There is still a popular food myth doing the rounds that vegans are generally short of iron in their diets or it’s difficult to find natural sources of iron without taking supplements and the like. This is way off the mark.
“How do you get enough iron eating only plants?” A question I get asked quite a lot. The answer is simple; loads of very accessible, inexpensive, plant-based places. Eating a balanced vegan diet, the question is more, “Where do we not get our iron, protein, vitamins, other minerals……..?” A vegan diet allows us all to thrive!
The WHO consider iron deficiency to be the number one nutritional disorder in the world. 80% of the world population may be iron deficient, so it is always a good idea to keep topped up and learn a little about plant-based nutrition (Vitamin B12 for example).
Iron is essential to health and basically helps our blood carry oxegen to our bodies tissues. Our body stores iron but we still need to eat a reasonable amount per day, roughly 18mg for adults is advised. Women who are menstruating will need more, this can lead to cravings for iron rich foods.
The iron found in plants is different than that in meat. When we eat meat we are basically directly ingesting the iron in the blood, organs and muscles of the animal. It is easier for the body to access. We need to be aware that iron in plants will not be as easily absorbed. But no worries, this is easily sorted.
Plant-based iron is best absorbed when combined with Vitamin C and it is also best to avoid tea and coffee if you’re looking at helping your body absorb plant based iron. They both contain tannins and calcium which hinder absorption. So leave a good half an hour before or after eating until you put the kettle on or eat high foods high in calcium.
THE IRON RICH ‘HIT-LIST’
Many beans like pinto, kidney, black eyed and black. Lentils. Soya is best fermented like miso, tempeh. Tomato paste or sauce. Potatoes, spring greens (collards), spirulina, tahini, whole wheat, bulghur wheat, oats, nuts, kale, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, quinoa, raisins, peas, sunflower seeds, apricots, watermelon, millet, almonds……I’m getting hungry here!
Popeye did well on it, but spinach is actually not the best choice for iron. It contains acids that inhibit absorption but Vitamin C again can help.
You can see that many of the staples that most vegans eat are good sources of iron. 1 cup of lentils for example contains almost your RDA for iron and black strap molasses is worth a mention, 2 tbs contains 7.2g iron.
TIPS TO GET IRON INTO YOUR DIET
Seasonal fruits can also be a great source of iron so grab a bowl of oats topped seasonal fruits for a nutritious and iron rich way to start the day. Some vegetables, like Broccoli and Bo Choi, are rich in both iron and Vitamin C. Which, as mentioned, is a great combo! Snacking on dried fruit like raisins and apricots or seeds, eating beans with greens, adding tahini or molasses to dishes or dressings, are all good ways of introducing iron rich foods into our everyday meals.
If you are counting calories, it is worth mentioning that sources of plant based iron are obviously the better choice. Cooked spring greens (collards) for example contain 4.5mg of iron/100 calories, whereas Sirloin Steak weighs in with a mere 0.9mg of iron/100 calories.
It has also been said that cooking in iron pots can help. Cooking a tomato sauce in a cast iron pot can increase the iron levels ten fold!
In a balanced vegan diet there are so many sources of iron and vitamin C that a lack of iron is no major concern. There is also no evidence to suggest that vegan and vegetarians have a higher incidence of iron deficiency than meat eaters.
As you can see, vegans are sorted for iron! Another vegan myth busted!!
If you know of any other sources of plant-based iron, please let us know.
Some of the information and figures for this article came from this link.