Getting Enough Zinc on Vegan Diets


It’s safe to say that we have more questions than answers about zinc in vegan diets. This mineral is found in a wide range of plant foods, and many studies show that vegans have intakes on a par with omnivores.

But other evidence suggests that vegans fall short. In addition, zinc absorption from plant foods can be low. In fact, the percent of zinc absorbed from different meals varies dramatically—from around 8 to 32 percent.

Because of the absorption issue, some experts suggest that vegetarians could need as much as 50 percent more zinc in their diet than omnivores.

There is no evidence that vegans suffer from overt zinc deficiency. But zinc is needed by the body for more than 50 different enzymes—which means that a lot of physiological processes depend on zinc. And since zinc status is hard to measure, there are concerns that some people could have a chronic marginal deficiency that goes undetected and has subtle effects.

I’m in favor of a conservative and cautious approach since there is no down side to consuming a few extra milligrams of zinc. Using the 50% factor, recommended daily intakes of zinc would be 16.5 milligrams for men and 12 mg for women. While no single plant food (other than those that are fortified) is high in zinc, a diet based on a variety of whole foods can meet needs.

1 milligram of zinc is provided by:

  • 1 tablespoon of nuts, seeds or nut/seed butters
  • ¼ to ½ cup cooked beans
  • 1 tablespoon wheat germ
  • 1 cup cooked grain
  • 2 slices of bread
  • 2 cups cooked leafy green vegetables

    Check the nutrition labels on vegetarian meat analogs, since some of these are fairly high in zinc. Fortified cereals are also very high.

    Finally, by using some cooking practices that boost zinc absorption, you won’t need to consume quite as much zinc.

    Here are a few ways to enhance absorption of zinc:

  • Toast nuts and seeds before using them.
  • Choose fermented foods like sourdough bread and tempeh.
  • Choose foods that are leavened with yeast—breads—over crackers and plain grains.
  • Eat some sprouted legumes and seeds.
  • Soak grains before cooking them.
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    14 Responses to Getting Enough Zinc on Vegan Diets

    1. Vegan Traveler November 2, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

      Ginny – Thank you for such great information. We all have varied days where sometimes we just don't get all the nutrients we needs. It's great to read a dietitian's suggestions.   Dory  VT

    2. Donovan April 14, 2011 at 11:49 am #

      I just wanted to say that hemp seeds contain a LOT of zinc, and I eat them in the form of a hemp protein powder, one serving of which provides from 30 to 40% of the daily requirement of zinc. It is also packed with iron, omega 3, 6 and I think 9, is a complete protein (soy is not the only complete protein out there), full of fibre, easy to digest, and has a reasonable amount of some other minerals such as calcium and potassium. I also use hemp oil when I cook or on salads, as a serving contains 94% of the omega 3 requirement. It is also easy to grow in a sustainable, pesticide free way. Basically, hemp is an essential part of my vegan diet, and I want everyone to know of its huge benefits.

      • Robert April 16, 2011 at 7:33 am #

        Is hemp oil only good for low-heat cooking like olive oil or can it be safely used at higher heats?

        • Ginny Messina April 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

          I would use hemp oil the same way that flaxseed oil is used–in salad dressings or a few drops on food before serving. It’s not as high in omega-3s as flax oil, but still high enough that I wouldn’t want to cook with it.

          • Robert April 18, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

            Ok, thanks. I haven't bought the oil yet but I did pick up a bag of hemp seed which I'm using to supplement salads and veggie sautés. I also use flax seed (ground) in meals. What is your opinion on the value of chia seeds in the diet?

      • Becks February 22, 2012 at 12:23 am #

        Great answer! Thanks for the tips.. I also use hep protein and had no idea it was so great for zinc.. appreciate the info :)

      • Judy May 15, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

        Thank you Donovan, I am Vegan and a full blood test showed that I am low in Zinc. I dislike the zinc supplements advised by my doctor as they make me want to thrown up. Again thank you

    3. Dani July 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

      Liked the post. I’m gonna show this to my (future) bf heh. Hope you’re having a great Sunday. – Dani

    4. edj September 13, 2012 at 11:27 am #

      After suffering for 6 months from severe itchy patches which started on my lower legs but spread to my arms and torso as well. I went to a dermatologist who diagnosed nummular excema and gave me some goo to spread on my body and some nasty topical medicine that thins the skin. It barely helped. I did a little research and saw a few articles about zinc deficiency and skin. I started taking a zinc supplement and with a couple of weeks I could see an improvement. Now about a month after starting zinc my skin still has really dry itching in the healing areas. But it is definitely getting a lot better. I first noticed this skin problem almost a year ago I have been vegan for over 6 years now starting when I was 45. I have suffered not only zinc but also b12 deficiency. I got a full blood panel and had symptoms of pernicious anemia. I have come to the conclusion that a vegan diet is workable but that I need to be aware of potential deficiency risks. I wish more research would be done on these issues. It’s hard to find facts written by the scientists. I also wish vegan and vegetarian advocates would not be so fearful of admitting that supplementation may be needed with a vegan diet.

      • Florida April 24, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

        Hello.
        I have recently tested high for copper levels… were your levels tested??
        Mine are presently monitored and ‘balanced’ with zinc gluconate (I also take some vitamin C to help that process). I read somewhere that copper toxicity, or ‘biounavailability’ ie lots loose in the blood, unbound to ceruloplasmin (?), can show up as atype of anemia not helped by taking iron…
        Still trying to muddle my way through this, as it’s a new notion (my children are affected too)
        My neighbours, which are meat eaters, have higher copper levels than us… by 10 points !! And their symptoms look worse…I’m thinking increased levels of copper are in our water supply.

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