Despite how our schools and parents have always told us to eat right and live right, we usually tend to go the other way round. Be it carbs, fats, proteins and micronutrients, our bodies need them all in the right proportions. The moment we stop taking in the right amount of nutrition, it upsets the balance in our bodies. Because of this, often people resort to taking multivitamins and mineral supplements to restore particular deficiencies, but they only work temporarily. For a real change within, you will need to consume appropriate foods. In the vegan lifestyle, a number of food types are permanently dismissed, so vegans may not get the amount of nutrition they need. A prevalence of zinc deficiency is usually seen due to this very reason among vegans. Our aim is to let these individuals know where they can get healthy amounts of zinc from natural vegetarian sources of zinc so that their deficiencies are gone in no time.
Why Zinc Is Needed
Zinc is an essential mineral, required by more than 300 enzymes in the body. These enzymes are involved in a multitude of processes inside the body, such as immune system function, tissue repair, hair growth, physical development, taste, and smell. Zinc is not stored inside the body, so a daily intake is important. Your doctor would better advise you regarding zinc intake, especially those with deficiencies. Under certain conditions, such as pregnancy, your zinc requirement is a lot more than usual.
Zinc is essential for the development of certain blood cells, bones, eyes and even the prostate glands. It has been associated with lower semen levels and sperm production. Vegetarian diets avoid meat, animal seafood, dairy products and eggs or anything derived from animals. By avoiding certain food types, they are more prone to having a zinc deficiency. So, essentially, this could affect many of their bodily processes in a detrimental manner. To avoid zinc deficiency, vegetarians need to select foods that are not only suitable to their lifestyle, but also rich in zinc. So without further ado, I will list down a number of foods that you can try to supplement yourself with zinc naturally, without having to quit your vegetarian diet.
Vegetarian Sources of Zinc
Zinc is highly available in meat, dairy products, and eggs. But as vegetarians have limitations in consuming animal products, they can opt for these alternatives. Keep in mind that food is the ultimate way to balance your nutrition and health. Zinc supplements may restore your deficiency, but it cannot be an alternative to food. Also, these supplements may have side effects, which is why you should stick to eating healthy as much as you can.
Don’t ever underestimate seeds because these are tiny pods of highly nutritious content. Not all seeds contain zinc though and some seeds may contain zinc that is more than enough. That means some seeds are better than others. For example, 30 grams of hemp seeds could contain up to 43% of the advised daily intake for both women and men. Squash, sesame, and pumpkin seeds also contain adequate levels of zinc. There’s nothing to lose! You also get fibers, fats, other minerals and vitamins. Regular consumption of seeds has been associated with lower cholesterol and reduced blood pressure. You could eat whole seeds to various salads, yogurts, and soups.
You might not be a big fan of lentils, but you have to be if you’re suffering from zinc deficiency. Chickpeas, beans, and lentils contain a high level of zinc. Just take 100 grams of lentils, cook and consume them, and then you will get 12% of the recommended daily intake of zinc! However, one thing to keep in mind is that legumes also contain substances called phytates. These substances are responsible for lower level of absorption of zinc and other minerals, into the body. So, zinc is not readily absorbed from legumes as it is from animal products. However, if you’re a vegetarian, seeds and legumes are your best bet. Legumes are easy to cook and eat, and they contain a good amount of dietary fibers and protein. In fact, heating, fermenting or soaking legumes may increase the bioavailability of zinc.
Almonds, pine nuts, cashews contain healthy fibers, fats and a sufficient amount of zinc. Among these, cashews are the best. For example, 28 grams of cashew nuts give you 14% of the recommended daily intake. Nuts make for great snacks and are so beneficial to your health. They’re known to reduce risk factors for heart diseases, diabetes, and even cancer. Nuts have also been implied in helping to reduce aging symptoms and even increase life expectancy.
4. Whole Grains:
Rice, wheat, oats, and quinoa also contain an ample amount of zinc. But like legumes, these also contain phytates that are known to reduce the bioavailability of zinc and other minerals into the body. However, just because these have slightly lower levels of zinc, you shouldn’t avoid them because they are also good sources of other nutrients, such as vitamin B complex, manganese, phosphorus, fiber, magnesium, selenium, and iron.
5. Fruits and Vegetables:
Being a vegetarian, fruits and vegetables are your staple diet. But sadly these don’t contain enough zinc, making them poor vegetarian sources of zinc. Since you avoid meat and animal food products, which are better sources of bioavailable zinc, you really don’t have any other choice except eating vegetables and fruit. Both regular and sweet potatoes contain nearly 1 gram of zinc, which equates to 9% of the daily recommended intake of zinc. Kale and green beans contain even lower levels of zinc, but still make up to 3% of the daily recommended intake. Eating vegetables and fruits lead to a lower risk of heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer. So although these are not foods high in zinc, you shouldn’t give up on them.
6. Shiitake mushrooms:
Whether you like mushrooms or not, if you’re facing the risk of zinc deficiency, trying them is a must for you. One cup of Shiitake mushrooms serve approximately 81 calories and around 2 mg of zinc. Not too bad after all.
Who Else Could Have Zinc Deficiency?
It’s not just the vegetarians who are in trouble, other high-risk groups for zinc deficiency include alcoholics, pregnant and lactating women, and breastfeed older children. With regular intake of foods high in zinc, zinc deficiency can be cured.
Alcohol can decrease the bioavailability of zinc and also increase its urinary excretion, so alcoholics are prone to being zinc deficient. Women who are pregnant and lactating should increase intake of foods high in zinc, since fetuses and newborn babies also need sufficient amounts of zinc. Speaking of children, babies older than 6 months of age should start eating more foods that are age appropriate, and shouldn’t solely rely on zinc.
People with digestive diseases, gastrointestinal problems, ulcers, and genetic diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, have lower levels of zinc. This is because either zinc is absorbed less or found less in blood.
Iron can inhibit the absorption of zinc, so people consuming iron supplements regularly are at a high risk of zinc deficiency. Some medications, such as diuretics can increase excretion of zinc; and with prolonged use, the chances of prolonged zinc deficiency are higher. So before consuming diuretics you should monitor your mineral levels and keep eating foods high in zinc.
Finally, zinc is an important mineral, which is required for the function of more than 300 enzymes in our body for a large number of functions. From our sense of smell to immune function, zinc works at a molecular level to safeguard and keep the body healthy. To keep these functions up and running, it’s important to consume foods high in zinc, but for a vegetarian who avoids a large proportion of animal derived foods, this may be a tadbit difficult. Hopefully, this article will help you especially if you’re a vegetarian or in a zinc deficiency risk group looking for a healthier alternative to increasing zinc consumption.