Zinc Rich Veggies: Learn About Vegetable Zinc Sources

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By Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Getting the best balance of nutrients in your body can sometimes be a challenge. Minerals like zinc are essential to optimal health and can be obtained from animal foods or supplements. But what if you are vegan? Zinc rich vegetables abound but many plant foods contain phytates, which minimize absorption. Find out which veggies high in zinc might work for you and enhance absorption in this article.

How Much Zinc Do I Need and Why

Zinc deficiencies are common in vegetarians and vegans. That is because a plant based diet doesn’t allow for ingestion of zinc rich animal products. Supplements are one solution, but the addition of certain vegetables for zinc can also increase levels of this mineral. Keep in mind that foods in the legume family may actually limit absorption, so if your diet is high in these, counter balance with other vegetable zinc sources.

The current DV for zinc is 15 millirams, but vegans should aim for 30 mg. This is due to the high consumption of phytate containing foods in the vegan diet. These limit the amount of zinc the body can uptake.

Zinc is important for the immune system, enzyme production, building proteins and DNA and to keep a good sense of smell. It also assists with carbohydrate metabolism, builds healthy skin and nails, and improves wound healing. Zinc deficiencies cause a lower immune response, hair loss, and estrogen imbalance. It can even cause stunted growth in young people and severe diarrhea. As with everything, it is a careful balance where excess zinc can release toxic free radicals.

Veggies high in zinc are an excellent way to keep a good supply of this essential mineral. However, certain factors can inhibit absorption of zinc. One of these has already been discussed – phytates. But other issues can delay absorption of the nutrient. Inadequate protein slows zinc uptake. This is a common issue among vegans, especially those new to the practice.

Additionally, the main sources of protein for vegans is often legumes and nuts, which contain phytates. Leavening and fermentation can actually increase zinc absorption which is why foods like tofu and tempeh, which are vegetable zinc sources, help enhance zinc consumption. Soaking your beans and lentils well before cooking can also remove some phytates.

Zinc Rich Vegetables

Developing a diet that encompasses all the minerals and nutrients needed for good health takes some practice. Spinach may be one of the most zinc rich veggies. Other vegetables for zinc include:

Nuts and seeds are high in protein but also zinc. Try to add zinc to your diet with seeds like:

Nuts are part of a zinc rich food regimen, such as:

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