Zinc is an essential nutrient required by the body for creating over 300 enzymes, and it is the most abundant metal in the body after iron.
Health benefits of zinc include enhanced immune function, reductions of the common cold, and faster wound healing. Beyond this, zinc is vital for the proper functioning of the human body in general.
Our bodies need zinc for lots of different functions, including fighting infection, growth and speeding up reactions.
Zinc deficiency can lead to hair loss, impotence, diarrhea, delayed wound healing, abnormal taste, and mental fatigue.
Vegans and vegetarians need to be especially aware of zinc since zinc availability is lower in plant foods than animal foods. The amount of zinc found in vegetables and other plant foods can vary greatly depending on how much zinc is in the soil where they were grown.
It is possible to get all the zinc you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet.
For adults in the UK, recommended daily zinc intakes are 7mg (milligrams) for women and 9.5mg for men. These recommendations are based on the assumption that zinc losses are higher in men, taking into account losses via skin, hair and semen.
Sources of zinc
Sources of zinc include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, wholemeal bread and quinoa. Ensure that your daily diet contains plenty of zinc-rich foods.
Dietary sources of zinc
Dietary zinc is available from plant and animal sources. The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for vegetarians is 12 mg/day for women and 21 mg/day for men. This is 150% of the RDI for the general Australian population, based on the lower bioavailability of zinc from a vegetarian diet (see below).
Wholegrain cereals and legumes provide the highest concentrations of zinc, generally in the range of 2.5–5.0 mg/100 g raw weight.
As zinc is contained within the outer layer of grains, unrefined whole grains provide higher concentrations of zinc than refined grains (up to 5.0 mg/100 g, compared with 1.0 mg/100 g).
Wholegrain bread and cereals, rolled oats, brown rice, nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu, soy products and fortified breakfast cereals are important dietary sources of zinc for everyone, not just vegetarians. Fruit and green leafy vegetables have much lower concentrations of zinc due to their high water content.
This is a republished version of an article previously published in MJA Open
These are general guidelines about nutrition. If you have concerns about your diet, please talk to your doctor about seeing a dietitian.