Zinc is an essential trace element. It is required for wound healing, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, and strengthening the immune system. Zinc deficiency can lead to a weakened immune system, growth disorders, hair loss, infections, and loss of appetite. To avoid deficiency, you can use the above zinc-rich food table. In the following text, we will introduce you to some particularly good zinc-rich foods and how you can enhance the absorption of zinc from them.
Each person has individual zinc requirements that depend on various factors such as age, gender, health condition, and dietary habits. The following groups have higher zinc requirements:
- During pregnancy and lactation, women need more zinc to support the growth and development of the fetus or baby.
- Since zinc is important for the growth and development of children and adolescents, they should also consume zinc-rich foods.
- People following a vegetarian or vegan diet may have higher zinc requirements because plant-based foods often contain less zinc. Additionally, anti-nutrients inhibit the absorption of zinc from plant sources. However, it is still possible to meet zinc requirements with a vegan diet.
- Individuals with gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease or Crohn's disease may have difficulty absorbing zinc from food.
- Alcohol can impair zinc absorption and lead to zinc deficiency. People who regularly consume alcohol may have a higher risk of zinc deficiency.
- Athletes may have a higher zinc requirement. As mentioned earlier, zinc is needed for protein synthesis and muscle tissue growth. Therefore, strength athletes, in particular, should ensure an adequate intake of zinc-rich foods.
- Individuals who sweat heavily on a regular basis, such as athletes or people working in very hot environments, may have a higher zinc requirement due to zinc loss through sweat. They should rely more on zinc-rich foods to meet their zinc needs.
- Stress can increase the zinc requirement. The body needs more zinc during periods of stress to support the immune system and regulate the production of stress hormones.
- Older people may have a higher zinc requirement due to age-related changes in the body. Older individuals often have poorer nutrient absorption in the intestines compared to younger individuals.
Plant-based or vegan foods are rich in zinc. The list shows you which foods from each group are particularly high in zinc:
- According to the table, legumes contain important nutrients such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, and soybeans are examples of legumes that are rich in zinc. Chickpeas and lentils provide about 10% of the recommended daily zinc intake per serving. You can find the table with zinc in legumes here. Additionally, legumes are not only a great source of plant-based protein in a vegan diet.
- Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of healthy fats, plant-based proteins, fiber, vitamins, and minerals like zinc. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds are examples of zinc-rich nuts and seeds. For instance, a serving of almonds contains about 5% of the zinc requirement.
- Whole grain products such as oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and quinoa are rich in fiber, which is needed for healthy digestion. And according to the zinc table, they also contain higher amounts of minerals. A serving of oatmeal can also provide about 5% of the daily zinc requirement. You can find the table with zinc-rich cereals here.
- Various vegetables also contain zinc. Green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and potatoes are examples of zinc-rich vegetables. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard are also rich in zinc.
- Although most fruits contain only small amounts of zinc, there are exceptions such as kiwis, bananas, apples, oranges, and avocados. These fruits are also rich in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants and should be an essential part of a balanced diet. The table showing the zinc content in fruits can be found here.
- Herbs and spices that have a high zinc content include thyme, rosemary, basil, mint, and parsley. A pinch of dried thyme contains about 0.2 mg of zinc. The table with zinc-rich herbs and spices is hidden behind the link.
- Beverages are not a significant source of zinc. Some mineral waters and fruit juices contain small amounts. For example, a glass of orange juice contains about 2% of the daily requirement. You can find the table with zinc-containing juices and beverages here.
The bioavailability of zinc from plant sources can be affected by the content of phytic acid. We will reveal how it can be improved in the next section.
Improving Zinc Bioavailability
Plant-based sources of zinc often have a high occurrence of antinutrients. Antinutrients such as oxalic acid and phytic acid are compounds that can impair the absorption of nutrients in the body. Oxalic acid is found in foods like spinach, rhubarb, kale, and beets. It binds to minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc, forming insoluble complexes that the body cannot absorb. Phytic acid is present in whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It binds to minerals like zinc, also forming insoluble complexes.
One approach is to cook or blanch foods before consumption, which reduces the amount of oxalic acid and phytic acid. During the cooking process, antinutrients are broken down by heat and moisture.
Soaking legumes, nuts, and seeds can reduce the content of phytic acid and increase the bioavailability of zinc. By soaking legumes overnight or for a few hours, the amount of phytic acid can be reduced. Other ways to enhance zinc bioavailability include sprouting seeds, fermenting foods, and acidifying dough.
Malic acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid, which are present in fruits, can also improve zinc absorption. These acids act as chelating agents by binding to the zinc molecule, making it more accessible to the body. Consuming fruits rich in these acids, such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and grapes, can enhance zinc uptake in the body. For more information, refer to our tables on citric acid foods and malic acid foods.
What Does A Zinc-Rich Diet Look Like?
In the following list, we have prepared some recipe examples based on vegan zinc-rich foods:
- Vegan chili with soy granules: Sauté onions, garlic, and soy granules in a pan. Add kidney beans, corn, tomatoes, and spices. Let it simmer until thickened.
- Tofu vegetable stir-fry: Tofu is a good source of plant-based protein and zinc. Combined with a variety of vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and zucchini, it makes a nutritious meal.
- Tofu scrambled eggs with spinach and whole grain bread: Tofu can also serve as a base for vegan scrambled eggs. Combined with spinach and whole grain bread, it creates a balanced breakfast.
- Quinoa salad: Quinoa can be used as a base for a delicious salad. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, and chickpeas.
- Vegetable noodle soup: A hearty soup with carrots, celery, onions, and whole grain noodles is also rich in zinc.
- Vegan power smoothie: A smoothie made with bananas, berries, spinach, and almond milk can be a healthy and zinc-rich meal that you can quickly prepare yourself.
- Veggie burger with fries: A homemade veggie burger made from legumes and vegetables also contains a good amount of zinc. Serve it with crispy oven-baked fries.
- Whole grain pasta with peas and mushrooms: Combine whole grain noodles with peas and mushrooms. Add a little olive oil and garlic to create a delicious, zinc-rich meal.
- Pumpkin chickpea curry: Sauté onions and garlic in coconut oil, add pumpkin, chickpeas, and coconut milk. Season it with turmeric, cumin, and garam masala. Serve it with naan bread.
- Lentil soup with carrots and celery: Cook lentils in vegetable broth and add carrots and celery. Season it with spices like cumin, turmeric, and paprika powder.