The health benefits of plant-based diets, whether vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, are well established: reduced incidence of serious diseases, including heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. you may have heard that vegans are lacking in certain nutrients, like iron. Although finding vegan sources of iron is not as easy, it is possible to get enough iron in a vegan or vegetarian diet from plant-based foods, you just need to know the best sources. iron vegans to add to your diet.
“You absolutely can meet your nutritional iron needs with a plant-based diet,” says Sharon Palmer, RD, The plant-based dietitian. As a plant-based eater, you already enjoy many iron-rich vegan foods, from whole grains and leafy greens to beans and tofu. We’ll show you how to optimize your consumption with these simple tips to
Why we need iron
The main reason we need iron is to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. Our cells and tissues depend on oxygen to create energy. Iron is also essential for muscle function, brain development, and other important body functions.
Low iron stores can lead to iron deficiency, while extremely low or depleted iron levels can become iron deficiency anemia. Mildly low iron levels may have no symptoms, but as the levels go down, symptoms may appear. According to the Institute of Medicine, iron levels have been shown to be significantly lower in vegetarian men, women and children compared to those on a non-vegetarian diet. However, studies have also shown that iron deficiency anemia is no more common in vegetarian men than in non-vegetarian men. Vegetarian women, according to studies, have a significantly higher prevalence of anemia.
Common symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Cold hands and feet
- restless legs
- Dry skin or brittle nails
- Tongue swelling or pain
Heme and non-heme iron
Dietary iron comes in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme simply means iron that is attached to red blood cells (hemoglobin), so heme iron is only found in animal sources, such as beef, chicken, and some seafood.
Non-heme iron can also be found in meat, poultry, and fish, but is found primarily in plant foods and iron-fortified foods. Most dietary iron is non-heme iron. Heme iron is only 10-15% of the iron we get from food. But heme iron is more bioavailable, which means the body absorbs it better than non-heme iron. Research estimates that the bioavailability of heme iron is around 15-35%, compared to non-heme iron, which ranges between 2-20%.
The bioavailability of iron for vegans, vegetarians, and other plant-based consumers is likely lower than those whose diets include animal sources, such as flexitarians or pescatarians. To account for this discrepancy, plant eaters are recommended to consume 1.8 times, or nearly double, the iron intake recommended for people who eat meat or animal foods. For women ages 19 to 50, that’s about 32 milligrams a day, and 14 milligrams for women 51 and older.
How much iron do you need?
- Women 19-50: 18 milligrams (mg)
- Men 19-50: 8mg
- Women and men 51+: 8mg
- Pregnant women: 27mg
- Nursing women: 9mg
“Many people who follow a plant-based diet meet their iron needs and don’t have anemia,” says Palmer. To make up the difference, it is important for plant eaters to favor non-heme iron sources.
“Don’t dwell on estimating the number of milligrams you consume each day, but try to ensure that there are sources of whole grains, legumes, including soy foods, at each meal, a vegetable leafy greens every day, nuts and seeds every day, and fruits and vegetables with every meal to provide vitamin C, which increases iron absorption,” she says. It’s also a good idea to have your lab levels tested annually to make sure you’re not below, advises Palmer.
Top 10 vegan sources of iron
- Molasses. Only 2 tablespoons contain 7 mg of iron. Try it in pancake, waffle or muffin batters, mix it into smoothies, add it to marinades and sauces, or drizzle it over oatmeal or other porridge.
- Lentils (and other legumes). A cup of lentils contains almost 7 mg of iron. The red, green, and brown varieties are also high in fiber, folate, and potassium. Try them in soups, as a meat substitute in burritos, tacos and stuffed peppers or squash, cooked in casseroles or in place of rice under curries or stir-fries.
- Tofu (and tempeh). Half a cup contains just over 4 mg of iron. Try this soy-based vegan superstar as a meat substitute on the grill, in a stir-fry, scrambled like eggs, or as a marinated side dish. You’ll get your iron, along with a healthy dose of protein, minerals, and powerful health-protecting compounds known as isoflavones.
