Iron and the Vegan Diet

Getting enough iron on a vegan diet is seen as an impossible task by many. Lots of people who decide to cut out animal products from their diet find themselves suffering with iron deficiency, however this is also common among meat eaters.

By making some easy changes to your diet you can boost your iron intake, as well as the absorption of iron into the bloodstream, which can help to keep the blood healthy and combat fatigue, as well as reverse they symptoms of iron deficiency or anemia.

Contrary to common belief, plants do contain a significant amount of iron and are lower in calories, so it is very easy to get enough iron on a vegan diet.

Why Is Iron So Important?

Iron is essential as a nutrient because it is a central part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Iron deficiency anemia is a worldwide health problem that is especially common in young women and in children. Iron is found in food in two forms, heme and non-heme iron.

Heme iron makes up 40 percent of the iron in meat, poultry, and fish, and is well absorbed. Non-heme iron makes up 60 percent of the iron in animal tissue and all the iron in plants, which is less easily absorbed.

As vegan diets only contain non-heme iron, vegans should be especially aware of foods that are high in iron and techniques that can promote iron absorption.

What Are The Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency?

Common symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • tiredness and lack of energy
  • shortness of breath
  • noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • pale skin

There are also less common symptoms, including:

  • headaches
  • hearing ringing, buzzing or hissing noises inside your head (tinnitus)
  • food tasting strange
  • feeling itchy
  • a sore tongue
  • hair loss
  • wanting to eat non-food items, such as paper or ice (pica)
  • finding it hard to swallow
  • painful open sores in the corners of your mouth
  • spoon-shaped nails
  • restless legs syndrome

If you experience any of these symptoms you should consult your GP as you may be at risk of iron deficiency anemia.

How Much Iron Do I Need?

The amount of iron required varies depending on your gender and age. These numbers are guidelines and you should aim for these amounts as a minimum.

For most adults (men and non menstruating women) the recommended daily amount is 8.7mg of iron per day.

For menstruating women, 14. 8mg per day is recommended, as your body requires more iron to make new blood cells as you lose blood during your cycle.

If you are pregnant, it is recommended to consume at least 27mg per day, but you should follow guidelines provided by your GP.

Iron Rich Plant-Based Foods

You are probably wondering how Vegans get their iron. In fact there are many plant based foods that are naturally rich in iron, and here are just a few :

  • Blackstrap Molasses – 7.2mg per 2 tablespoons
  • Lentils – 6.6mg per cup
  • Chickpeas – 4.7mg per cup
  • Pumpkin seeds – 3mg per 30g serving
  • Tofu – 2.7mg per 100g serving
  • Spinach – 2.7mg per 100g serving
  • Hemp seeds—2.4mg per 30g serving
  • Quinoa – 2.2mg per 150g serving (cooked)
  • Lentils – 2mg per 80g serving
  • Cashew nuts – 2mg per 30g serving
  • Kidney beans – 1.6mg per 80g serving
  • Kale – 1.6mg per 80g serving
  • Dried figs or apricots – 1.3mg per 30g serving
  • Fortified cereals and plant based milks are also an excellent source of iron, although the amount varies depending on the product.

How Can I Boost My Iron Absorption?

Now you can see that it is relatively easy to consume enough iron for our body’s daily requirements, however this is only half of the story. The way in which your body absorbs iron can be affected by a number of factors including :

Consuming vitamin C – Vitamin C has been shown to help the body to absorb non-heme iron. By pairing iron rich foods with foods or drinks rich in Vitamin C, you are more likely to absorb iron into the bloodstream. Foods rich in Vitamin C include :

  • Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and grapefruit
  • Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Orange juice

Avoid or limit tea and coffee – Tannins found in tea, coffee and many soft drinks have been shown to reduce the amount of iron absorbed by the body. You should therefore avoid drinking tea and coffee, and perhaps substitute with a glass of orange juice to help boost iron absorbtion. If you are a real coffee lover, wait at least 2 hours after a meal to enjoy your brew.

Be aware of calcium – It has also been found that calcium can affect iron absorption, so to combat this you should avoid pairing calcium and iron rich foods together. Both calcium and iron are vital nutrients for the body so one way to ensure you are getting optimum nutrition from your meals could be, for example, enjoying a calcium rich breakfast and a dinner rich in iron.

Whether you are vegan or not, making sure you are getting enough iron is very important. Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the modern world among vegans and non-vegans so by using these methods you can help to prevent yourself from suffering. It is 100% possible to get enough iron from a plant-based diet without the need for supplements!

You can also find out more about mindful eating here and vegan protein sources here!

If you are interested in support with getting a healthy, balanced diet, including all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need, you can contact me and I will provide you with a personalised meal plan. I can also offer coaching and support.

Also if you have any questions about this subject please don’t hesitate to post in the comments section or contact me directly!

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