If you feel that you may be iron deficient, you are not alone. According to research, over 10 million people in the United States suffer from iron deficiency, while 5 million of those suffering from iron deficiency anemia.
Getting enough iron from today’s food sources is already hard, and adding a vegan diet to the mix can make it even more difficult. Many vegans are unaware of the surplus of vegan iron sources available which leads many vegans and vegetarians to become iron deficient.
So the problem is, if vegans are more prone to developing iron deficiency, what are the best vegan iron sources available? Where to find the iron for vegans? Not all iron sources are the same, so it is important to do your research and find the right foods that help you to absorb the highest amount of iron possible.
Thankfully, we’ve created this article to teach you everything you need to know about the best vegan iron sources available, and how to include them into your daily regime. Keep on reading to learn more!
Why You Need Iron in Your Diet
If you notice yourself feeling exhausted due to the lack of iron, there is a major reason for that. Iron has everything to do with your energy levels and your body’s ability to utilize oxygen.
You not only need iron for energy, but you also need it to survive. Especially for women, as over 20% of women are iron deficient, while only 2-7% of men are. Women are more prone to iron deficiency because of menstrual blood loss and pregnancy.
Iron is an essential mineral that helps your body to form hemoglobin, which is the part of your red blood cells that transports oxygen from your lungs into the rest of your body. This is why you feel tired with low levels of iron because your cells are essentially oxygen-deprived.
Hemoglobin requires about two-thirds of the body’s overall iron sources, so if you do not have enough, you can easily become iron deficient and produce less red blood cells. This means less oxygen in your body and eventually causes you to develop iron deficiency anemia.
Iron is needed for more functions than hemoglobin, it is also required for:
- Healthy hair
- Brain function
- Immune system
- Healthy pregnancy
Children require nearly double the amount of iron than adults for growth and development. From their teenage years, women begin to require more iron than men because of their monthly menstruation cycles.
Women should have around 18mg of iron per day, while men require only 8mg. Once a woman reaches menopause, she will only need 8mg of iron to sustain healthy levels.
Why Are Vegans Prone to Iron Deficiency?
There are two main types of iron from food sources, heme iron which is sourced from meat, and non-heme, which is sourced from plants. The major difference between the two sources of iron is that non-heme can be harder to absorb than from heme sources.
Vegans and vegetarians are more prone to iron deficiency due to the fact they do not consume meat, plus they tend to have lower stores of iron in the body from non-heme sources. Lower stores of iron have very little to do with the amount of iron, and more to do with the type of iron you are consuming.
The Best Vegan Iron Sources
So, without feeling like you need to eat animal products to get enough iron into your body, what non-heme, or plant sources will be enough? We will now cover the best vegan iron sources to help you prevent iron-deficiency.
Contrary to popular belief, many plant sources of iron will help you to keep your iron storage high and avoid iron-deficiency:
- 2 Tbsp of blackstrap molasses has 7.2 mg of iron
- 1/2 cup of tofu has 6.6 mg of iron
- 1 cup of cooked lentils has 6.6 mg of iron
- 1 cup of spinach contains 6.4 mg of iron
- 1 cup of cooked kidney beans have 5.2 mg of iron
- 1 cup of Chickpeas have 4.7 mg of iron
- 1 cup of soybeans, tempeh, and lima beans all contain 4.5 mg of iron
- 1 cup of black-eyed peas contains 4.3 mg of iron
- Swiss chard, black beans, and pinto beans all contain between 3.6 and 4 mg of iron
- Prune juice, beet greens, and Quinoa all contain between 2.7 and 3 mg of iron
- Lower sources of non-heme iron include bulgar, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, raisins, cashews, tahini, soy milk, apricots, bok choy, kale, dates, watermelon, broccoli, almonds, peas, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and millet.
Now that you know the best non-heme iron sources, it is important to know how to pair the sources to absorb the most amount of iron.
How to Absorb More Iron
Certain non-heme ingredients are best paired with other nutritional sources to absorb more iron. For example, pairing vitamin C sources with iron sources helps your body to absorb and retain more iron. Adding vitamin C to a meal increases your body’s ability to absorb up to 67% more iron.
This could look something like:
- Pairing avocado with swiss chard
- Baked potato with broccoli – check my vegan broccoli salad for inspiration
- Pure orange juice in the morning with toast
- Frying tofu with red and green peppers and broccoli
- Fruit salad with kiwis, strawberries, and cantaloupe with oatmeal or higher-iron cereal
- Beans and rice with salsa, falafel, and tomatoes.
- Hummus with lemon juice
- Porridge with raisins and orange juice
- Bean chili with peppers or check my vegan stuffed zucchini recipe with beans and tomato sauce
Something to be cautious about is consuming foods that leach the iron sources from your body. Steer away from consuming too much coffee and tea (including decaf), soda, alcohol, and foods high in dietary fiber.
Use Cast Iron Skillets
Using cast-iron skillets with your cooking increases the amount of iron in your meal. Pair that with something high in vitamin C, and you are assured you will get enough iron into your body.
Eat Small Amounts Throughout the Day
It is advisable to consume small amounts of iron throughout the day, rather than consume large amounts all at once. The human body can only absorb so much at one time, so you will get more iron if you plan your iron-containing meals ahead of time.
Do Not Pair With Calcium
Foods that are high in calcium will inhibit your body from absorbing all the iron from the foods you eat with it. Steer away from consuming foods high in calcium at the same time as non-heme iron sources.
Delicious Recipes That Contain Iron
Just because you are vegan, does not mean that you have to miss out on delicious recipes! Here are a few mouth-watering recipes that include great sources of non-heme iron:
No-Bake Snickers Bars
Who said you have to only eat vegetables to increase your iron intake? These delicious and easy to make bars contain dates that are high in iron. These no-bake Snickers bars are also low in sugar, gluten-free, and paleo too.
Black Bean Brownies
Beans do not always have to belong in salads or chili, you can also pair beans with chocolate and make these incredibly tasty brownies! These brownies contain high amounts of non-heme iron sources that come from black beans and oat flour. Make a batch of these black bean brownies ahead of time, and freeze the rest for snacks on the go.
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burger
If you are craving something savory, try this recipe for sweet potato and black bean burgers. Not only are they loaded with iron, but they also contain high amounts of protein and fiber. Make up a bunch of the patties, then add the toppings of your choice after, including avocado, tomato, lettuce, and fried onions.
Pair these burgers with a side of roasted broccoli, which contains vitamin C and will help you absorb more iron from your meal. Use gluten-free and vegan buns to eat your burger with.
Gluten-Free Keto Bread
If you have been looking for bread that is both keto-friendly, gluten-free, and high in iron, look no further! This delicious bread recipe contains high amounts of iron from almond flour, pumpkin flour, and pumpkin seeds.
This bread is easy to make, and pairs well with the black bean burger recipe listed above. You can also pair it with almond butter and a glass of fresh orange juice for an added iron boost.
More iron rich vegan recipes to try
Learn More Vegan Iron Sources and Recipes
There you have it! You do not have to worry about your iron intake as a vegan after following this guide of the best vegan iron sources. Try out some of the above recipes and play around with pairing foods high in vitamin C to ensure you are absorbing enough iron in your meals.
For more iron-filled vegan recipes, check out our delicious vegan fluffy pancakes recipe!