It’s time to take the conversation from dietary fiber, healthy fat, antioxidants, and vitamins and start shining a bit of light on those minerals! Not to downplay the importance of these nutrients, yet they always seem to get more of the limelight.

Minerals — especially essential minerals calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, potassium, sodium, zinc, and, of course, copper — are found in plentiful supply in a variety of foods for good reason. They play vital roles in hundreds of bodily functions that keep us alive.

With that said, there’s one mineral, in particular, that’s been making the news lately: zinc. Like its other trace mineral counterparts, zinc plays a major role in the body, especially when it comes to sustaining a healthy immune system.

What are Minerals, and Why are they Important?

First off, minerals are broken down into essential — minerals that “are necessary for survival” — versus non-essential. Then you take those groups and break them down into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals).” While you need major minerals in larger amounts, your body only needs small amounts of trace minerals to remain adequately supplied.

All minerals are necessary to “activate enzymes — molecules with important jobs in the body,” and they play major roles in hundreds of other bodily functions. Each mineral has a specific set of tasks, from boosting the immune system to regulating smells and tastes to creating DNA and red blood cells.

What is Zinc?

When we talk about nutrition, we oftentimes forget to highlight the importance of minerals or only focus on the major minerals instead of major and trace. 

Luckily, even though zinc is a trace mineral, it’s also widely hailed due to its importance for a functioning human body, plus it also happens to be the “second-most-abundant trace mineral in your body — after iron.”

Zinc lives in our cells and is most well-known for its ability to help the “immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses.” While immune boosters have been trending for a few years — especially within the last year — zinc has many other duties, including making proteins and DNA, helping with growth and development — “during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood” — aiding in wound healing, and it’s also “important for proper senses of taste and smell.” On top of these essential tasks, zinc is also “necessary for the activity of over 300 enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function, and many other processes.”

Zinc Deficiency

Even though a zinc deficiency is extremely rare, it does happen from time to time. Therefore, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the symptoms and how it manifests.

A severe zinc deficiency leads to, obviously, more severe symptoms, yet most zinc deficiencies manifest with “impaired growth and development, delayed sexual maturity, skin rashes, chronic diarrhea, impaired wound healing and behavioral issues.” As zinc plays a crucial role in your immune system and wound healing, a zinc deficiency may also include the inability to heal or heal very slowly, as well as an increased likelihood of infection or the inability to fight said infection or illness.

A mild form of zinc deficiency includes symptoms such as “diarrhea, decreased immunity, thinning hair, decreased appetite, mood disturbances, dry skin, fertility issues, and impaired wound healing.”

Certain factors put you at a higher risk of a zinc deficiency, such as people with gastrointestinal diseases, — such as Crohn’s disease — those who suffer from sickle cell anemia or chronic kidney disease, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and breastfed infants.

You may also be at a higher risk of zinc deficiency if you practice a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you are eating a well-balanced and meticulously crafted plant-based diet every day!

Health Benefits of Zinc

We know what zinc is, what it does for our body, and what happens when we don’t get enough of it. So, what are the perks — those extra health benefits that we love so much — of this vital trace mineral?

Boosts the Immune System

More than ever, right now is a great time to start integrating natural sources of immune system support. Luckily, getting the right amount of zinc through your diet is a great start!

Zinc plays a vital role in “immune cell function and cell signaling,” therefore, if you don’t have enough zinc — or suffer from an actual zinc deficiency — it can “lead to a weakened immune response.” In fact, after reviewing seven different studies, it was found that consuming “80 [to] 92 mg per day of zinc may [help] reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33 [percent].”

Supports Wound Healing

The truly amazing thing about zinc and healing is that it not only supports normal wound healing but it’s also been found that zinc can accelerate the healing process!

Zinc is so effective it is “commonly used in hospitals as a treatment for burns, certain ulcers, and other skin injuries.”

How does it work?

Since zinc “plays critical roles in collagen synthesis, immune function, and inflammatory response,” it’s also a natural agent in the healing of skin wounds. Taking a closer look at zinc and your skin, it turns out that these two are pretty cohesive! Your skin “holds a relatively high amount — about 5 [percent] — of your body’s zinc content.”

Reduces Risk of Age-Related Diseases

It’s inevitable that as we age, our bodies will begin to experience certain changes. Some of these are completely natural — such as that silver, gray hair, or those extra wrinkles around your eyes — yet there are a handful of age-related diseases that can affect you early on in life.

While more research is being conducted, preliminary findings discovered that “zinc may significantly reduce your risk of [these] age-related diseases,” including other pernicious diseases such as “pneumonia, infection, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).” Scientists believe this may be, in part, due to those zinc-related immune system boosting agents — zinc “may relieve oxidative stress” and boost the “activity of T-cells and natural killer cells.” This means the body is more adept and able to fight off infections.

Decreases Inflammation

No matter who you are, where you live, or whether you’re in the middle of a pandemic or not, managing a healthy inflammatory response and decreasing unnecessary bodily inflammation is a huge part of a healthy body! Inflammation has been linked to a slew of chronic diseases and conditions — such as heart disease and cancer — and even plays a role in your mental health and may lead to mental decline.

When it comes to zinc and inflammation, it’s all about that oxidative stress! Turns out “oxidative stress leads to chronic inflammation.” Zinc has been found to decrease “oxidative stress and [therefore] reduces levels of certain inflammatory proteins in your body.”

