Guest post: How vegans can rock out on zinc!  »

I’m sure you’ve heard it all, vegans. “Where do you get your protein?” “But what about iron intake?” “Are you sure you’re getting enough calcium?” These questions often come up because of people’s misconceptions and incomplete information about vegan diets, and they can be annoying when you know that many omnivores aren’t getting all the nutrients they need.

But when you’re vegan, you will have to pay special attention to some nutrients—probably not protein, though—because they are harder to get from plant-based diets. That doesn’t mean they’re impossible to get, though, so read on so you can school the next person who tells you you can’t be healthy while being a herbivore.

Zinc is one such nutrient—a mineral, in this case—that you should keep an eye on. It’s an important one for your body; it’s involved in dozens of enzymatic reactions, needed for cell growth and protein synthesis, and important for your immune system—some studies have suggested that zinc supplements can help prevent and recover from colds. Helpful at this time of year!

This is why zinc can be tricky for vegans: Absorbing it from plant foods is more difficult than absorbing it from animal foods. The RDAs for zinc are 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men, which isn’t so high, but the authors of Vegan For Life suggest getting 12 mg for women and 16.5 mg for men to make up for lower absorption.

Fortunately, a lot of vegan-friendly foods do have some zinc content: A cup of Bran Flakes has 2 mg; a half-cup of cooked quinoa has 1 mg; two tablespoons of wheat germ has 2.7 mg; a half-cup of cooked adzuki beans has 2 mg; and two tablespoons of almond butter has 1 mg.

You can also use a few tricks to maximize your zinc absorption. Have some vitamin C with each meal, even just a squeeze of lemon. Coffee and tea can affect zinc absorption, so have yours between meals. Toast nuts before you use them, and sprout beans and grains. And go for whole grains instead of refined. (Bonus: these tips also help boost iron absorption!)

I think that one of the best things we can do as vegans is work to have a healthy diet, so we can show other people that this is a satisfying, ethical, and nourishing way to eat. And pass these tips for zinc along—it’s apparently cold now (still in denial) and we could all use the immune boost.

Terri Coles lives in Toronto, Ont., where she enjoys barbecuing, feeding feral cats, going to local music shows and getting really mad about hockey games. She blogs about her adventures in plant-based eating at The Vegina Monologues.

[Photo of adzuki bean and sun-dried tomato burgers from joanamendes via Flickr!]

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