With the official start of winter just weeks away, it’s crucial to build up a strong immune system ASAP to ward off those nasty flu viruses that circulate during this time of the year. Though vitamin C is usually considered the immune-boosting superstar, it’s time to turn our attention to zinc–a trace mineral that, in addition to boosting the immune system, also helps heal wounds faster, contributes to healthy skin and nails, and even assists with carbohydrate metabolism. Here are 8 plant-based foods that are rich in zinc, along with several tasty recipes.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
These tasty seeds can be eaten plain, roasted, salted, or seasoned with your choice of spices, whether sweet or savory. You can either make them yourself or purchase them from the store–either way, they are both delicious and packed with several vital nutrients. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of zinc, with just a quarter-cup containing nearly 25% of the RDA, making them an ideal immune-boosting food in the winter months. They are also a good source of the fat-soluble vitamins E and K, both of which are beneficial for the cardiovascular system–and both tend to be more concentrated in raw pumpkin seeds vs. roasted ones.
Though it may have a reputation for being bland and mushy, tofu can be a delicious protein source when prepared and seasoned properly. It comes in multiple varieties depending on its texture, ranging from silken tofu (best for smoothies, dips, sauces, etc…) to extra-firm tofu (best for marinating and baking/frying/grilling). Tofu is a good source of zinc, with 4 ounces contains approximately 15% of the RDA for this mineral. It is also a good source of protein, iron, magnesium, and calcium, and contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
These hearty legumes are the perfect staple to have on hand in the winter, especially for use in soups, stews, chili, etc…They come in many different varieties, from red to green to black, and can generally be cooked in 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the type. Lentils are an good source of zinc, with one cup (cooked) containing approximately 15-20% of the RDA. They are also rich in fiber, protein, iron, and several other vitamins and minerals–not to mention the fact that they can improve heart health and combat fatigue and exhaustion thanks to their high iron content. Lentils are a true superfood in more ways than one, and can help bolster your immune system this winter.
These rich-flavored nuts are a must-have in any plant-based kitchen, thanks to their delicious flavor and versatile nature. They can be eaten by the handful, soaked and used as the base for raw cheesecakes, or even incorporated into sauces and dips. In addition to their versatility, cashews are a good source of zinc, with a one-ounce serving containing approximately 15% of the RDA–and who can stop at just one ounce of these tasty treats? Cashews are also rich in copper, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium, four other important trace minerals that aid in everything from bone strength to heart health. So get smart and add cashews to the list for your next shopping trip!
This classic breakfast staple can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, and comes in several varieties depending on how processed it is–steel cut oats, Scottish oats, rolled oats, and quick-cooking oats, just to name a few. Just half a cup of oats contains approximately 30% of the RDA for zinc, making it a valuable addition to your pantry when the winter sniffles come calling. Oats are also rich in magnesium, fiber, and thiamine, and may also contribute to better heart health when consumed on a regular basis.
6. Nutritional Yeast
These yellow flakes don’t look anything like the yeast we use for bread and pizza dough, but despite its odd name and appearance, it packs a powerful nutritional punch, and can be used to add both flavor and vital nutrients to your plant-based diet. It is a form of deactivated yeast that is typically grown on blackstrap molasses, and that has a hard-to-describe savory, nutty, and almost “cheesy” flavor. Just two tablespoons of nutritional yeast contain 20% of the RDA for zinc, an impressive amount. It is also packed with protein, fiber, and several of the B vitamins, including vitamin B-12, which can sometimes be lacking in vegan diets.
These delicious legumes are popular in many global cuisines, and play a starring role in such vegan-friendly Mediterranean dishes as falafel and hummus. They can be purchased either dried or canned, though cooking them from scratch generally results in a better flavor and texture. Once soaked overnight, chickpeas cook up in about an hour or two, so you could make a large batch on the weekend to use for the week. Chickpeas are a good source of zinc, with one (cooked) cup containing approximately 25% of the RDA. They are also rich in fiber, protein, and magnesium, and may help boost heart health and improve digestion.
8. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds may not look appetizing, especially given their, shall we say, alternate uses, but they are surprisingly dense in several nutrients, and are becoming more widely available in different grocery stores. They come from the cannabis sativa plant, but do not contain any THC, so no need to worry about any mind-altering effects! Just one ounce of hemp seeds contains approximately 35% of the RDA of zinc, making them quite rich in this vital immune-boosting mineral. They are also packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, meaning they are beneficial for the muscles, brain, heart, and many other organs!
Check out this article to learn about the many different ways you can add hemp seeds to your diet!
Looking for more information on this often-neglected micronutrient? Check out Zinc in Vegan Diets: Meeting Needs is Easy to get a breakdown of how you can easily meet the RDA for zinc with plant-based foods. Or read about The Importance of Getting Enough Zinc in a Vegan Diet and How to Do It.
For more delicious zinc-filled recipes, we also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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