5 Plant-Based Sources of Zinc

Black Bean Soup

Hearty Black Bean Soup/One Green Planet

Alright, we get it! Zinc is important, and we need to make sure it’s included in our diet regularly. Luckily, zinc is naturally present in a majority of plant-based food, which makes our lives just that much easier. With that said, more knowledge is always better! Here are a few of the best and richest sources of zinc in the plant kingdom.

1. Legumes

Legumes are not only a rich source of plant-based protein and a stellar meat substitute, but they also happen to be one of the richest sources of zinc. Specifically, you’ll want to focus on getting your weekly or daily dose of chickpeas, lentils, and beansFor instance, “100 grams of cooked lentils contain around 12 [percent] of the [daily value of zinc].”

Of course, there is a slight caveat when it comes to legumes. These plant-based superpowers also contain something called phytate, which are antinutrients that “inhibit the absorption of zinc and other minerals, meaning zinc from legumes isn’t as well absorbed as the zinc from animal products.”

Not to worry though! Phytates are drastically reduced — and the bioavailability of zinc is increased — by heating (think soups and stews!), sprouting, soaking, or fermenting legumes. Luckily, sprouted and fermented legumes are quickly becoming a popular commodity, which means you can find them at your local health food store or online.

Legumes are versatile in the plant-based kitchen. They can be used to make a salad, soup, stew, or a meatless recipe! Try out a few of these unique creations: Everyday Chickpea Curry, Lentil Loaf, Lemony White Bean Dip, or this Hearty Black Bean Soup.

2. Seeds

One of the easiest ways to boost the overall nutritional value of any plant-based meal is to simply sprinkle some of your favorite seeds on top. If you happen to have sprouted seeds, that’s even better!

When it comes to getting more bang for your daily zinc buck, try incorporating hemp seeds.

Hemp seeds are not only an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, but they’re also a rich source of zincthree tablespoons of hemp seeds contain “31 [percent] and 43 [percent] of the recommended daily intake for men and women, respectively.”

If hemp seeds don’t jam with your taste buds, you also get a healthy dose of zinc from “squash, pumpkin, and sesame seeds.”

Hemp seeds offer a surprising amount of healthy fat and oils. This makes them truly diverse when it comes to plant-based cooking. Try out a few of these hemp seed-based recipes: Coconut Hemp Milk, Easy Tahini Granola, Seed Crackers, or these Cherry Hemp Out Bars.

3. Nuts

Pretty much any nut that you desire will boost the nutrient content of your entire day! Nuts are a great source of healthy fats, protein, fiber, and a slew of vitamins and, yes, minerals.

If you’re looking to get your daily dose of zinc from nuts, then you’ll want to incorporate “pine nuts, peanuts, cashews, and almonds.” To narrow it down further, start with cashews, which offer 15 percent of your daily value of zinc for every ounce.

Cashews are the creamiest of the nut family, meaning they’re perfect for those creamy treats! Try a few of these delightful cashew-rich recipes: Chickpea Tempeh Tacos With Cashew Crema, Blueberry Pie Ice Cream, Roasted Cashew Nut Butter,  or this Raw Carrot Cake With Cashew Vanilla Frosting.

4. Whole Grains

Yes, there’s lots of debate and even more opinions out there about whole grains. The thing that can’t be debated about these plant-based foods is the fact that they are rich in vitamins and minerals.

When it comes to whole grains and zinc content, you’ll want to focus on wheat, quinoa, rice, and oats. Luckily, if you can’t do gluten, then quinoa, rice, and most oats (depending on the facility they are processed in) are naturally gluten-free!

One cup of cooked quinoa offers around 2 mg of zinc, which is about 13 [percent] of your daily value, while one cup of cooked long-grain brown rice offers around 1.2 mg of zinc, which is about 8 [percent] of your daily value.

Keep in mind that, just like legumes, grains also “contain phytates, which bind to zinc and reduce its absorption.” Therefore, finding yourself some good sprouted versions of these whole grains will boost that zinc intake!

Try a few of these whole grain-filled recipes: Blueberry Walnut Crumble Bars, Rice with Olives and Basil, Apple Quinoa Salad, or this Whole Wheat Bread.

5. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is one of those plant-based foods (as long as you find a vegan brand!) that jumps out with a ton of nutrients! It’s vilified because most dark chocolate bars are also filled with added, refined sugars. Therefore, when choosing your dark chocolate, make sure it’s free of sugar additives and dairy products!

Besides those factors, dark chocolate happens to be one of the best sources of zinc, offering about 30 percent of your daily value per “100-gram (3.5 ounces) bar of 70 [to] 85 [percent] dark chocolate.”

With that said, remember that everything is better in moderation, especially dark chocolate, which is also super high in healthy fats!

Try a few of these dark chocolate recipes: Apricot, Almond, and Dark Chocolate Cookie Bars, Healthy Toasted Coconut Almond Truffles, Raw Nutella Bars, or these super unique Chilli Chocolate Tacos.

Related Content:

Looking to get your mineral-knowledge fix? It’s probably best to start with those uber-essential minerals. Here are a few articles to get you started!

Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!

Muesli bars

Super-Seedy Muesli Bars/One Green Planet

Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammationheart healthmental wellbeingfitness goalsnutritional needsallergiesgut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acnehormonal imbalancecancer, and prostate cancer, and has many side effects.

For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.

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