18+ Zinc Rich Foods A-Z
Are you getting enough zinc? Let this registered dietitian tell you everything you need to know about zinc, from how much you need, to what zinc does in your body, to a list of vegan foods high in zinc. Especially if you’re vegan or plant-based, you need to know this important mineral!
Good nutrition is NOT supposed to be complicated. Of course, when you’re new to a vegan or plant-based diet – or, you just feel you need a nutrition check in – there are a few nutrients you want to get acquainted with so you can give your body what it needs to thrive. Such as calcium for healthy bones. Or iron for building red blood cells. Or even fibre for a healthy gut and gut microbiome.
Once you know the basics, you can work those food sources into your life and then forget about it. Calcium, iron and fibre are definitely the biggies in plant-based nutrition (I talk more about that in my book Eat More Plants)…but almost no one talks about zinc! So let’s change that.
This post has EVERYTHING you need to know about zinc, so you might find this table of contents handy.
- What is zinc?
- How much zinc do you need?
- What does zinc do in the body?
- Zinc deficiency
- 18+ Foods high in zinc
- How to boost zinc intake on a vegetarian or vegan diet
- What about zinc supplements?
What is zinc?
Zinc is a trace mineral – meaning that you need it in small amounts – that humans need for a variety of different metabolic functions. Minerals are single elements found in nature as opposed to vitamins, which are more complex organic compounds produced by plants, microbes and animals.
How much zinc do you need?
Unlike iron, your body doesn’t store zinc so it’s even more important that you eat foods rich in zinc daily.
The requirements for zinc are gendered; body size is a factor but as you see below, there is a hormonal factor too. Adult men (AMAB) require 11 mg of zinc daily. Adult women (AFAB) require 8 mg of zinc daily. In pregnancy, the requirement is 11 mg and in lactation 12 mg of zinc daily.
As with other minerals on a plant-based diet, it has been suggested that vegetarians and vegans perhaps aim for a 50% higher intake due to bioavailability issues with vegan sources of zinc. However, I find this number rather unattainable – what’s more, we understand that zinc absorption is better with smaller doses of zinc (and when zinc levels are lower) so in practice, I strive for the standard requirement. I don’t recommend reaching for the higher goal unless zinc deficiency symptoms have been identified by someone’s doctor.
What does zinc do in the body?
Zinc has a number of critical structural + metabolic functions in the human body. They include:
- Healthy Skin + Wound Healing: zinc is critical for wound healing and even building collagen in the skin
- Immune Support: the immune system needs zinc for proper function
- Sense of Taste + Smell: yep, zinc is critical for tasting food! In fact, this can be a sign of deficiency
- Eye health: zinc is associated with protection against macular degeneration
- Reproductive Health: zinc is important for testosterone and sperm production
- Growth and Development: zinc is critical throughout pregnancy and childhood
- Building Proteins + Enzymes: the body uses zinc to build internal proteins and support enzyme function
Zinc deficiency is considered uncommon in those who are food secure, meaning they can afford enough food (and a variety of foods) for their family. However, those at risk of zinc deficiency may include people who avoid zinc-rich foods, such as those on a vegan diet who do not pay attention to their zinc intake as well as kids and older adults. Malabsorption or prolonged diarrhea from celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis may also increase risk for zinc deficiency.
Symptoms of zinc deficiency include loss of taste or smell, impaired immune function and wound healing, loss of appetite and hair loss. Blood tests aren’t a great indicator because the body tightly regulates blood levels of zinc.
18+ foods high in zinc (Vegan)
Animal foods such as meat, dairy and seafood are the most commonly known sources of zinc. If you are on a plant-based diet, you might wonder where you can get your zinc from…I’ve got you covered with this list of zinc rich foods that just so happen to be vegan!
Zinc rich nuts + seeds
Nuts + seeds are some of the best vegan foods rich in zinc!
- Hemp: 1.8 mg zinc per 2 tablespoons hemp hearts
- Flax: 0.6 mg zinc per 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
- Pumpkin seeds: 2.7 mg zinc per 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- Cashews: 1.9 mg zinc per 1/4 cup cashews
- Almonds: 1.1 mg zinc per 1/4 cup almonds
Whole grains high in zinc
- Oats: 0.9 mg zinc per ¾ cup cooked oats
- Wheat: 0.6 mg zinc per 1 slices whole grain bread
- Quinoa: 1.6 mg zinc per ¾ cup cooked
- Brown rice: 1 mg zinc per 3/4 cup cooked
Legumes high in zinc
Beans + lentils are excellent zinc rich foods, along with being great sources of plant-based protein!
