This article series is a spotlight on the micronutrients, vitamins and minerals you need on a vegan diet. We look at where you can get them, how much you need, if supplementing is necessary, and tips for incorporating them into your plant-based diet.
Article by Caitlin Adler, a vegan Accredited Sports Nutritionist, Strength & Conditioning coach and bodybuilder at Plant Forged Physique. Her passion is helping vegans achieve their health and fitness goals with evidence-based guidance and expertise. Check out their free Vegan Supplement Cheat Sheet and other resources.
Zinc plays a role in DNA creation, cell growth and repair, regulating testosterone levels, and supporting a healthy immune system.
It’s also required for normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence.
Low levels of zinc consumption can lead to stunted growth, loss of appetite, impaired immune function and slow wound healing. Untreated, zinc deficiency can also lead to fatigue, hair loss, diarrhoea, skin sores, as well as delayed pubescent development in adolescents, and impaired testical function in men.
Vegan diets can contain plenty of zinc but zinc-rich plants often contain phytate which lowers absorption during digestion. As it’s less bioavailable, vegans and vegetarians are more likely to have low zinc levels.
Consequently, vegans and vegetarians need to consume 50% more zinc each day than meat-eaters – 12 mg per day for vegan women and 16.5 mg per day for vegan men.
More zinc is needed during pregnancy and breastfeeding to support the infant’s growth. So pregnant and breastfeeding vegans require 16.5 mg and 18 mg per day respectively.
Legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains, as well as fortified breakfast cereals and breads contain zinc. A good source of zinc would be 1.5mg or greater per serve. While a great source would be over 2mg. For example:
Including zinc-dense foods in your meals throughout each day can make meeting your recommended intake a lot easier.
Vegans can meet their zinc needs through food alone, although it does require some consideration and planning. Supplements are only necessary for those who can’t meet their intake from food or have increased needs for zinc (i.e. pregnancy or breastfeeding).
For athletes, zinc supplementation during training has been shown to reduce exercise-induced decreases in immune function.
The safer upper intake for zinc is 40 mg per day for adults over 19 years. Given this, supplementing with between 15-25mg is considered safe and effective.
Zinc supplements can contain several forms of zinc, like zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate. While the percentage of elemental zinc varies per form, there’s no strong evidence to suggest differences in absorption, bioavailability, or tolerance between these forms of zinc.
Iron and zinc compete for absorption pathways. So if you also supplement with iron, take your zinc supplement at a different time of day to ensure sufficient absorption.
Zinc is prevalent in a vegan diet but due to low bioavailability vegans have higher zinc requirements. So it’s important to include zinc-rich foods regularly throughout your meals.
This handy evidence-based guide outlines exactly what supplements are needed to improve muscle gain, health, performance, recovery, and fat loss – and which ones are a waste of your time and money!