Best Vegan Sources of Iron
Getting enough iron in your diet is essential for good health, and it’s especially important if you follow a vegan diet or if you are interested in trying one. Vegans are often concerned that they don’t have enough iron, but it’s actually quite easy to meet the daily requirements without eating meat or fish.
This article takes you over the best vegan sources of iron you should be looking out for on your grocery list.
What is iron?
Iron is an essential mineral that helps your body produce hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through your blood to your tissues and organs. It also helps create hormones such as growth hormones and luteinizing hormone, which plays integral roles in reproductive health.
There are different kinds of iron; non-heme iron (the kind you get from plants) and heme iron (the kind you get from animal sources). Unfortunately, non-heme iron is poorly absorbed into the body compared to heme iron. This makes anyone on a plant based diet susceptible to deficiencies.
But with the right foods and good pairing of such foods, such as with vitamin C-rich foods, one can increase their iron absorption. Also, avoiding things that interfere with iron uptake, such as caffeine, especially after food, can be of great importance.
Also, due to the absorption difficulties of non-heme iron, most vegans may require a higher intake than someone on an animal diet. Check out How To Transition To A Plant-Based Diet And Is Vegan Gluten-Free?
Best vegan sources of iron by type
Fruits High in Iron
If you’re trying to up your iron intake, you may have thought that vegetables are the only way to go. While vegetables like spinach, Swiss chard, and broccoli are excellent sources of iron, you can also get iron from fruits like those listed below.
They offer an easy way to increase your body’s iron levels so that you’re better able to meet your needs
Raisins are dried grapes. They offer a reasonable amount of iron with half a cup providing 1.5 milligrams of iron, or 8.5 percent of the daily requirement. Raisins also contain other minerals like magnesium, manganese, calcium, and copper, which are essential for good health. Their high iron content is thanks to their iron-containing skins usually left on during processing. To boost your intake even more, try topping a bowl of oatmeal with a few tablespoons of raisins for breakfast in place of sugar or other sweeteners.
Prunes are dried plums. They are best known for relieving constipation, even though they are fantastic for many other reasons. For instance, they can help promote your iron intake with 100 grams of prunes providing 0.9 milligrams or 5 percent of the daily iron requirement.
Dates have an iron content of 1.5 milligrams per cup, equivalent to 8 milligrams daily.
This makes them a good snack for those who require more iron in their diet. Plus, dates are easy to carry around and can be eaten at any time, making them one of our top picks for convenience. However, one cup will get you nearly half your daily sugar intake and about 20 grams of carbohydrates if you’re trying to follow a low-carb diet—so beware!
Like most dried fruits, figs are a great vegan iron source, with a cup serving (around ten whole dried figs) providing 3.0 milligrams of iron or 17 percent of your daily requirement. Figs are also rich in other nutrients like fiber, minerals, and vitamins, including magnesium, calcium, manganese, copper, potassium, vitamin K, and the B vitamins.
Legumes and Grains High in Iron
Lentils are a great source of iron, with a cup of cooked lentils providing 6.6 mg or 37% of the recommended daily requirements. Besides being a great vegan source of iron, it also offers incredible amounts of protein, fiber, and minerals like phosphorus and folate.
Lentils are often used in soups or mashed up into dips, but they can also be served on their own with rice or pasta for a delicious meal that is extremely low in fat and calories (about 150 calories per cup).
Soy products such as tempeh, tofu, and natto are so full of iron with a cup of soy containing 8.8 mg, which translates to 49% of the daily iron requirements.
Also, 6 ounces of tempeh or tofu offer 3-3.6mg of iron, approximately 20% of the daily recommended amount.
A cup of oats contains approximately 3.4 mg of iron or 19% of the recommended daily intake. Oats are also a good source of fiber, magnesium, protein, folate, and zinc. They may also reduce cholesterol and regulate blood sugar levels due to their beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that increases the filling of fullness, preventing you from overeating.
Quinoa is a very nutritious grain and among the few sources of complete protein, especially for vegans. It also offers a good amount of iron with a cup of cooked quinoa containing 2.8 mg of iron or 16 percent of the daily requirement.
In addition, it’s gluten-free, making it suitable for anyone on a gluten-free diet like those with gluten intolerance.
Beans such as black beans, navy beans, and kidney beans are all rich in iron, and regularly including them in your vegan diet can boost your iron intake. For example, half a cup of cooked black beans can offer up to 1.8 grams of iron, equivalent to 10 percent of the daily requirement.
Seeds High in Iron
Pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, sesame, and hemp seeds are the best seed sources of iron, with two tablespoons of each providing 1.2- 4.2 mg of iron, or 7- 23% of the daily recommended amount.
