As a vegetarian off and on for forty years, I've found that a vegetarian diet does wonders for health, but there is no significant amount of copper or zinc in a vegetarian diet. You won't find such information in nutrition literature or on the internet. Claims will be made that there are minerals in specialized places such as seed hulls. The first problem with such claims is that publicly available nutrition information is too unreliable without some method of verification.
By Gary Novak
Part of the problem is an inability to get quantities into proper perspective. Tests now days can detect miniscule quantities which are not nutritionally significant. Another problem is that plants will pick up minerals from their environment, even when not nutritionally useful. For example, some heavy soils will have spots which are high in selenium. Plants will pick up the selenium in large quantities, and cattle can be sickened or killed by the selenium upon eating the plants.
Plants tend to minimize the minerals which they need, so that a mineral deficiency does not reduce their range of distribution. Soils are highly variable in their mineral content. Therefore, any mineral required by a plant would limit where the plant could grow. Copper and zinc are somewhat limited in their distribution in the soil, so plants in general get by without them.
Vegetarians are not told that they could develop zinc and copper deficiencies from vegetarian diets. I was avoiding zinc and copper supplements while eating a vegetarian diet, because those minerals are quite toxic. I first noticed a problem from my tongue swelling at night and pressing against my teeth creating pain. The tongue swelling and pain got worse and worse for a couple of years. Out of desperation, I tried taking small amounts of copper. It cleared up the problem. I still took very small amounts of copper due to its toxicity. Any time my copper level got too low, the tongue pain would return, and more copper would clear it up. I find that I need 200 micrograms of copper per day to prevent tongue pain from redeveloping. Copper pills are ten times that much, which is 2 mg.
For this reason, I decided to start taking zinc also. I found that it made tooth pain disappear. Eventually, I found that supplemental zinc was not only clearing up tooth pain, it was stopping tooth decay. If I didn't take enough zinc, some types of tooth pain would re-occur. I found that about 25 milligrams of supplemental zinc per day would prevent tooth pain from occurring, even when eating significant amounts of sugar. Zinc pills usually contain 50 milligrams of zinc.
There is a scientific logic for zinc improving teeth. Zinc does approximately the same thing calcium does, but it creates a stronger bond than calcium. Calcium and zinc both have two positive charges in their ionic state. Normally, calcium combines with carbonate or oxygen, which have two negative charges. Two plus charges combining with two minus charges allows chains to form. If zinc were to replace calcium in those chains, it would make the chains harder than calcium does, which could be the reason why zinc appears to improve teeth.
When archaeologists study the teeth of ancient people, they find that a high carbohydrate diet results in more tooth decay. There is not a good scientific logic for a direct correlation between carbohydrates and tooth decay. Carbohydrates slowly release glucose, which is needed for energy metabolism. Why would such metabolism increase tooth decay? The most likely reason is because a deficiency of zinc was probably occurring with the high carbohydrate diet.
This may also be why osteoporosis is defying attempts by the health care industry to find a cure. Calcium supplements do not fix the problem. It could be a zinc shortage rather than a calcium shortage which creates osteoporosis.