Iron is an essential mineral, yet the body cannot produce it. How to obtain iron from plant-based sources.
Whether you are considering eating less meat or have been vegetarian for some time, iron should be on your radar. As with most nutrients, iron has multiple functions. It is essential for ensuring that your red blood cells can transport oxygen, and if you don’t get enough of it, you may feel exhausted and unfocused, and you may also become ill more frequently than you would like. Iron is commonly associated with meat, however there are other vegan iron sources that can be used to complete out a healthy diet.
What role does iron play in the body?
Iron is a necessary mineral for the body to perform a variety of essential tasks.
Without iron, the body could not produce hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Myoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen to your muscles, also requires iron. Additionally, iron promotes immunological function, a healthy pregnancy, high energy levels, and athletic performance.
If you do not consume enough iron, your body will first deplete the iron stored in your liver, bone marrow, spleen, and muscle. It could result in iron deficiency anemia, a condition in which red blood cells shrink and cannot carry as much oxygen. Iron deficiency anemia is characterized by fatigue, weakness, memory loss, and gastrointestinal distress. It may also make you feel like you need to wear extra clothing throughout the cold.
“Your immune system may also be compromised, making you more susceptible to colds and other diseases. Annelie Vogt von Heselholt, DCN, RD, CSO, and founder of Dietitian Doc, tells VegNews that you may be more susceptible to cold conditions.
Heme iron and non-heme iron are the two forms of iron. Meat and shellfish include both types of iron, while non-heme iron is derived from plant-based sources. Vegans and vegetarians are advised to ingest twice as much non-heme iron as heme iron.
Therefore, instead of 8 mg for adult men and 18 mg for adult women, a vegetarian’s daily requirements would be 16 mg and 36 mg, respectively. During pregnancy, this daily requirement increases to 27 mg.
“In addition, non-heme iron is better absorbed when consumed alongside vitamin C-rich meals,” according to Vogt von Heselholt. Citrus fruits, strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli should therefore be consumed with iron-rich plant foods.
Avoid consuming coffee or caffeinated tea with iron-rich meals if possible. Tea is known to decrease iron absorption, and studies suggest the same is true with coffee.
Vogt von Heselholt adds, “Using a cast iron pan for cooking can offer more iron from the pan.” Although it sounds like a myth, the data indicates otherwise. According to research, cooking using a cast iron pan may boost blood hemoglobin levels and food iron content.
Can iron be obtained without meat?
Iron is typically connected with meat and shellfish and can be found in animal-based foods such beef, poultry, oysters, mussels, turkey, and ham. However, these are not the only sources of iron. Yes, it is possible to meet your body’s iron needs without consuming animal products. However, due to the prevalence of iron deficiency even among meat eaters, it is important to check your doctor before making significant dietary changes.
The greatest vegan iron sources
There are a variety of ways to combine iron-rich plant meals. The following vegan foods contain this essential mineral:
Each lentil, bean, and pea contains iron, but some have more than others. Lentils contain the highest concentration of iron among these pulses. According to USDA data, each cooked cup contains 6.6 mg of iron. Also rich in iron include chickpeas, navy beans, white beans, kidney beans, and black-eyed peas. In addition, these complex carbs are rich in heart-healthy fiber and vitamins and minerals, including folate, a B-vitamin used to treat anemia.
- Soy ingredients
Tofu and tempeh are soy-based proteins that contain a respectable quantity of iron. A cup of raw, crumbled tempeh contains 4.48 mg of it, whereas a cup of extra-firm tofu provides 8% of the daily intake. Both of these are excellent plant-based calcium sources.
- Seeds and nuts
The finest vegan sources of iron from nuts and seeds include pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds. Iron can be obtained by nibbling on a handful of unsalted, unroasted nuts or seeds or nut butter. Additionally, hemp and chia seeds can be utilized as an egg substitute in vegan baking, adding trace levels of iron to the baked goods.
- Dark, leafy greens
Dark, leafy greens, such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, and bok choy, contain tiny levels of iron, ranging from 0.99 to 2.15 mg per cooked cup without salt or other seasonings. Cooking is the key to extracting the maximum amount of iron from these nutritious greens. The good news is that it does not matter whether the greens are fresh or frozen, and frozen greens are typically less expensive.
- Cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
Adding cruciferous veggies to your diet will provide you with iron, fiber, and an assortment of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The iron content of a cup of raw broccoli, shredded raw cabbage, and cooked Brussels sprouts ranges from 0.52 to 1.86 mg.
One medium-sized potato has around 1,7 mg of iron, which is nine percent of the daily intake. The majority of the iron is located in the skin, therefore you cannot peel it.
- Various mushrooms
Certain species of mushrooms contain iron, albeit only in trace amounts. Iron content is 2.7 mg per cup of cooked white button mushrooms, the most prevalent and typically most affordable option in supermarket stores. Iron content is 1.28 milligrams per 100 grams of enoki mushrooms (we advocate weighing over using cups owing to their shape).
- Tomato paste
The flavor of these fresh tomatoes is unsurpassed, but they do not contain much iron. However, tomato paste will contribute a modest quantity of iron to your diet. One spoonful of tomato paste without salt contains 0.47 milligrams of iron. We enjoy using it as a substitute for fresh tomatoes in red sauce, lentil stews, and beans when our cupboard is empty.
- Dried fruit
Repetition required: figs, dates, raisins, and prunes are delicious. The idea that dried fruits are heavy in sugar is accurate, but they also include iron, dietary fiber, and simple carbs. Half a cup of deglet noor dates has 0.75 milligrams of iron, but the same volume of figs contains a remarkable 1.5 milligrams. A few tablespoons of raisins in your oatmeal or cereal will also go a long way, as a half-cup of raisins has 2.13 mg. Additionally, dried unsulphured apricots are iron-rich.
- Complete grains
In general, whole grains contain more iron than refined grains, but as you will see below, some grain-based enhanced foods also include iron. Choose oats, spelt, quinoa, and long-grain brown rice for whole grains. These contain between 1.13 and 3.20 mg of iron per cooked cup, which is not to be sniffed at.
- Enriched bread and pasta
Some bread and pasta products are fortified with iron. The secret to determining which ones they are is to read the nutrition label. For example, a package of enriched spaghetti may have 4.15 mg of iron.
- Some varieties of plant-based meat
Iron is present in several plant-based meats, such as Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger. However, several are heavy in sodium, which could be problematic for persons with hypertension.
- Other origins
Iron is present in a few meals that do not fall into the other categories. One tablespoon of blackstrap molasses contains 20% of the daily intake of iron, however it is not a commonly consumed food. The iron content of dark chocolate bars containing at least 45 percent cacao solids varies from bar to bar. Typically, one ounce of dark chocolate contains 3.4 milligrams of iron.
You can also complement your diet with vegan iron supplements. Consult your physician prior to adding a supplement to your routine.