Meat, poultry and seafood are among the better sources of zinc, but vegetarians can meet the recommended dietary allowance of 8 milligrams per day for women and 11 milligrams per day for men by eating a variety of beans, grains, dairy products, nuts and seeds. However, the zinc from plant-based foods isn't as well absorbed as that from animal foods, so vegetarians may need to consume up to 50 percent more zinc to meet their needs, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
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Beans are one of the better zinc sources for vegetarians. A cup of canned vegetarian baked beans provides 5.8 milligrams of zinc, a cup of canned white beans contains 2.9 milligrams and a cup of either cooked chickpeas or cooked lentils will give you 2.5 milligrams. If you are making beans from scratch, soaking the beans overnight or for at least a few hours will help make the zinc easier for your body to absorb since it helps limit the binding of zinc by a compound called phytate. Allowing the beans to sprout before use further increases zinc absorption.
Grains can also help vegetarians meet their zinc needs. A cup of cooked oatmeal contains 2.3 milligrams of zinc and a cup of cooked wild rice gives you 2.2 milligrams. Soaking rice or other grains before you cook them and using sprouted grain products and leavened grain products, such as bread, instead of unleavened products like crackers will give you the most zinc. The yeast in leavened grain products helps break down the phytates in the grains. Some ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are fortified to provide some or all of your daily zinc needs.
Nuts and Seeds
An ounce of pine nuts will put you 1.8 milligrams closer toward your daily zinc needs. Dry-roasted cashews provide 1.6 milligrams of zinc per ounce, pecans contain 1.3 milligrams per ounce and Brazil nuts have 1.2 milligrams per ounce. You can soak and then dehydrate nuts to lower their phytate content and make the zinc more available for absorption.
Vegetarians that consume dairy products can get some or all of their zinc from these foods, which don't contain zinc-binding phytate like most of the other vegetarian sources of zinc. A cup of part-skim ricotta cheese provides 3.3 milligrams of zinc, 8 ounces of plain fat-free yogurt contains 2.2 milligrams and an ounce of Swiss cheese will give you 1.2 milligrams.