If you are vegetarian or vegan, getting enough iron can be a concern. However, there is no need to worry; learn how you can receive enough daily iron to thrive on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
For those following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, one concern to be aware of is how much iron you’re receiving. This is a valid consideration, seeing that plant-based diets contain less readily absorbable iron when compared to a diet rich in meat. All the same, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you can easily increase your iron intake with the right foods. Let’s take a look at how you can ensure you receive enough iron, even with a mostly plant-based diet.
There are two types of iron that you can receive from your diet: so-called heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron that comes from animals is the “better” kind, since the body can readily absorb it and more easily digest it. A plant-based diet, on the other hand, contains non-heme iron, which is somewhat different.
There are two issues associated with non-heme iron. Firstly, some plants may simply contain less iron than meats. Secondly, the iron absorbed by the body can be decreased by other compounds commonly found in a meatless diet. Among those compounds include phytates (found in nuts and grains), phenolic acids, calcium, and tannins. However, there is hope—thanks to the power of vitamin C!
Vitamin C can “undo” the effects of the aforementioned “iron blockers”, allowing for greater absorption of non-heme iron. What’s more, a plant-based diet will naturally contain plenty of vitamin C. This means that you can achieve an adequate intake of iron, even without meat—a win for vegetarians and vegans everywhere!
Suffice it to say, a well-balanced diet is the key to good nutrition, regardless of whether you eat a strictly plant-based diet or not. If you were to live off only noodles or junk-food, be it with meat or without, you won’t get the necessary vitamins and other nutrients that your body requires. Ultimately, this will be quite bad for your health. An iron deficiency can lead to all sorts of issues—from pale skin and brittle hair to lethargy, frequent headaches, heart palpitations, and restless leg syndrome.
Since the non-heme iron in plants tends to be less easily absorbed by our body, this means that vegetarians and vegans require a 1.8x higher reference daily intake (RDI) for iron than meat-eaters. No problem, since you can easily make up for this with foods that are particularly rich in iron. Here are a few great examples.
Just one cup of lentil soup contains up to 6mg of iron. But it doesn’t just have to be lentil soup. You can add lentils to chili, salads, or include them as a side with many other dishes.
A nice chilli or stew made with beans can provide you with as much as 7mg of iron per cup, not to mention a big helping of protein and valuable vitamins.
Chickpeas contain about 5mg/cup of iron. You can use them to boost your pasta dishes and salads. Furthermore, hummus (which is made from chickpeas) isn’t just tasty, it’s also a great source of iron!
Soybeans are an excellent source of protein, and contain 5mg of iron per cup to boot! This makes stir fries and other soybean dishes a great source of iron.
Tomatoes only contain 1mg of iron per cup, but they are super versatile and always popular. Used aplenty in pasta dishes, salads, and soups, a diet rich in tomatoes can provide sufficient iron for a plant-based diet.
Olives contain a good amount of iron, up to 6mg/cup. Moreover, they also boast good amounts of vitamin A and E, and are a great source of plant fibre.
Be sure to also check out our blog 10 Vegetables High In Iron to deepen your research on the best plant-based sources of iron.
If you don’t eat meat, you don’t need to worry too much about your iron intake—as long as you’re making sure to regularly consume iron-rich foods. Keep your vegetarian or vegan diet balanced and varied, and you can receive all the nutrition that your body needs.