How Do You Get Enough Zinc As A Vegan?

Zinc from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 fdecomite, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

A reader emailed me in the week asking how vegans get enough zinc.

It’s a great question. We tend to focus on nutrients that uninformed journalists have scared us into thinking we won’t get enough of on a plant-based diet; like protein, calcium and iron.

Zinc doesn’t often figure in this list.

So let’s do zinc; right here, right now!

Zinc is a highly important nutrient; vital for healthy growth during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy; for a healthy immune system; for nerve development and for wound healing.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency include frequent infections, skin sores, loss of hair and problems with sense of taste and smell.

White spots on fingernails are also thought by many to be a sign of mild zinc deficiency, but though I can find this information on several MD websites, I can’t find science to back this up and there are differing opinions on this.

In any case, you don’t want a zinc deficiency, no sir.

The good news is there is no science that suggests that vegans do not get enough zinc.

According to the Vegan Society, vegans of all ages generally have a dietary intake of zinc which is similar to or greater than that of non-vegans.

If a vegan IS deficient in zinc this is more likely to be because they are restricting their caloric intake (i.e. as with an eating disorder) rather than because a plant-based diet is naturally deficient in zinc.

The recommended daily amount is 8 – 11mg. The higher end of this scale is for sexually active males, as zinc is lost through semen expulsion.

It has been suggested by the Institute of Medicine that vegans who have high intakes of whole grains might need more zinc than recommended. It’s true that the phytic acid found in whole grains can bind to minerals like zinc and make them less bioavailable to the body, but there is no solid science to show that this is a problem that causes zinc deficiency in vegans.

In fact, the Vegan Society say that even though whole grains ARE higher in phytate, their higher zinc levels make up for poor absorption, so there’s no need to miss out on the other great nutrients in whole grains.

Even though plant foods are not high in zinc, there are lots that contain zinc. Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and tempeh are all great sources.

If you want to pro-actively increase your intake of zinc then add toasted nuts and seeds to salads, or grab a small handful as a snack; and make sure to eat leavened (risen) bread over flatbreads.

Should you take a zinc supplement?

Probably, no.

However –

Disclaimer:

I do take a zinc supplement (30mg per day) in the winter, or at times when I feel like I might be coming down with a cold.

This is because my immune system was decimated as a young’n’! (I had lots of antibiotics as an infant, and took them for years as a teen to combat acne, which pretty much destroyed my health and immune responses).

Taking a supplement when I need to works for me. I live in London and am often on cramped public transport in the winter, standing underneath people that are sneezing on my head.

Yes, my head.

In order to avoid catching infections I take supplementary zinc but you very probably don’t have to because your medical history and your lifestyle may be different.

I’ve also found, in the past that if I have white flecks on my nails, a daily zinc supplement takes care of these (but as I’ve already mentioned, I cannot find the science to support this).

If you feel you may have a zinc deficiency, please consult your doctor and have your blood tested for zinc levels before deciding to supplement.

 

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Plant-Based Tips For Glowy, Radiant, Youthful Skin

Skin 3 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Iwan Gabovitch, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Who on earth doesn’t want amazing skin?

The good news is plants are here to help! And they are cheap! Forget your La Prairie or Creme de la Mer expensive gloop. In order to get and maintain beautiful skin, we need lots of alkaline, anti-inflammatory, vitamin and mineral-rich foods (veg, fruit, legumes, beans) that nourish and keep the skin well hydrated; whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, wholewheat products etc) to keep the moisture inside us as long as possible; and nutritious fats (found in avocados, nuts and seeds) that keep the skin moisturised from the inside out.

Meat dairy and eggs are acid-y when in the body and only promote skin inflammation and dehydration.

Here are some of the absolute best things you can do to maintain a youthful, dewy, glowy, radiant skin. Some are well-known and scientific, and hell, I’ve thrown in a few anecdotal tips that I’ve found out for myself. YOU’RE WELCOME!