- Pumpkin seeds. Adding 2 tablespoons (about 1 ounce) provides 4 mg of iron. Tasty on their own, in trail mix and granola, on salads, tossed in chili, or as a finishing touch on vegetable and whole grain sides, pepitas (their Spanish name) are an easy iron booster.
- Spinach. About 3 cups serve nearly 3 mg of iron. And that’s raw spinach leaves, enough for a fresh salad. Cook it in a stir-fry, soup, casserole, or frittata, and you’ll easily double the amount, with the iron. Bonus: spinach contains vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron.
- Quinoa. Each 1 cup serving contains nearly 3 mg of iron. Enjoy this gluten-free cereal, which is also high in protein and many other nutrients, as a morning porridge, savory side dish, addition to salads and baking, or as a fun substitute for rice.
- Fortified cereals. About 1 cup contains more than 8 mg of iron. Rice cereal, corn flakes, bran flakes, and instant oatmeal (a smaller serving contains the same amount of iron) are popular sources. Enjoy them for breakfast with vegetable milk, as a snack, in pastries and in the kitchen.
- Dark chocolate. Just 1 ounce contains over 3 mg of iron. A chunky square or part of a thin bar gives you a tasty treat and your iron, plus a host of health-protecting antioxidants and minerals. Enjoy it on its own or instead of chocolate containing less than 70% cocoa.
- Dried fruit. A quarter cup provides 1 mg of iron. Dried fruits, such as apricots, raisins, figs and prunes, are compact, portable, shelf stable and are a healthy treat to enjoy as a snack or as an addition to sweet and savory dishes, yoghurts made from plants or ice cream parfaits. with whole grain pilafs.
- Tahini. Two tablespoons contain almost 2 mg of iron. This essential sesame seed butter and hummus is also a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Spread it on toast, blend it into smoothies, use it in salad dressings and sauces, and use it to make a Mediterranean eggplant dip.
The other iron-rich foods are all legumes
- Black beans
- White beans
- Red beans
Be sure to eat them with vitamin C foods for better absorption by the body.
The ability to absorb non-heme iron from plants is affected by several factors, some that enhance it and some that interfere with it. Research supports adding vitamin C-rich foods to every meal to increase non-heme iron absorption. Plant foods contain many nutrients and compounds, such as phytates, which bind to certain minerals like iron and reduce their bioavailability.
That doesn’t make them any less healthy, though. Foods containing phytates include whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, and they are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber that we sorely need in our diets. Polyphenols found in foods, including coffee, tea, and wine, and certain proteins, such as soy protein, can also inhibit absorption. Calcium supplementation, which is common among vegans, can make heme iron and non-heme iron less available to the body, so check that you’re not getting more than the recommended daily allowance and ask your doctor about it. continue if your iron levels are low.
The 4 Best Ways to Increase Iron
1. Combine vegetable iron with vitamin C
A few simple chords:
- Rolled oats topped with strawberries
- Whole grain toast and Orange juice
- Pasta salad with broccoli
- Tomato soup with white beans
- Quinoa stuffed peppers
- Snow peas and spinach sautéed over brown rice
Fruits & Vegetables Rich in Vitamin C:
- Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, clementines)
- Tomato (and tomato products)
- Red cabbage
- Brussels sprouts
2. Cook with a cast iron skillet
Cooking in a cast iron skillet can boost the iron even further. Research supports this as an effective treatment for iron deficiency anemia.
3. Add fermented foods
Fermented foods, such as kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and tempeh have also been shown to improve the absorption of non-heme iron.
4. Sip coffee separately
Coffee and tea make iron absorption more difficult. This does not mean that you have to give up your dose. Research suggests consuming them before or after a meal, rather than during it, which helps the body absorb more iron.
Conclusion: With a little planning, you can getting enough iron with a plant-based diet
If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough iron, get your iron levels checked. Your doctor will let you know if you are anemic or fading and if you need to take an herbal supplement. If your levels are good, continue on a plant-based diet. To eat a balanced diet, use a cast iron skillet and get plenty of vitamin C with meals.