Macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein) tend to be on the forefront of most people’s mi..
Macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein) tend to be on the forefront of most people’s minds when they consider nutritional health. And this isn’t a bad thing— macronutrients are absolutely necessary. However, micronutrients are also vital, and they often improve how well macronutrients are used. Micronutrients are minerals, individual amino acids and vitamins that direct cells just like macronutrients do. Found in all foods, these speak to our cells on quite a large level; without enough micronutrients, our bodies will cease to thrive.
Yet one mineral that seems to be easily overlooked, especially in plant-based nutrition, is zinc. And this is a huge mistake! Zinc is often prescribed during pregancy or when we’re ill, but these are not the only times we should consider our zinc balance. One benefit of plant-based nutrition is that the foods we derive our nutrients from are overall friendlier to the body than a diet heavy in animal-based products. While you may not be 100% plant-based, you can certainly get adequate amounts of zinc without beef, poultry, liver, or fish, where it’s commonly found.
Zinc deficiencies can result in loss of hair, more susceptibility to colds and the flu, hormone imbalances, acne, and even changes to how the body uses and handles insulin in the body. Zinc assists with carbohydrate metabolism, efficient production of testosterone, healthy skin and nails, improved sense of smell, growth, good eyesight, wound healing, and a well-functioning immune system.
Sources of Zinc in a Plant-Based Diet
Now that you know why you need it, focus on these zinc-rich foods:
1. Beans and Legumes
This includes tofu, tempeh, black and green soybeans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, peanuts, etc. All beans and legumes offer great amounts of zinc; however, do be aware that they contain a large amount of phytates on their skin, which are meant to protect them in nature. Phytates, however, have been linked to a reduced absorption of important minerals and occur heavily in beans, legumes, and grains. Be sure you soak your beans and legumes first, or buy from brands that pre-soak theirs first. Then cook them thoroughly until they’re very soft. These steps reduce the phytates, which also makes them easier to digest. Cacao and coffee beans are also great sources of zinc and do not need special preparation. However, raw cacao is more nutrient dense than chocolate and cocoa powder, so do keep this in mind.
2. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds also offer excellent sources of zinc, some of the best being pumpkin, chia, hemp and sunflower seeds, walnuts, cashews, almonds, and pecans. Eat a variety of these daily to add more zinc to your meals. As a bonus, these foods are also great sources of magnesium, B vitamins, and iron, which will assist with micronutrient health even further.
Oats are one of the few grains that offers a large amount of zinc. Oats are also great sources of calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. Soak your oats overnight to make them easier to digest and assimilate, or cook them throughly on the stove top if you prefer.
4. Wheat Germ
If you’re not gluten-free, wheat germ is also a good source of zinc, protein, and vitamin E. Sprinkle some on your oatmeal with some seeds for a nice zinc-rich start to the day!
5. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a great source of nutrients for plant-based eaters, particularly protein, vitamin B12, and yes, zinc too! It actually has 20 percent of your needs in just 2 tablespoons. Not a shabby side effect of enjoying a cheesy-flavored delight, right? Nutritional yeast is also great for your blood sugar, with zinc, protein, and B vitamins.
Women need a minimum of 9 milligrams of zinc per day, while men need 11. If you find you’re not able to get enough through your diet, consider a zinc supplement, which is affordable and available in multivitamin form or as an individual supplement. Overall, remember to focus on a balanced diet rich in whole, plant-based foods to take care of your health.
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