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.