Of all the ways of eating I’ve ever tried, I feel the best on when I stick with plant based low carb. Even further, I feel much better predominantly whole foods than relying on packaged ones. The downside to eating a vegan keto whole foods diet (aside from the fact that it is comparatively more work), is that you really have to pay attention to your nutrient intake. Of course, non-vegans and non-low carbers should be doing this, too, but for some reason everyone is a nutritionist when you say you’re vegan.
Anyway, I’ve previously focused on both calcium and omega-3 intake on a low carb vegan diet, and in this post, we’re going to take a look at zinc. Zinc is a vital nutrient that plays a key role in immune function, and it’s not the easiest nutrient to obtain through food, especially on a vegetarian diet. Don’t fret, though! There are definitely ways to get enough zinc, and we’re going to take a look at them!
What is Zinc?
At a basic level, zinc is a mineral – at least nutritionally speaking. Your body requires zinc for basic immune function, wound healing, eye health, digestive health, and a whole slew of other things.
Weirdly, even the ability to taste and smell are connected to sufficient levels of zinc. One common way to test if you have a zinc deficiency is by either drinking water with a zinc supplement added in, or by putting a zinc lozenge on your tongue. If you are unable to taste the metallic zinc, you are likely deficient. Of course, only your doctor can really tell you for sure whether your zinc levels are sufficient.
How Much Zinc Should I Consume Every Day?
The recommended daily intake for zinc in the US are as follows:
It’s important to note that you can actually consume too much zinc in a day! Because consuming too much zinc can cause quite a few issues as well, it’s important to be aware of how much zinc is in any supplements you may take. The recommended upper daily limit for zinc is as follows:
What Are the Signs of a Zinc Deficiency?
According to the National Institute of Health, deficient legels of zinc can cause the following:
Zinc deficiency is characterized by growth retardation, loss of appetite, and impaired immune function. In more severe cases, zinc deficiency causes hair loss, diarrhea, delayed sexual maturation, impotence, hypogonadism in males, and eye and skin lesions [2,8,24,25]. Weight loss, delayed healing of wounds, taste abnormalities, and mental lethargy can also occur [5,8,26-30].
While zinc deficiency is not common, groups at risk for a zinc deficiency include vegetarians and pregnant and lactating women. So, these groups should pay especially close attention to their zinc intake.
What Low Carb Vegan Foods Contain Zinc?
So, like most nutrients, zinc is found in a LOT of foods. Instead of listing all the potential sources of zinc, we’re going to focus on foods that contain an appreciable amount that can actually be counted towards your daily total.
You’ll notice that all of these foods (with the exception of soybeans and cashews) are pretty heavily featured in my meal plans, and mineral content is why.
Source: USDA Food Composition Database
An average serving of most of these foods is about 28g/1oz, so keep that in mind while working out your meal plan. For most populations, consuming 2 ounces of hemp seeds, 1 ounce of pepitas and Right off, you’ll notice that these are listed in 100g servings. No, you aren’t likely going to consume 100g of tahini, or really any of these foods in a given day, but it’s a good way to compare the zinc content of these foods.
To hit the RDA for zinc using the foods above (not counting the trace amounts from other food sources), a person could eat the following:
- 1 ounce pepitas sprinkled on yogurt in the morning
- 2 tbsp tahini made into salad dressing
- 1 ounce hemp hearts sprinkled on the same salad
- 1 ounce sesame seeds as a snack at night
It’s surprisingly easy to get enough zinc, if you eat the right foods!
If you can’t eat nuts and seeds, you are likely going to run into some issues getting enough zinc in your diet. At this point, you would definitely want to talk to your doctor about finding a supplement that is right for you!