Zinc is a mineral crucial for metabolism, immune function and the repair of body cells.
An insufficient intake of zinc can lead to developmental problems, hair loss, diarrhea and delayed wound healing.
The RDA for zinc is currently set at 8–9 mg per day for adults. It increases to 11–12 mg for pregnant women and 12–13 mg for lactating women (54).
Few plant foods actually contain zinc. Moreover, zinc absorption from some plant foods is limited due to their phytate content. For this reason, vegetarians are encouraged to aim for 1.5 times the RDA (54).
While not all vegans have low blood zinc levels, a recent review of 26 studies showed that vegetarians — and especially vegans — have lower zinc intakes and slightly lower blood zinc levels than omnivores (55).
To maximize your intake, eat a variety of zinc-rich foods throughout the day. These include whole grains, wheat germ, tofu, sprouted breads, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Soaking nuts, seeds and legumes overnight, eating enough protein and consuming fermented foods such as tempeh and miso also seems to boost absorption (56).
Vegans concerned about their zinc intake or those with symptoms of a deficiency may consider taking a daily zinc gluconate or zinc citrate supplement that provides 50–100% of the RDA.
BOTTOM LINE:Vegans unable to reach the zinc RDA should first focus on adding zinc-rich foods to their diets. Those with low blood zinc levels should consider adding a daily supplement.