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Vegan Foods Rich In Zinc

You want to get your nutrition from food. But the best forms of zinc are in animal products. Are there any vegan foods rich in zinc?

I’m glad you are here! In this article you will learn how to get the zinc you need and still stay true to your vegan lifestyle. 

Let’s start digging into the details.

Why do vegans [and vegetarians] lack zinc?

Animal products are the best food source of zinc. This is partly because animal products just contain more zinc. Animals (and humans) store zinc in their tissues, and when you eat an animal you get their stored zinc.

Plant-based foods that provide zinc often have other substances that prevent you from absorbing that zinc efficiently. 

However, there is still hope! You can get all the zinc you need if you eat enough of the right foods and prepare them properly.

Find out why zinc is so important in the first place.

What vegan foods are highest in zinc?

Most plant-based foods contain at least a small amount of zinc. But if you don’t eat meat, it’s a good idea to include some really good sources in your meals.

You can find zinc in whole grains, enriched cereal products, legumes, nuts, seeds and some vegetables. Fruits also have a small amount of zinc, but they are not a really great source. 

Whole wheat products are a good source of zinc. Other grains like amaranth, quinoa, rice and oats have moderate amounts of zinc. 

The best nuts to eat for zinc are peanuts, cashews, almonds and pecans. The seeds that give you the most zinc are pumpkin seeds, with flax, hemp and sunflower seeds coming in a close second.

Soybeans and soy products have a fair amount of zinc. You can see some of the best plant-based sources of zinc in the chart below (1).

Zinc in Plant-Based Foods

½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds4.5 mg
½ cup sunflower seed kernels3.5 mg
½  cup cashews3.5 mg
½ cup chunky peanut butter3.5 mg
1 cup sprouted cooked lentils3 mg
1 oz Baker’s unsweetened baking chocolate2.8 mg
1 cup cooked teff2.8 mg
1 cup winged beans2.5 mg
½ cup Natto2.5 mg
½ cup dry roasted peanuts2.5 mg
1 cup cooked lentils2.5 mg
½ cup dry roasted soybeans2 mg
1 cup edamame2 mg
1 cup cooked shiitake mushrooms (fresh)2 mg
¼ cup pine nuts2 mg
1 cup tempeh2 mg
¼ block hard tofu2 mg
½ cup roasted pecans2 mg
½ cup roasted almonds2 mg
¼ cup almond butter2 mg
½ cup canned adzuki beans2 mg
1 extra large whole wheat tortilla2 mg
1 10” diameter naan2 mg
1 cup cooked quinoa or rice2 mg
1 cup cooked amaranth2 mg
2 oz dark chocolate (70% cacao)2 mg
1 cup cooked oatmeal 1.5 mg
2 T flax seeds1 mg
1 T hulled hemp seeds1 mg

*These values are approximate. Zinc content is influenced by cooking methods, growing conditions and other factors.

Which vegetable has the highest zinc?

Winged beans are a tropical variety of bean commonly eaten in Asian countries. One cup of winged beans provides about 2 ½ mg zinc. 

Shiitake mushrooms are the next best vegetable to eat for zinc. You can get 2 mg of zinc from a cup of shiitakes. Many other vegetables contribute smaller amounts of zinc to your diet.

Which fruit is rich in zinc?

Avocado is the fruit richest in zinc. One avocado has about 1 mg of zinc. Most other fruits provide less than a mg of zinc per serving. 

What foods deplete or inhibit zinc?

Foods that are high in phytate can interfere with the absorption of zinc. These include legumes like beans and lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Iron supplements also interfere with zinc absorption when they are taken at the same time. 

Phytate

Phytate, or phytic acid is a molecule that plants use to store phosphate, an important mineral. The technical name for phytate is inositol hexaphosphate (2).   

It is nearly impossible to avoid phytate if you eat a plant-based diet. Phytate is most concentrated in legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. This molecule binds several different minerals and prevents them from being absorbed.