These seeds are also high in protein, calcium, fiber, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and antioxidants, which help in different body processes as well as strengthening the immune system.
Vegetables High in iron
These vegetables are a great source of iron with a cooked cup from each containing 14-36% or 2.5-6.4 mg of the daily requirement. They are also very high in vitamin C, which is essential for iron absorption.
This dark leafy green vegetable is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup of cooked kale contains 2.5 milligrams of iron—14 percent of your daily value.
It’s also rich in vitamins K, A, and C, plus calcium and potassium. Bonus: It’s calorie-free! You can add kale to soups or smoothies without adding a lot of calories. One cup of chopped raw kale has 36 calories.
2. Swiss chard
Swiss chard is another great iron source for vegans, but the amount you can obtain varies with whether you’ll cook it or eat it raw. While a cup of cooked swiss chard can offer up to 4 milligrams of iron, equivalent to 22 percent of your daily requirements, raw swiss chard can only provide 0.6 milligram, or 4 percent of your daily requirement. So, it’s always good to consume it cooked.
3. Beet greens
Like swiss chard, a cup of cooked beet greens provides more iron levels (2.7mg or 15 percent of the daily requirement) than a cup of raw chopped beet greens (1mg or 5 percent of the daily requirement).
4. Collard greens
Collard green is another incredible vegan source of iron to include on your list. A cup of boiled collard greens can provide up to 24 percent of your daily requirement.
I’m sure you expected to see spinach on the list, and I’m sorry to disappoint you. But I wouldn’t include it among the best sources of iron because, contrary to what most people thought, there’s not a lot of bio-available iron in spinach due to its high antinutrient compounds, including oxalates.
How to Get Enough Iron From These Vegan Sources
According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. And getting enough iron on a vegan diet can be a challenge mainly because the iron in plant-based foods (non-heme iron) is difficult to absorb.
The recommended dietary allowance of iron for an adult man is 8 milligrams a day. For adult women, the required amount is higher at 18 milligrams since women lose a lot of iron during menstruation.
The National Institutes of Health, a leading US health agency, recommends multiplying these recommendations by 1.8 when following a vegan diet.
Vegans are therefore recommended to consume whole foods and getting their iron levels tested regularly.
Also, the tips below will help maximize your iron intake and absorption from the sources listed above while minimizing deficiencies.
1. Incorporate a variety of iron-containing foods into your diet.
Eating the same foods repeatedly will limit the diversity of iron content plus other nutrient intakes found in different varieties of foods.
In general, different kinds of whole foods and minimally processed foods will have more iron than processed and a single food source.
2. Avoid taking calcium supplements with iron-rich meals
Calcium prevents the absorption of iron.
If you’re struggling with low iron levels and taking calcium supplements, try not to take them with your iron-rich meals.
This also goes to fortified beverages such as plant milk. They are often fortified with calcium, and if struggling with low iron levels, you may want to consume them separately.
3. Combine your Plant Iron Sources with vitamin C rich foods
Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron. One study showed that the ratio of iron absorption was 2 and 6, respectively, when the amount of vitamin C increased from 25 to 200 milligrams.
In other words, each time you eat Plant Iron Sources pair them with vitamin C-rich foods. For example, if you’re eating beans, a great source of iron, you can pair them with tomatoes – a great source of vitamin C.
Foods like Swiss chard, broccoli, and potatoes are excellent as they contain iron and vitamin C.
4. Avoid coffee and tea with your meals.
The components in coffee and tea, such as caffeine, tannins, and oxalates, bind with iron, specifically non-heme iron found in Plant Iron Sources, thus inhibiting its absorption. In one study, a cup of black tea reduced the absorption of iron by 60 percent.
So, make sure to drink your coffee or tea between meals and not with meals. Otherwise, you don’t want to eat an iron-rich meal and then wash it down with coffee or tea.
5. Soak beans, lentils, and grains before cooking them.
These foods are high in phytic acid, which can make iron absorption difficult. However, soaking them overnight can increase their iron absorption.
Soak them the night before, strain the water out and cook them in freshwater.
Do vegans need iron supplements?
When it comes to iron, neither too much nor too little is a good thing. So for iron supplements, they should not be taken unless you have spoken with your doctor and checked your iron levels. Otherwise, consuming adequate amounts of the best vegan sources of iron discussed above and in the right way is enough to supply your daily needs. All the listed sources are common yet wonderful sources of iron that can be included in a day-to-day diet.
Iron deficiency can be a common issue for vegans; this requires an extra effort to ensure you eat the right kind of food and eliminate any habits that may interfere with your iron absorption while adopting those that facilitate its absorption.
However, if your iron levels are very low (that’s after being tested), only then can a supplement be recommended and by a doctor. Still, the underlying condition must be obtained for proper treatment.
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