Plant-based diets contain less saturated fat and cholesterol and more folate, fibre and phytochemicals than omnivorous diets, but some micronutrients, especially zinc, are poorly bioavailable. The findings of studies exploring the zinc intake and zinc status in populations that habitually consume vegetarian diets are inconsistent. This study aims to investigate the effects of plant-based diets on dietary zinc intake and status in humans using systematic review and meta-analysis techniques. Thirty-four studies were included in the systematic review. Of these, 26 studies (reporting 48 comparisons) compared males and/or females consuming vegetarian diets with non-vegetarian groups and were included in meta-analyses. Dietary zinc intakes and serum zinc concentrations were significantly lower (-0.88 ± 0.15 mg day(-1), P < 0.001 and -0.93 ± 0.27 µmol L(-1), P = 0.001 respectively; mean ± standard error) in populations that followed habitual vegetarian diets compared with non-vegetarians. Secondary analyses showed greater impact of vegetarian diets on the zinc intake and status of females, vegetarians from developing countries and vegans. Populations that habitually consume vegetarian diets have low zinc intakes and status. Not all vegetarian categories impact zinc status to the same extent, but a lack of consistency in defining vegetarian diets for research purposes makes dietary assessment difficult. Dietary practices that increase zinc bioavailability, the consumption of foods fortified with zinc or low-dose supplementation are strategies that should be considered for improving the zinc status of vegetarians with low zinc intakes or serum zinc concentrations at the lower end of the reference range.
© 2013 Society of Chemical Industry.