- Lentils: 1/2 cup cooked lentils has 1.3 mg zinc
- Chickpeas: 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas has 1.3 mg zinc
- Edamame: 1/2 cup cooked edamame (green soybeans) has 0.9 mg zinc
- Baked Beans: 1/2 cup vegetarian baked beans has 3 mg zinc
- Tofu: 1 cup of extra firm tofu has 2.2 mg zinc
Zinc rich fruits + vegetables
Fruits + vegetables don’t have a ton of zinc, but I wanted to share a few options here!
- Kale: 0.4 mg zinc per cup raw kale
- Broccoli: 0.3 mg zinc per cup raw broccoli
- Mushrooms: 0.4 mg zinc per 1/2 cup raw crimini (brown) mushrooms
- Spinach: 0.7 mg zinc per 1/2 cup cooked spinach
- Avocado: 0.6 mg zinc per 1/2 avocado
Other zinc rich foods
- Dark chocolate: a 33 gram portion of 70% dark chocolate has 1 mg zinc
- Cocoa powder: 0.3 mg zinc per 1 tablespoon
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals: many breakfast cereals are fortified with 25% of your daily value of zinc. Check the nutrition facts panel!
How to boost zinc intake on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Whole grains and legumes contain phytates, which are known to limit the absorption of minerals such as zinc and iron. So, does that mean that plants can’t give you the zinc you need? Not at all! Many plant foods are rich in zinc and there are (very normal) ways of preparing plant foods to enhance bioavailability.
The first? Well, cooking. Cooking is known to decrease the hold phytates have on foods. Luckily, we don’t tend to eat grains and legumes raw! Soaking helps too: the practice of soaking dried beans for a day before cooking will improve mineral absorption further.
Want extra points? Try sprouting. I LOVE sprouted grain breads, and sprouting grains helps to deactivate phytates. Love sprouts? Try sprouting legumes, which super charges their nutrient content as well as produces a histamine-crushing enzyme, DAO. Sprouted legumes make a great addition to salads.
What about zinc supplements?
Zinc supplements are popular, particularly due to the research that suggests zinc (at the very first sign of symptoms) may help shorten duration of cold and flu.
The caution with supplements is that they are often sold in high doses (you really don’t want to go beyond – or even get close to – the daily recommended limit of 40 mg long term) and can cause side effects such as nausea. Zinc supplements can also interfere with the absorption of iron and copper. I would highly recommend that you talk to your pharmacist before buying zinc supplements.
I hope this post helped teach you what you need to know about zinc. Anything else you were wondering? Let me know, in the comments!
40 Comments on “18+ Zinc Rich Foods A-Z”
Very informative information!
I’m so glad it was helpful Paul!
I found that I was getting too much zinc. My doc wants me to take a multi vitamin and my ophthalmologist wants me to take Preservision because I have a family history of macular degeneration. Between both and getting zinc from eating a healthy plant based diet, I was waaaay over the recommended amount. I started tracking my food and vitamins on cronometer and that’s how I found out.
Hi Christine, I am so glad you figured that out! When it comes to vitamins and minerals, often you can really have too much of a good thing.
I read your article in the Art&Life section of the Hamilton Spectator Hamilton today.
Wonderful article and I applaud you for your teaching on eating healthy foods.
I have recently tested positive for gluten sensitivity ..so have given up all grains, quinoa and rice. Also, as a result of this genetic problem I have always had problems with my iron blood test results.
My Hg, Ferritin and RBW lastest test again is at the lowest of the reference range or loweron the lab reports. My GP tells me I am fine and do not need iron supplements as well as reminding me of my age…82 years old.
I have been ordered Rx iron supplements all my life by other GP’s.
I am looking for foods that will increase the iron…eg liver ..I do eat meat but on a limited bases but no dairy…mainly plant based diet since my finding of the “ROOT CAUSE” for the auto immune conditons that I have which are associated with this genetic testing.
Do you have any suggestions on food additions to increase the iron???
I am a retired Health Professional of 50 years…I love the evident based approached that has occurred over the past 20-25 years!
I am so glad you found me! I hope the information here can be helpful – I actually have a blog post on iron rich plant foods here: https://desireerd.com/vegan-iron-sources-plus-recipes/ and remember, that pairing vitamin C rich foods like oranges, bell peppers and strawberries with iron rich foods can help improve absorption!
Very interesting article about zinc! I will try to increase some of the sources in my diet.
Hope this helps you get that zinc in, Pam!
Love reading your articles! Always so informative. I follow Tori Wesszer and this is how I came across you.
I am so glad you found me! Tori is such a treasure, I love her.
