral that we need in small amounts every day for optimal health. It has a role in normal growth and development and helps to keep our immune system strong. Now more than ever people are looking towards zinc and wanting to ensure they are getting enough of this important mineral. While most people can get enough by eating a varied diet, there are certain foods that are particularly good sources of zinc, and certain factors that can impact the availability of this nutrient.
How Much Zinc Do We Need?
What Is The Recommended Intake of Zinc?
- Men, 19 years and older – 11 mg per day
- Women, 19 years and older – 8 mg per day
- Males, 14 – 18 years old – 11 mg per day
- Females 14 – 18 years old – 9 mg per day
- Youth, aged 9 – 13 years old – 8 mg per day
- Youth, aged 4 – 8 years old – 5 mg per day
Do Zinc Recommendations Change During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding?
Zinc is extremely important for growth and development, thus requirements go up during this stage.
- Pregnant Women, 19 years and older – 11 mg
- Breastfeeding Women, 19 years and older – 12 mg
Why Is Zinc Important For Vegetarians and Vegans
Can Vegetarians Get Enough Zinc From Food?
The best sources of zinc generally come from animal foods or seafood. Oysters are the highest zinc containing food with up to 59 milligrams per 2 1/2 oz serving (1). Plant-based sources include legumes (beans, lentils), and nuts and seeds, and I have written about how to maximize the zinc absorption from these foods in my post How To Get Enough Zinc For Vegetarians and Vegans. See below for a list of my top Zinc Rich Foods For Vegetarians.
Are Vegetarians More At Risk For Zinc Deficiency?
The bioavailability of zinc from vegetarian diets is lower than from non-vegetarian diets because meat is high in bioavailable zinc and may enhance zinc absorption. Vegetarians also typically eat high levels of legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds which contain phytates that bind zinc and inhibit its absorption (see my post How To Get Enough Zinc For Vegetarians and Vegans).
Do Vegetarians Need To Eat More Zinc?
Vegetarians sometimes require as much as 50% more of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for zinc than non-vegetarians (2). In addition, they might benefit from using certain food preparation techniques that reduce the binding of zinc by phytates and increase its bioavailability. Techniques to increase zinc bioavailability include:
- Soaking beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours before cooking them.
- Consuming more leavened grain products (such as bread) than unleavened products (such as crackers) because leavening partially breaks down the phytate, so the body can absorb more zinc.
- See my post How To Make Sprouts & Health Benefits Of Sprouting Foods for more information on increasing the bioavailability of zinc.
What Are The Best Zinc Rich Foods For Vegetarians?
What Are The Top Zinc Rich Foods For Vegetarians?
- Pumpkin Seeds or Pepitas
- Baked Beans
- Legumes (beans and lentils)
What Is The Amount Of Zinc In These Vegetarian and Vegan Foods?
Serving Size and Zinc Content per mg (1)
Vegetables and Fruit
- This food group contains very little zinc
Grains and Grain Products
- Wheat germ, 30 mL (2 Tbsp) – 2.4 mg
- Cereal, bran, 30 g – 1.7-1.9 mg
- Wild rice, cooked, 125 mL (½ cup) – 1.2 mg
- Aduki beans, cooked, (1 cup) – 4.1 mg
- Pine nuts, (¼ cup) – 3.1 mg
- Pumpkin or squash seeds, 60 mL (¼ cup) – 2.6-4.4 mg
- Baked beans, canned, 175 mL (¾ cup) – 4.3 mg
- Tempeh/fermented soy product, cooked, 150 g (¾ cup) – 2.4 mg
- Nuts (pine, peanuts, cashews, almonds), without shell, 60 mL (¼ cup) – 1.1-2.2 mg
- Lentils, cooked, 175 mL (¾ cup) – 1.9 mg
- Dried peas (chickpeas/garbanzo beans, black-eyed, split), cooked, 175 mL (¾ cup) – 1.1-1.9 mg
- Sunflower seeds, without shell, 60 mL (¼ cup) – 0.6-1.8 mg
- Cashew butter, 30 mL (2 Tbsp) – 1.9 mg
- Tofu, prepared with magnesium chloride or calcium sulphate, 175 mL (¾ cup) – 1.2-1.7 mg
- Soy nuts, 60 mL (¼ cup) – 1.4 mg
- Tahini/sesame butter, 30 mL (2 Tbsp) – 1.4 mg
- Peanut Butter, natural, 30 mL (2 Tbsp) – 1.4mg
- Refried beans, 175 mL (¾ cup) – 1.1 mg
- Cheese (cheddar, swiss, gouda, brie, mozzarella), 50 g (1½ oz) – 1.2-2.2 mg
- Ricotta cheese, 125 mL (½ cup) – 1.8 mg
- Yogurt (plain, fruit bottom), regular or low fat, 175 mL (¾ cup) – 0.7-1.0 mg
- Greek yogurt (plain, fruit bottom), regular or low fat, 175 mL (¾ cup) – 0.9 mg
- Milk (3.3% homo, 2%, 1%, skim, chocolate, buttermilk), 250 mL (1 cup) – 1.0-1.1 mg
- Egg, cooked, 2 large – 1.2-1.3 mg
A Note On Oysters
Some vegetarians might be OK with eating oysters because they lack a central nervous system. Oysters contain the most amount of zinc out of all foods with 46 mg to 59 mg per 2 1/2 oz serving of wild, cooked eastern oysters or 25 mg for the same amount of Pacific oysters. Pacific oysters tend to be higher in cadmium, and Health Canada recommends that adults eat no more than 12 oysters per month and that children eat no more than 1 to 2 oysters per month (1).
Making Sure You Are Getting Enough Zinc Rich Foods For Vegetarians
Eat A Variety Of Foods
Even though pepitas are a great source of zinc, we should rely on them as our only source of zinc. Getting a wide variety of plant-based proteins will help ensure we are meeting our recommended intake of zinc, as well as other important nutrients. Add some sunflower seeds to breakfast, have some Baked Tofu for lunch, and have a Lentil Stew for dinner.
Plan A Head And Soak Your Legumes
Soaking your lentils and beans is a great way to improve the availability of zinc. Aim to soak your smaller lentils and split peas for 6 hours or up to 12 hours. Larger beans including black-beans and chickpeas should be soaked for 24 hours. Make sure to discard the water and add new water before cooking. See my post How To Cook Lentils + 5 Reasons Why We Should Eat Lentils.
Be Mindful Of Supplements
Certain supplements and medications including iron and antacids can bind to zinc in your meals and decrease the body’s ability to absorb this mineral. Take iron pills or medications away from your zinc-rich meals.
Want Some Vegetarian Recipes That Are High In Zinc?
Try some of these favourite high zinc plant-based recipes that feature lentils, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), tempeh or tofu:
- Seedy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
- Best Lentil Salad Recipe with a Mustard Vinaigrette
- Baked Tempeh Asian Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing
- Ginger French Lentil Stew with Couscous
- Baked Tofu Kale Quinoa Salad with Glory Bowl Dressing
- No-Bake 100 Calorie Peanut Butter Energy Balls
References For Getting Enough Zinc Rich Foods For Vegetarians
- PEN The Global Resource for Nutrition Practice – Food Sources of Zinc
- NIH National Institute of Health – Zinc Factsheet for Health Professionals
Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.