Meat, shellfish, and dairy have some of the highest sources of zinc, but what about the best plant sources of zinc? With so many people choosing to follow a plant-based diet, knowing which plant sources provide the best source of zinc is essential to health. Continue reading to find out the 17 Best Plant Sources of Zinc.

best plant sources of zinc, bowl of whole grain cereal and plate of green peas

What Does Zinc Do for the Body?

Before we get to the best plant sources of zinc, let’s investigate why zinc is vital for our bodies. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), zinc is an essential nutrient. Therefore, our bodies do not make zinc, so we need to get it from the foods we eat.

Zinc is necessary for cellular metabolism or chemical reactions to maintain life. In addition to cellular metabolism, zinc is essential for immune function. Having a healthy immune system helps to fight off infections and prevent serious illness.

Another critical role of zinc is protein synthesis and promoting wound healing. As a registered dietitian, many of the people I work with have surgical procedures and may require additional zinc to help their bodies heal and repair. In addition, our skin holds 5% of the zinc content in our bodies and helps with cell growth and collagen formation, essential for wound healing.

After having surgery or having certain conditions or illnesses, some people may need to take zinc supplements if they cannot eat enough to get zinc from their foods. However, taking too much zinc can result in toxicity. So, speak with your physician or dietitian before taking zinc supplements. In addition, getting tested for zinc deficiency before taking zinc supplements is recommended.

Also, zinc is necessary for growth and normal development during pregnancy and in children and adolescents. During pregnancy, women need more zinc to help maintain their zinc levels and promote normal development, requiring 11 mg of zinc per day compared to 8 mg in non-pregnant women.

And did you know that zinc even helps us with our sense of taste and smell!

How Much Zinc Do You Need?

So that leads us to how much zinc do we need to have every day. As mentioned above, women at least 19 years and older need 8 mg per day, pregnant women need 11 mg, and lactating women require 12 mg of zinc daily. The Recommended Daily Allowance for men is 11 mg per day.

However, if you are vegetarian, vegan, or do not eat much meat or seafood, you may require up to 50% more of the RDA. Plant foods high in zinc have decreased absorption due to the phytates in these foods. Phytates are in foods such as seeds, grains, and legumes. However, there may be evidence that vegetarians and vegans can adapt to lower zinc levels by increasing absorption and retaining more zinc.

How do vegans and vegetarians increase zinc absorption?

Some easy ways to increase absorption of zinc from plant sources include:

  • Choosing yeast-leavened or sourdough bread instead of unleavened products like crackers since the leavening process partially breaks down phytates.
  • Also, pre-soaking and rinsing legumes before cooking are helpful. Allowing them to soak until sprouts form or choosing sprouted grains and seeds can also help improve zinc absorption from legumes and grains.
  • Taking iron supplements separately from meals because iron decreases the absorption of zinc.
  • Eating high protein sources from beans, nuts, and seeds can help increase the absorption of plant sources of zinc as protein has a positive effect on absorption. 

Best Plant Sources of Zinc

Ok, get ready to boost your health and immunity by adding more zinc to your diet. Here are 17 of the best plant sources of zinc.

1.      Fortified Cereals

Eating fortified cereals is a great way to add zinc to your diet and is one of the best plant sources of zinc. For example, choose whole grain cereal such as bran flakes, which provide 19 mg of zinc per ¾ cup of cereal or 170% of the daily value (DV) for zinc.

best plant sources of zinc, whole grain cereal
Whole grain cereal

2.      Toasted Wheat Germ

Toasted wheat germ provides 5 mg of zinc per ounce or 43% of DV.  You can add wheat germ to granola, cereal, cornbread. You can also add it on top of yogurt if you are Lacto-vegetarian (yogurt also provides 2 mg of zinc per cup) or use it as breadcrumbs or breading vegetables.

3.      Tofu

Firm tofu is one of the best plant sources of zinc for vegetarians and vegans and provides an excellent protein source with 10 grams in a ½ cup. And it gives 4 mg of zinc per cup or 36% of DV. Tofu can be used in stir-fries, salads, and noodles, or baked or even air-fried.

best plant sources of zinc, tofu
Tofu

4.     Hemp Seeds

Another excellent source of zinc is hemp seeds. These provide 3 mg of zinc or 26% of DV. Hemp seeds can be added to cereal, oatmeal, or added to salads.

