Zinc

Where do vegetarians and vegans get their zinc?

You might be worried about zinc, but it is very easy to get enough zinc on a plant-based diet.

Here are answers to frequently asked zinc questions and practical suggestions for meetings your zinc needs, all backed up with quotes from registered dietitians. All the information in quotes comes from the American Dietetic Association’s position paper on vegetarianism, an article written by registered dietitian Jack Norris, and an article written by registered dietitian Ginny Messina.

1. How much zinc do I need?

If you are between ages nine and thirteen you need 8 milligrams of zinc per day.

If you are a boy and age fourteen or older, you need 11 milligrams of zinc per day

If you are a girls and between ages fourteen and eighteen, you need 9 milligrams of zinc per day.

If you are a girl and age nineteen or older, you need 8 milligrams of zinc per day.

Since zinc is not hard to receive on a vegetarian or vegan diet, do not worry too much about the numbers. Instead, see questions four and five to learn how to reach your zinc requirement.

2. Is it possible to get enough zinc on a vegetarian or vegan diet?

Overall, it is possible to get enough zinc on a plant-based diet, as it is possible for every nutrient. According to the American Dietetic Association, “a [total] vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients [protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12]”

Also, many dietitians agree that vegetarians and vegans generally do not have zinc deficiency.

According the American Dietetic Association’s position paper on vegetarianism, “overt zinc deficiency is not evident in Western vegetarians.”

According to registered dietitian Jack Norris, “…as far as can be detected, vegetarians have similar zinc status to non-vegetarians.”

According to registered dietitian Ginny Messina, “…many studies show that vegans have intakes on a par with omnivores.”

3. Are animals a better source of zinc than plants? 

Some dietitians think that zinc in plants is harder to absorb, and therefore vegetarians and vegans must eat more zinc. According to registered dietitian Jack Norris, “phytates, which are commonly found in plant foods, can reduce zinc absorption, and some researchers have suggested that this increases the zinc needs of vegetarians by up to 50%” According to registered dietitian Ginny Messina, “zinc absorption from plant foods can be low. Because of the absorption issue, some experts suggest that vegetarians could need as much as 50 percent more zinc in their diet than omnivores.”

4. How can I get enough zinc?

Eat plenty of high zinc foods. These foods are listed in the answer to question five.

5. What are some high zinc foods?

  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut and seed products (nut butters and spreads)
  • Grains
  • Oatmeal
  • Leafy Vegetables

Disclaimer: Do not take this information as medical advice.  I am not an expert in nutrition, but I cite many credentialed doctors and registered dietitians.  Please see a qualified healthcare professional for advice.

Craig, Winston J., PhD, MPH, RD, and Ann R. Mangels, PhD, RD, LDN, FADA. “Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109.7 (2009): 1266-282. Print.

Norris, Jack, RD. “Zinc.” Vegan Health. Vegan Outreach, June 2013. Web. 03 Aug. 2013. <http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/zinc>.

Messina, Ginny, MPH, RD. “Getting Enough Zinc on Vegan Diets.” The Vegan RD. N.p., 5 May 2009. Web. 03 Aug. 2013. <http://www.theveganrd.com/2009/05/getting-enough-zinc-on-vegan-diets.html