How to Get Iron on a Vegan Diet, Plus 13 Sources

Whether you plan to eat less meat or have been vegan for a while, iron is something that should be on your radar. As with most nutrients, iron is a multi-tasker. It’s vital to ensure your red blood cells can carry oxygen and if you don’t get enough of it, you could feel tired and unfocused, and you could even get sick more often than you’d like. We usually think of meat when we think of iron, but in reality, there are many vegan sources of iron that you can use to supplement your diet.

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What does iron do for the body?

Iron is an important mineral that your body needs to perform many important functions.

Without iron, your body would not be able to make hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. It is also needed for myoglobin, a protein that brings oxygen to your muscles. Iron also supports immune function, healthy pregnancy, energy levels and athletic performance.

If you consume too little iron, your body will first deplete the iron stored in your liver, bone marrow, spleen, and muscles. In the long term, this could lead to iron deficiency anemia, which is when your red blood cells shrink and can’t carry as much oxygen. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, weakness, fuzzy memory, and gastrointestinal upset. It might also make you feel like you need to bundle up more in the winter.

“Your immune system may also be affected and you may be more prone to catching colds and other infections. You may be more sensitive to cold temperatures,” Annelie Vogt von Heselholt, DCN, RD, CSO and founder of Dietitian doctells VegNews.

There are two types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Both types of iron are found in meat and seafood, while non-heme iron is obtained from plant sources. This means that you can absolutely get iron from plant foods, but one thing to be aware of is that non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed by the body, so vegans and vegetarians are advised to consume it. twice more.

So, instead of 8 mg for adult men and 18 mg for adult women, someone who doesn’t eat meat needs 16 mg and 36 mg per day, respectively. During pregnancy, this requirement rises to 27 mg per day.

“Also, non-heme iron is better absorbed if consumed with vitamin C-rich foods,” says Vogt von Heselholt. “So citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli should be eaten with plant-based iron foods.”

If you can, avoid drinking caffeinated coffee or tea with iron-rich meals. Tea is a known inhibitor of iron absorption and studies to suggest it’s a similar case with coffee.

“Finally, using a cast iron skillet for cooking can provide additional iron to the pan,” adds Vogt von Heselholt. It sounds like a myth, but the evidence says otherwise. Research shows that cooking with a cast iron pan can raise blood hemoglobin levels and increase the iron content of foods.

Can you get iron without meat?

Iron is commonly associated with meat and seafood and is found in animal sources such as beef, chicken, oysters, mussels, turkey, and ham. But these are not the only places where you can get iron. So the answer is yes, you can meet your body’s iron needs without animal products. But, because iron deficiency is common even when eating meat, it’s best to consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.

The Best Vegan Sources of Iron

There are several ways to mix and match iron-rich plant-based foods. Here are vegan foods that contain this vital mineral:

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1 Legumes

Lentils, beans and peas all contain iron, but some contain more than others. Of all these legumes, lentils contain the highest amount of iron. According to USDA data, they contain 6.6 mg of iron per cooked cup. Chickpeas, navy beans, navy beans, kidney beans, and black-eyed peas are also good sources of iron. On top of that, these complex carbs are high in heart-healthy dietary fiber and contain vitamins and minerals, including folate, a type of B vitamin used to treat anemia.

2 soy products

Soy-based proteins like tofu and tempeh contain decent amounts of iron. A cup of raw, crumbled tempeh contains 4.48 mg, while extra-firm tofu will give you 8% of your daily value. Both of these are also good plant-based sources of calcium.

3 Nuts and seeds

Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds are the best vegan sources of iron from nuts and seeds. Get your iron by munching on a handful of unsalted, unroasted nuts or seeds, or enjoy them as nut butter. Hemp and chia seeds can also be used as an egg substitute in vegan baking, which will add trace amounts of iron to your sweets.

4 Dark leafy greens

Dark leafy vegetables like kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, and bok choy all contain small amounts of iron, ranging from 0.99 to 2.15 mg per cooked cup, without salt or other types of seasoning. . Cooking is actually the secret to releasing the maximum amount of iron in these healthy vegetables. The good news is that it doesn’t matter whether these vegetables are fresh or frozen or not, and the latter tends to be the more affordable option.

5 Broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts

Adding cruciferous vegetables to your plate will provide you with some iron, as well as dietary fiber and a mix of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A cup of raw broccoli, shredded raw cabbage, and cooked Brussels sprouts contains between 0.52 and 1.86 mg of iron.

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6 Potatoes

It’s a beautiful thing: a medium potato contains about 1.7 mg of iron, or 9% of your daily intake. The catch is that you can’t peel it – the skin is where most of the iron is concentrated.

seven Certain mushrooms

Mushrooms contain iron, but only in certain varieties. A cup of cooked white mushrooms — the most common and usually the most economical option at grocery stores — nets you 2.7 mg of iron. One hundred grams of enoki mushrooms (we recommend weighing them with cups due to their shape) contain 1.28 mg of iron.

8 tomato paste

These fresh tomatoes have unparalleled flavor, but they don’t contain much iron. Tomato paste, however, will add small amounts of iron to your diet. One tablespoon of unsalted tomato paste contains 0.47 mg of iron. We love using it in red sauce, lentil stews, beans, and as a substitute for fresh tomatoes whenever our pantry is empty.

9 Dried fruit

Repeat after us: figs, dates, raisins and prunes are excellent. Dried fruits have a reputation for being high in sugar, which is true, but they also contain iron, dietary fiber and simple carbohydrates. Half a cup of deglet noor dates contains 0.75 mg of iron while the same amount of figs contains an impressive 1.5 mg. A few tablespoons of raisins in your oatmeal or cereal will also go a long way, considering that half a cup contains 2.13 mg. Unsulphured dried apricots are also high in iron.

ten Whole grains

You’ll generally find more iron in whole grains than in processed grains, but as you’ll see below, some fortified grain-based foods also contain it. For whole grains, choose oats, spelled, quinoa, and long-grain brown rice. These deliver between 1.13 and 3.2 mg of iron per cup cooked, which is nothing to sniff at.

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11 Enriched pasta and bread

Some fortified bread and pasta products contain added iron. The trick to knowing which ones these are is to read the nutritional information. A package of fortified spaghetti, for example, might offer 4.15 mg of iron.

12 Certain types of vegan meat

Some plant-based meats, like Beyond Meat or the Impossible Burger, contain iron. But, many tend to be high in sodium, which could be a problem for people with high blood pressure.

13 Other Resources

A few foods that don’t belong in the other categories contain iron. A single tablespoon of blackstrap molasses contains 20% of your daily iron intake, but it is not a food that is consumed most regularly. Dark chocolate, a bar containing at least 45% cocoa solids, can also provide iron, although the content differs from bar to bar. Typically, a one-ounce piece of dark chocolate contains 3.4 mg of iron.

You can also take vegan supplements to add iron to your diet daily. Consult your doctor before adding any supplement to your routine.

To learn more about vegan nutrition, read:
How to Get Calcium on a Vegan Diet
The Vegan Guide to High Protein Milk
5 Reasons to Ditch Keto and Go Vegan

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