Macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein) tend to be on the forefront of most people’s minds when they consider how to care for their health directly through what they eat. And this isn’t a bad thing— macronutrients are absolutely necessary for energy, muscle maintenance, health appetites and satisfaction, neurotransmitter function, and growth, preventing malnutrition, etc. However, micronutrients are also vital and often improve how well macronutrients are used or respond in the human body. 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.

Micronutrients: The Overlooked Nutrients to be Aware Of More Often

One of the most overlooked micronutrients is magnesium, a mineral that builds the bones, aids with nervous system and mood health, the ability to rest and recover after workouts, and more. Thankfully, magnesium is receiving just as much attention as calcium or iron used to in terms of meeting nutritional needs. Yet one mineral that seems to be easily overlooked, especially in plant-based nutrition, is zinc. And this is a huge mistake we should pay more attention to. Zinc supplementation is often implemented during pregancy or when we’re sick because zinc is vital to a healthy preganancy, and enhances immune health, but these are not the only times we should consider taking in enough zinc. In fact, it’s quite easy to do through our diets, despite a vegan — and even vegetarian — diet being naturally lower than animal-food based diets are. However, one benefit of plant-based nutrition is that the forms 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 percent plant-based, you can certainly achieve adequate amounts of zinc without beef, poultry, liver, or fish where it’s so commonly found.

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Why Zinc?

Zinc deficiencies can result in: loss of hair, more susceptibility to colds and the flu, hormone imbalances, acne, and even change how the body uses and handles insulin in the body. Zinc assists with carbohydrate metabolism, efficient production of testosterone to prevent estrogen dominance, helps enhance the skin and nails, helps enhance your sense of smell, healthy growth, healthy 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 and that it’s easy to get enough of, focus on these zinc-rich foods below daily unless you prefer taking a supplement:

1. Beans and Legumes

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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. You should also rely on more than just beans for your zinc needs. And while not thought of as a bean, 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

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Nuts and seeds also offer excellent sources of zinc, some of the best being pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. Eat a variety of these daily here and there in order 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. 

3. Oats

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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. 

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4. Wheat Germ

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If you’re not gluten-free, wheat germ is also a good source of zinc, protein, and vitamin E. A sprinkle on your oatmeal with some seeds is a nice zinc-rich way to start the day!

5. Nutritional Yeast

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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 being just one of the reasons why. 

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How Much? 

Women need a minimum of 9 milligrams of zinc per day, while males need 11. If you find you’re not able to get enough through your diet, consider a zinc supplement, which affordable and available in multivitamin form or in individual supplement form. You can eat too many zinc-rich foods, but should be sure you’re not supplementing with excessive amounts either. Overall, remember to focus on a balanced diet rich in whole, plant-based foods to take care of your health. This is the number one place to start not just for adequate zinc intake, but also all other micronutrients (and macronutrients) too.

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