 

  • Water, water, water. Of course skin needs water to stop it from drying out. If you eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, you don’t need to go too crazy as the veg and fruit you eat will contain lots of water, so just drink when you feel thirsty – but don’t put it off. If you are not vegan, then at least a litre and a half of water (plus more if you feel thirsty) per day will keep the skin well-hydrated. You can always do the dehydration test (not hugely scientific but nevertheless a good indication): Put your hand, palm side down, flat on a table; pinch some skin from the back of your hand and hold it for a couple of seconds. Release it! If it goes back down flat right away – well done! You are well hydrated. If it takes a couple of seconds to go down, this is telling you you need to be supping more water.
  • Vitamin E – This is an anti-oxidant vitamin and, as such, great for the skin, and anti-aging. Get it from nuts, seeds, green leafy veg, and whole grains. Olives and avocados are other great sources, and as we know, avocados have the added benefit of providing the moisturising oils to the skin. Try avocado toast, avocado maki rolls or rustle up a quick guacamole.
  • Vitamin C – Yup, good old, ubiquitous (in the plant world, anyway!) vitamin C. Aside from being an antioxidant, it is needed to produce the collagen which maintains the skins structure. so chow down on those citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, and brussels sprouts!
  • Vitamin A – Get yo’ vitamin A on – in the plant-based form – beta carotene. Like vitamin C, this is a powerful antioxidant. Generally speaking, the more intense a colour the fruit or veg is, the more beta carotene it contains. Orange, yellow and red veg are great examples. Get chomping on sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers, cantaloupe and butternut squash. Green leafy veg are good sources too. DON’T take beta carotene supplements though. This could mean you get too much. Although not seriously harmful in excess, it can turn your skin orange – really! Just get your vits from your food and you’ll be fine.
  • Zinc – This hardworking mineral doesn’t get as much press as vitamins A and E when talking about healthy skin, but it is vital for skin healing and reparation. If you have acne or psoriasis you may need to check you have adequate levels of zinc with your medical practitioner. Vegetarians and vegans may get told they can only get zinc from animal foods, but, like lots of things we get told, this is monumental BS. You can get plenty from brown rice, wholemeal bread, legumes, nuts, seeds and beans.

 

And here are a few anecdotal tips!

  • Dried rose buds. What do you do with these? You make an infusion with them, that’s what. You can get them from any Chinese herbalist, or from ebay. Put maybe 6 or 7 buds in a large mug and pour boiling water on top. Leave for a few minutes and drink. This has been used for centuries in China as a skin beautifier, and if you have it before bed you may even notice the rosy hue in your cheeks the next morning! I can’t NOT have a big cup of this before bed now! Added bonus – it is also thought to ease depression and menstrual cramps, calm nerves and aid the body in absorbing iron.
  • Coconut oil (as a topical night cream!) In my opinion, you don’t need fancy schmancy creams to have great skin. Cut the middle man and just invest in a jar of coconut oil (good coconut oil, mind; organic virgin). All the expensive-ass creams contain coconut oil anyway, so you’ll just be getting the goodness of the creams, but cheaper! Apply it liberally before bed and massage in well. Though it is oil, it doesn’t feel too greasy on the skin, and absorbs quite quickly. Rose-hip oil is also fantastic, but coconut oil works out more economical.
  • Kimchi – I noticed a while back that whenever I ate kimchi, the following day my skin was glowing. I had no idea why this could be – in particular why the effect would be so immediate. After a little research I’ve found that kimchi is chocka with vitamins A and C, which would go some way to explaining its beauty promoting qualities (see above). For it to work so quickly however, there must be something else at play too. I don’t know what that is. Maybe it’s because it aids digestion, and good digestion is reflected in your skin (bad digestion can give you skin issues). Maybe it’s that if your gut is happy with all the good bacteria from the kimchi, then your skin is happy too. All I know is that there are lots of Korean blogs touting kimchi as being amazing for the skin, so I know there is something to it. And I’ve seen it for myself!

 

Don’t waste hard-earned money on the gloop and the gunk in fancy packaging.

Combine these tips with lots of fresh air and exercise, and your skin will show you how grateful it can be!

 

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