5.     Lentils

Lentils are a great and delicious way to have more zinc in your diet because they provide 3 mg of zinc per cup or 23% of DV. You can eat lentils in a variety of ways, but one of my favorites is lentil soup. Here is my recipe for Slow Cooker Lentil and Vegetable Soup.

bag of red lentils
Lentils

6.     Oatmeal

Another delicious and excellent plant source of zinc is oatmeal. Oatmeal is a whole grain and provides 2 mg of zinc per cup or 21% of DV. Oatmeal is a popular healthy breakfast food, and you can prepare it in different ways. Check out some of these great ways to prepare oatmeal in 10 Healthy Breakfast Ideas.

bowl of oatmeal with a few blueberries on top
Oatmeal

7.     Wild Rice

Did you know that wild rice is not rice? It is grass that grows naturally in shallow freshwater, and three of the four species are from North America in the Great Lakes region!  It was originally produced and harvested by Native Americans.

Wild rice provides 2 mg of zinc per cup or 20% of DV, making this an excellent source of zinc. If you cannot find wild rice, you can have brown rice, which provides 13% of DV in 1 cup.

8.     Pumpkin Seeds

 In the fall, roasting pumpkin seeds is a great way to add more zinc to your diet. Pumpkin seeds or other squash seeds such as acorn or butternut provide 2 mg per 1 ounce or 20% of DV. So please don’t throw out the seeds when scooping them out; save them and roast them for a delicious high zinc treat.

mason jar of pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds

9.     Quinoa

Quinoa is delicious and is high in protein, fiber, and zinc. It has 2 mg of zinc per cup or 18% of DV. Quinoa is a gluten-free seed from South America that became a popular food several years ago. You can eat quinoa as a side, add to salads, stuff in bell peppers, or use it to substitute for oatmeal.

10.   Shiitake Mushrooms

Mushrooms are not only a great source of vitamin D but are also a good source of zinc with 2 mg per cup or 18% of DV. You can add them to stir-fries, salads, pasta, and soups!

best plant sources of zinc, shiitake mushrooms in a basket
Mushrooms

11.   Black Beans

Black beans also provide 2 mg of zinc per cup and are a great source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants. They are popular in Mexican and Cuban dishes and make a great addition to soups.

12.   Green Peas

Another good source of zinc is green peas. Green peas have 17% of DV for zinc or 2 mg in 1 cup cooked. Typically, peas are a side dish, but you can also add them to soups and salads.

green peas on a plate
Green peas

13.   Spinach

Leafy greens have great nutritional content like iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, and antioxidants. And spinach is also another good plant source of zinc, with 1 mg of zinc per 1 cup cooked. So you can add spinach to soups, omelets, salads, or eat sauteed as a side dish.

14.   Lima Beans

Lima beans make another excellent side dish or addition to soups and salads to boost your zinc intake. These beans provide 1 mg of zinc per 1 cup cooked or 12% of DV.

15.   Chia Seeds

These tiny seeds are a great source of fiber, and you can add them to oatmeal, energy balls, salads, and yogurt. Chia seeds have 1 mg of zinc in about two tablespoons!

16.   Pecans

Some nuts provide a good source of zinc and pecans are one of those nuts. Pecans have 1 mg of zinc or 12% of DV per 1 ounce. Add them to salads, oatmeal, pancakes, muffins, or yogurt.

glass full of pecans
Pecans

17.   Avocados

This delicious fruit is high in healthy fats, fiber and is a good source of zinc. You will need one avocado, though, to get 1 mg of zinc or 12% of DV. Avocados are versatile, and you can eat them in various ways, such as sliced and topped on toast or tacos or added to a vegetable sandwich. Here is a delicious recipe for Avocado Toast with Tomatoes and Corn!

Conclusion

Zinc is an essential nutrient that helps promote a healthy immune system, growth, and development and improves our sense of taste and smell! Getting enough of the best plant sources of zinc is even more vital if you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Using this as a guide to improve your zinc intake can help you maintain adequate zinc levels in your body. Be sure to check with your physician or dietitian before taking zinc supplements.

References:

Lönnerdal B. Dietary factors influencing zinc absorption. J Nutr. 2000 May;130(5S Suppl):1378S-83S. DOI: 10.1093/jn/130.5.1378S. PMID: 10801947. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10801947/

Saunders, A.V, Craig W.J., and Baines, S. Zinc and vegetarian diets. Med J Aust 2013; 199 (4): S17-S21. DOI: 10.5694/mja11.11493

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and be sure to leave a comment below and let me know some of your favorite plant sources of zinc. Also, be sure to subscribe to get more nutrition information and healthy recipes sent directly to your email!

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Dietitian, food lover, and world traveler! Veronica has been a registered dietitian for over 18 years, specializing in clinical and community nutrition. She enjoys wellness, trying new foods, and exploring the globe to learn about different cultures.