A simple, informative article on a mineral that I have paid very little attention to. I’ve read some of your micro-nutriment articles this week, and I notice that common to most of them, the absorption is higher in small doses. A super strong argument for getting your nutriments through nourishing foods instead supplements!
Exactly!! In the amounts nature intended.
Great information, didn’t think I was getting enough zinc turns out I am getting plenty as I eat most of the foods on the list.
That’s awesome! Sometimes, a quick check in can help show you that you are on the right path.
Thank you for this great zinc information! I have celiac plus other autoimmune conditions. I eat mostly raw vegan eating cooked legumes, grains, tofu plus some veggies. I am taking a 15 mg zinc supplement thinking I need the added zinc due to past Covid and being winter here. Due to my health history I have always been on the lower end of iron stores so am trying to optimize my iron. Could taking 15mg of zinc be interfering with building my blood?
Hi Debb, it is possible…best to nix the zinc supplement unless your doc thinks it’s necessary! Enjoy zinc rich foods instead (which often come with extra iron!)
Thanks for the great information. I love the way its organized as well.
Getting my zinc may rationalize my love for dark chocolate lol.
Two questions about zinc: if we can’t store zinc than is there no risks of having too much…won’t our body just naturally get ride of it like Vit C?
The amount of zinc we get from food seems so low, so should we take a zinc supplement regularly or only when we feel a flu coming on?
Ha ha same.
As for zinc, we don’t need a ton…and taking too much zinc can throw off the balance of other minerals in the body, like copper! So I recommend supplementing only at the onset of a cold or if advised by your doc for another condition, such as acne.
Really useful… I only ever heard of zinc in the last concept you mention, that it shortens colds. But, glad to know that since I am regularly eating most of those seeds, legumes, and grains that you list, and I don’t have any of the symptoms of deficiency, I’m probably doing OK on zinc. Whoop whoop for a varied plant-based diet checking all the boxes 🙂
Yes to that…eat a wide variety of plants, and your bases are covered!!
Can microgreens also be a good source of Zinc?
You would have to eat a LOT of micro greens. So they’re a nice little boost, but definitely not a main source.
Interesting article… I didn’t realize the connection between zinc and eye health. Thanks for the very thorough overview!
Thanks for getting nerdy with me 🙂
As a breastfeeding mama this was really helpful info! As always I really appreciate your work ☺️
I am so glad it was helpful, Katie!!
So informative – learned so much about zinc.
Ha ha, everything you didn’t realize you wanted to know 🙂
What do you mean when you say the body tightly regulates blood levels for zinc?
Also- thanks for giving me another excuse to have more dark chocolate 🙃.
It means that eating more zinc doesn’t automatically mean you’ll absorb it all! Like, if you somehow eat more than you need (food not supplements), you don’t have to worry…and when levels are lower, the body boosts absorption (ideally).
I always smile when I have a new reason to eat my favourite food, dark chocolate, but so good to know why zinc is important and where to find it in vegan foods. Thank you!
Ha ha my ulterior motive: justify dark chocolate for all!!
Thank you. Great information.
Thank you for this great summary, and food for thought, not just the gut!
I grew up vegetarian in the 70s and have shifted even more to a plant-based eater. Oh my! I only eat a few of those foods every day. My fortified soy milk and sprouted grain bread give me 1 g a day each (but I don’t eat them every day either), and most products don’t list zinc at all. I’m definitely going to have to explore more. A number of my regulars also help in the iron & calcium lists (where I’m okay). Synergy is definitely a bonus.
At the level we get naturally, do we have to worry about our zinc-rich foods interfering with our copper-rich (???) foods?
It’s true – most labels don’t list zinc because they don’t have to…but that doesn’t mean they don’t contain zinc! And no, at the normal food levels of zinc, you don’t have to worry about copper at all.
I eat all the foods on your list, but not in those quantities or every day. Totting up from your food list I estimate I get .9mg from those foods every day, oats, wholemeal sourdough bread and flax. The rest of my diet is as wide a range of fruit and veg as I can in a week,, varying daily and always including leafy veg, a bean or lentil, tofu or tempeh daily, with usually brown rice or quinoa. Today for instance it’s sweet potato and chickpea curry with rice. You would think such a small amount would be easier to reach!
Did you mean 9mg…or 0.9mg? I am pretty sure if you’re eating those foods you listed, you’ll get a lot more than 0.9mg a day!
Thanks for the interesting article. My blood tests showed me that I am low on zinc although I eat a good anount of zinc rich food on my vegan diet. So I started taking zinc supplements. I will see if I can recuce the supplements or stop them altogether.
Good luck Kirstin! Glad the post was helpful 🙂