However, phytate does not usually bind all the zinc in a food, only a percentage. So when you eat enough zinc-rich food, you can still absorb what you need.

Phytate has the biggest impact in populations who have two things going on: they are not getting much zinc in their diet, and are eating a large amount of high-phytate foods (2). 

You can lower the phytate content in your vegetables and grains through preparation and cooking. You will read more about this in a minute.

Oxalates and Tannins

Oxalate can bind certain minerals such as calcium, and prevent them from being absorbed in your digestive tract. This can be a problem if you are prone to calcium oxalate kidney stones. 

However, the evidence shows that oxalates have only a very minor effect, if any, on zinc absorption (3,4).     

Tannins give tea, coffee and some other fruits and vegetables their astringent taste. This is a large molecule with many beneficial health properties. Tannis can interfere significantly with the absorption of iron. However, the research doesn’t show much of an impact on how much zinc you absorb (6,7).

Iron and Other Minerals

Supplements containing iron can inhibit zinc absorption when they are taken together. Iron in foods does not affect zinc absorption (8).

How can you increase the absorption of zinc from plant-based foods?

Stick to whole grains.

Zinc is lost in the refining process. 

Eat protein with your meals.

Eating protein at your meal or snack helps you to absorb more zinc.

Add citrus to your meals.

There is some evidence that citrate can improve zinc absorption. As the name implies, you find citrate in citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. So eating a citrus fruit or adding some lemon juice to your meal or snack may help you absorb more zinc (8).

Eat yeast and sourdough breads.

Fermenting foods can decrease the amount of phytate and make zinc more absorbable. When you eat yeast breads made with a slow rise, and sourdough breads, you will get more zinc from the grains (9).  

Eat fermented foods.

Fermentation reduces the amount of phytate in foods (10). You will absorb more zinc from fermented soy products like natto, miso, tempeh, douchi or sufu. 

You can ferment nuts, seeds, and even grains. There are plenty of instructions available online, and even some companies selling fermented nuts. 

Eat sprouted grains, nuts and seeds.

You can reduce the phytate content in plants by sprouting (2). Simply soak your nuts, seeds or grains in water for a time, depending on their size. It can be anywhere from 20 minutes to a whole day. 

Drain the water, and leave the food at room temperature for 2-3 days, rinsing several times a day. When little sprouts begin to appear, the process is complete. It is best to keep sprouted food in the refrigerator.

Cook your grains and legumes.

Cooking, especially boiling and pressure cooking, destroys a significant amount of phytate in plants (2).  

How do you get 100% of zinc daily?

Adult females should eat at least 8 mg of zinc each day, and males should eat about 11 mg. You can easily reach this goal by eating a variety of foods, and adding a few good sources to your meals every day.

Here is an example of foods that you can eat in one day to get over 8 mg of zinc:

1 cup oatmeal1.5 mg
½ cup shiitake mushroom1 mg
1 cup mixed rice and lentils2.5 mg
2 oz dark chocolate2 mg
¼ cup roasted pumpkin seeds2.25 mg
TOTAL ZINC9.25 mg

Many of the other foods you eat will contribute smaller amounts of zinc, so you will end up eating more than enough to meet your nutritional needs.

Use the preparation methods of sprouting, fermenting and cooking to decrease the phytate in your foods. Stick to whole grains, and make sure to add some protein to your meals. Extra bonus if you can slip in some citrus fruit, or a splash of lemon juice.

Final Thoughts

You can get all the zinc you need from foods, even if you don’t eat animal products. Whole grains, legumes, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, flax, hemp and sunflower seeds are all good sources of zinc.

Phytate in plants can interfere with absorption of zinc, but you can decrease phytate if you prepare foods properly. Cooking, fermentation and sprouting all make zinc easier to absorb. If you add protein and citrus to your meals, you can absorb more zinc from your foods. 

Need more help figuring out what to eat on your vegan diet? Schedule a call and let’s talk.

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