Lots of people assume that vegetarians struggle to get iron in their diets. And while it’s true that the type of iron found in animal products – called heme iron – is more readily absorbed by the body, there are also lots of sources of plant-based – or non-heme – iron that are surprisingly rich in this vital mineral.
To help enhance absorption of non-heme iron, it’s a good idea to pair these high iron vegan foods with a source of vitamin C. By contrast, you’ll want to avoid taking a calcium supplement or consuming dairy at the same time as eating iron-rich foods, as calcium can block the absorption of iron. If you’re a tea drinker, avoid drinking tea together with your meals as the tannins in tea can also prevent your body from absorbing iron.
How much iron do you need in your diet? Depends on who you are!
- Women of childbearing age should get 18mg of iron each day
- Men from 18-50 should get 8mg of iron each day
- Pregnant women should get 27mg of iron each day
Although there aren’t specific recommendations for vegetarians, in general we should strive for a slightly higher intake of iron each day to account for the poorer absorption of non-heme iron.
So where can you find your iron? It might surprise you how easy it is on a plant-based diet!
10 High Iron Vegan Foods
Spirulina – A once ounce serving of this blue-green algae contains 8mg iron, or 44% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for non-pregnant women. Plus, when people ask you how you get your iron you can look them in the eye and say, “from pond scum.”
Tofu or tempeh – Not only do soy products contain a good source of plant-based protein, a 6 oz serving of tofu contains 3.6mg iron, or 20% of your RDA.
Lentils – These lovely little legumes are a rich source of protein, and a ½ cup serving contains 3.3mg iron, or 20% of your RDA.
Dark chocolate – If you need an excuse to indulge in a little bit of dark chocolate, here it is: A one-ounce serving contains 3.3 mg iron, or 19% of your RDA
Oats – Start your day with a serving of oats and you’ll be well on your way to meeting your iron needs. A 1 cup serving of cooked oats contain 3.4 mg iron, or 19% of your RDA.
Potatoes – Potatoes are actually a great source of nutrition, but only if you leave them au natural, as the nutrients are concentrated in the skin. One large, unpeeled potato contains 3.2mg iron, or 18% of your RDA.
Spinach – Popeye was on to something with all that spinach he was eating. Half a cup of cooked spinach contains 3.2 mg iron, or 18% of your RDA. Note! Cooking the spinach is important as not only does half a cup of cooked spinach contain a lot more than uncooked, but the cooking process makes the iron more absorbable by your body.
Chickpeas – Calling all hummus lovers! A half cup of cooked chickpeas contains 3mg iron, or 17% of your RDA.
Quinoa – Not only is this super seed a great source of plant-based protein, one cup of cooked quinoa contains 2.8mg iron, or 16% of your RDA.
Mushrooms – Yup, even mushrooms are a good source of iron. One cup of cooked brown mushrooms contains 2.7mg iron, or 15% RDA.
If you want to ensure you’re getting even more iron in your diet, do your cooking in cast iron pans. Cooking any acidic foods, like tomatoes or citrus, in cast iron actually leeches a bit of iron from the pans and into your food.
So as you can see, it’s relatively simple to get enough iron each and every day, even on a plant-based diet, with these high iron vegan foods.5