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The Role of Zinc in a Plant-Based Diet

Zinc is an 'essential trace element' that the body does not store in excess, which is why it's important to consume it regularly as part of a balanced diet.

It's many benefits include its involvement in hormone production, growth and repair, enhanced immune function, digestive health, and anti-inflammatory processes within the body. In cases of zinc insufficiency, individuals may experience symptoms such as hair loss, diarrhoea, mental fatigue and, poor wound healing. Where insufficiency becomes a deficiency, a lack of zinc can also lead to developmental problems.

With the most abundant sources of zinc being meat, poultry and fish, when following a plant-based / vegan diet it's important to consider optimising intake of zinc-rich foods. For example:

- Whole grains (such as oats, brown and wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat)

- Lentils

- Black beans

- Organic tofu

- Mushrooms (Shiitake, White Button)

- Green peas

- Spinach

- Asparagus

- Chia seeds

- Hemp seeds

- Flax seed

- Avocado

- Nuts (pecans

- Seeds (squash, pumpkin seeds

What's more, the amount of zinc found in plant-based food sources can vary greatly depending on the soil that the food has been grown in. This is one of the reasons why choosing organic ingredients where possible makes a big difference, since maintenance of soil quality is part of the organic classification requirements.

Finally, it's worth noting that the absorption of zinc from plant-based foods can be compromised because of the phytate content also found in these foods. When zinc combines with phytates, the phytates act as a chelator to form an insoluble complex (therefore reducing absorption and resulting in suboptimal zinc status). This inhibitory effect can be overcome by different food preparation methods, including soaking and sprouting beans, grains, nuts and seeds to remove some of the phytates. Fermentation as well as heating the foods do also help to reduce the level of phytates and increase zinc absorption.

If you would like to learn more about how you can optimise your plant-based diet, please don't hesitate to get in touch about 1-1 bespoke nutritional therapy consultations.

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