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Vegetarian Zinc Requirements

Vegetarians may be at risk for zinc deficiency.

November 30, 2009 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to Vidya Crawley.


And before we leave the topic, just as the iron requirements in many women are higher than men because some iron is lost every month in the menstrual flow, the zinc requirements in men are higher than women because some zinc is lost in semen. Because the zinc in plant foods isn’t absorbed as well as the zinc in flesh foods, a study published earlier this year found relatively low blood zinc levels in vegetarians, so anyone eating plant-based diets—men or women—should make sure they eat whole grains, beans, and nuts every day, but some men might just require more than others. 

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out theother videos on zinc and vegetarians. Also, there are 1,449 other subjectscovered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on zinc and vegetarians. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • squidey

    What do you think about the ratio of zinc/copper in the diet? Iv read the ideal is 8/1 but that seems pretty much impossible on a plant based diet, thoughts?

  • Thinkabouddit

    My zinc levels are low. I eat walnuts and flax in my oatmeal, and black beans or potatoes or grains with steamed broccolli, kale, etc., vegetables.

    Is there a quality supplement that will up the zinc level?

  • Stephen Lucker Kelly

    I heard you need to keep a 10 to 1 ratio of zinc to copper. Is this true?

  • Keivan

    My wife was recently diagnosed with having very high levels of copper. What are the chances that her mostly vegan diet has contributed to this problem. There is a lot of hype about copper-zink imbalance in a vegetarian and vegan diets. Although high in zinc, nuts and beans are also generally high in copper. Is this fact or fiction?

    • Harriet Sugar Miller

      Since no one has answered you yet, I will. Yes, nuts, seeds and beans are generally high in copper–and while the phytic acid in those foods binds their zinc, calcium, iron and other minerals, their copper is still available to us for absorption. As you probably know, high copper can make you tired and fuels the spread of cancer. I also read recently that it may be linked to Alzheimer’s.

      Here’s the long version of the copper-zinc connection and some suggestions on how to increase zinc and lower copper:

  • Paul Naylor

    I am concerned about cadmium levels in zinc supplements. I have read that zinc orotate is the most bio-available type, but is it a good source of low cadmium zinc? I have also read that zinc gluconate has the lowest levels of cadmium but also low absorption. Which would you recommend Dr Greger? Thank you!