Zinc is an essential trace element that is necessary for many functions in our body. Animal studies have shown those deficient in this element are at risk for alopecia, testicular atrophy, thickening of the epidermis, and growth failure.1
Zinc deficiency is prevalent in developing countries, but the elderly as well as vegetarians and vegans, are also at risk.2
Low levels of zinc may also predispose people to many diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. Other possible effects are an increase in chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and impaired cognition.7
Vegans and vegetarians do not consume meat, which is a rich source of zinc. Foods containing unrefined cereals, legumes, or plants rich in phylates bind zinc, decreasing its absorption.11
This article will review some of the foods other than meat that are a good source of this element. Keep in mind that the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc in adults is 8 mg/day for women and 11 mg/day for men.
Hemp Seeds (Hulled) – (9.9 mg zinc per 100 g)
Hemp seeds are actually nuts. They are very nutritious and have been used as food and medicine in China for 3,000 years.12
Hemp seeds may reduce the risk of heart disease by increasing nitric oxide concentrations, which help blood vessels dilate and relax.13
Hemp seeds are a good source of essential fatty acids and can be used to make salad dressings or sprinkled over vegetables, pasta, or popcorn.
Pumpkin Seeds (Organic) (6.43 mg Zinc per 100 g)
Pumpkin seeds are not only high in zinc, but also can lower blood sugar levels, improve prostate, heart and bladder health, and protect you from certain types of cancer.
These seeds also contain antioxidants, magnesium, and healthy fats.
Pumpkins seeds can be eaten raw or roasted as a snack, added to smoothies, or sprinkled on fruit. They can also add “crunch” to salads or baked into bread.
Cashews – (5.36 mg Zinc per 100 g)
Cashews have many uses and can be used to make vegan cheese.
Cashews come from a tree (Anacardium occidentale) native to the tropical regions of Brazil. They are fruits, not nuts. Cashews are found at the end of cashew apples. Cashews are poisonous prior to roasting.
Tofu (Silken, Firm) – (0.61 mg per 100 g)
Tofu is food our family enjoys often. I fry the tofu in coconut oil until browned and add different vegetables, coconut milk, and curry paste. I serve this with rice. Very tasty and nutritious.
Tofu has many uses.
Click here for tofu recipe ideas
Quinoa – (2.68 mg Zinc per 100 g)
Quinoa is one of the most popular health foods available. This grain is high in fiber, protein and contains all nine essential amino acids.
Quinoa contains high amounts of quercetin and kaempferol, which are strong antioxidants.14
Quinoa can be added to salads, soups and vegan garden-burgers. It can also be added to pancake batter for an easy health boost.
Chia Seed – (4 mg Zinc per 100 g)
Chia seeds are one of the superfoods. These seeds contain a fantastic amount of nutrition with few calories. Even though chia seeds contain 12 grams of carbohydrates per ounce, 11 of these are non-digestible fiber.
These seeds are able to absorb 10-12 times their weight in water. This helps expand the stomach making one feel full.15
Chia seeds can be mixed with water and used as an egg substitute in vegan cooking. They can be added to smoothies, sprinkled on cereals or oatmeal. They can also be added to bread or muffin and baked.
Lentils, pink or red, raw – (3.6 mg Zinc per 100 g)
Lentils have always been a food I enjoy. Red lentil curry is delicious and nutritious. This recipe is fantastic.
Lentils can also be added to soups or eaten as a side dish. They can also be made into a loaf as a substitute for meatloaf.
Walnuts (3.09 mg Zinc per 100 g)
My grandparents had walnut trees, and we used to crack them open and sell them to neighbors.
These nuts are probably most often used in baking.
Walnuts can be added to fudge, bread, and cakes.
They are rich in antioxidants and are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Dark Red Kidney Beans (3.29 mg Zinc per 100 g)
Kidney beans can be used for chili, added to soups, or added to salads.
Kidney beans are a good source of protein and fiber.
They also contain antioxidants and can help promote colon health.
All-Purpose Enriched, Bleached Wheat Flour (0.72 mg Zinc per 100 g)
Wheat flour can be used for many baked goods.
My favorite use of wheat flour is to make sweet potato muffins.
I have included this recipe because it is one of my favorites.
This recipe came from Runner’s World magazine. I discovered this while training for a marathon.
Zinc is vital for many functions of the body. We must obtain zinc from our diet. Since vegans and vegetarians don’t consume meat products, it is critical to get this trace element from other sources.
Some seeds, nuts, and legumes can provide the zinc necessary to keep our body healthy. Zinc can also be taken as a nutritional supplement.
I hope you have found this post useful. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to send me an email.
Enjoy your summer, and stay healthy and safe!
Michael J. Brown, RPh, BCPS, BCPP
Mr. Brown is a Clinical Pharmacist specializing in pharmacotherapy and psychiatry.
Feel free to send Michael a message using this link.