I have personally enjoyed a plant based diet for close to ten years. Some of which have been as a vegetarian, and some as vegan. I have experienced numerous deficiencies during my journey, partly due to malabsorption, though I believe a lack of education was at the heart of it all. Zinc has such an important role in the body — and is critical for normal growth and development particularly in pregnant women and children, cellular integrity, and healthy immune response. Animal proteins are great bioavailable sources of zinc, with oysters being the richest source. Plant based sources are far less bioavailable, due to many dietary factors that impair absorption, most notably, the phytates present in the outer skins, husks and brans of whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Those on a vegetarian or vegan diet have lower dietary intakes of zinc. It is unsure yet whether serum zinc concentrations are correspondingly lower — as the body can cleverly adapt to increase absorption and reduce zinc excretion when intake falls.
But then, when measuring serum zinc via blood tests, they found vegetarian women, despite their lower zinc intake, did not have significantly different serum levels. It is essential for multiple aspects of metabolism, including catalytic, structural and regulatory functions, and also plays an important role in the immune system. Email me when people comment on this article. Soaking: soaking beans, whole grains, and even nuts or seeds before consumption can release some of the phytate and therefore increase the ability of the body to absorb zinc from these vegan foods 1, 5. It is generally well accepted that zinc intakes are lower on a plant based diet. J Nutr ; 5 Suppl : SS. Learn more about the Vegan Nutrition Cheat Sheet! Volume Issue 4 Suppl. Conclusion Well planned vegetarian diets can provide adequate zinc for all age groups, and vegetarians appear to be at no greater risk of zinc deficiency than non-vegetarians. Heating: cooking legumes and whole grains prior to eating them can minimize phytate content 1. With zinc, people run into both issues. See the nutrient ranking of all beans and lentils high in zinc.
Vegetarians appear to adapt to lower zinc intakes by increased absorption and retention of zinc. Good sources of zinc for vegetarians include whole grains, tofu, tempeh, legumes, nuts and seeds, fortified breakfast cereals and dairy products. The inhibitory effects of phytate on absorption of zinc can be minimised by modern food-processing methods such as soaking, heating, sprouting, fermenting and leavening. Absorption of zinc can be improved by using yeast-based breads and sourdough breads, sprouts, and presoaked legumes. Studies show vegetarians have similar serum zinc concentrations to, and no greater risk of zinc deficiency than, non-vegetarians despite differences in zinc intake. This is a republished version of an article previously published in MJA Open. A lthough vegetarians have an overall lower risk of common chronic diseases than non-vegetarians, there are some nutrients, including zinc, that need special attention in those who follow a vegetarian diet. Since plant sources of zinc contain phytate and other inhibitors of zinc absorption, vegetarians and vegans may potentially be at risk of zinc deficiency. We present a review of the evidence about zinc in relation to vegetarians, including the bioavailability of zinc from plant sources.