Iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies for vegans and non-vegans alike. If you menstruate, you’re more likely than the average person to suffer from iron deficiency due to the blood loss every month, so if you’re vegan you have more of an incentive to make sure that you’re meeting your iron requirements. Iron is typically found in meat but there are a lot of vegan sources of iron.
Before we start, here’s some information on iron and why it’s important:
- Iron is a micro-nutrient which means it’s needed in small amounts per day. The RDA varies per group based on sex and age: men need 8mg per day but teenage boys require 11mg, while women need 18mg per day, teenage girls need 15mg, and the RDA of iron, if you’re pregnant, is 27mg.
- Iron is needed for a few different reasons. Iron is used to make hemoglobin which is a protein in red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen around the body which is why a common symptom of anemia and iron deficiency is fatigue. Iron also helps in hormone production.
- There are two kinds of iron in the diet. Heme Iron is found in animal products, whereas non-heme iron is from plant-based sources. Just because you may eat the RDA in non-heme iron doesn’t mean that you’re body absorbed it all, which is why vegans might want to consider eating a little over the RDA to be safe.
Vegan Sources of Iron
Most of the iron in my diet probably is from dark chocolate! 28-grams of dark chocolate contains 3.4 mg of iron which is a decent amount of the RDA in a small amount of food. The darker the chocolate, the more iron available so if you’re eating dark chocolate that’s under 70% cocoa then it’s not worthwhile.
Dark chocolate has so many benefits beyond just being a source of plant-based iron.
Leafy greens like spinach and kale, are one of the most commonly recommended vegan sources of iron. We all know spinach shrinks when you cook it, so to make the most of this vegan source of iron, have a decent serving of leafy greens in a meal or salad.
There’s 2.7 mg of iron per 100 mg of spinach, and 1.5 mg of iron per 100 mg of Kale.
Lentils are a great source of protein and iron, but the iron content in each kind of lentil has different amounts of iron in each.
170 g (half a cup) of uncooked black lentils contains 8mg of iron, the same amount of red lentils contains 6mg of iron. brown lentils have 4mg per 170g, and green lentils also contain 4mg.
Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts are a healthy source of fats, protein, and iron.
100 grams of cashew nuts contain 6.7 mg of iron, 100 g if hazelnuts contains 4.7 mg, and 3.72 g in 100g of almonds.
Nut butters are also a good source of iron because many are ground up nuts, so you’re actually consuming more nuts in one serving than you would in a single sitting. Try to opt for nut butters that are made solely from ground nuts.
Tomato Paste & Puree
Tomatoes themselves don’t have much iron in them, but as tomate paste and tomato puree is highly concentrated, it’s a surprisingly good plant-based source of iron. There’s 3 mg of iron in 100 grams of tomato paste, and 1.8 mg in tomato puree.
This is a perfect excuse to make some homemade vegan pizza, or vegan tomato soup!
Oats are another surprising one of these vegan sources of iron. There’s 4.7mg of iron in 100 grams of oats, so you can start your day off meeting a good chunk of the RDA with a hearty bowl of porridge!
Quinoa is a topical food. It’s one of the few complete plant-based proteins, next to soya, and is also a decent source of iron. 100 grams of quinoa contains 1.5 mg of iron. Add some to a buddha bowl or a rice dish for an additional boost of iron along with other non-heme sources of iron like lentils and kale.
Coconut milk is another one of these vegan sources of iron that’s easy to Incorporate into your diet. Coconut milk is a great addition to curries and soups, but I enjoy making pina colada with coconut milk and pineapple juice. 100 grams of coconut milk contains 1.6 grams of iron.
In this instance, the coconut milk I’m referring to is coconut cream, not the milk substitute version of coconut milk.
Tahini easily has the most non-heme iron on this list. 100 grams of tahini contains 9mg of iron. This is a condiment made from toasted ground sesame seeds. It can be enjoyed as a dip itself, but is often an additive to hummus. It goes fantastic with falafel.
Bonus Tip: dont drink tea or coffee with non-heme iron
I love a cup of coffee with my morning bowl of porrdge, but it’s something I’ve had to stop, and something you might have to consider too.
Coffee, as well as other drinks with caffeine, can reduce iron absorption by 29%, while tea can inhibit iron absorption by 64%! What’s the point in eating all these vegan sources of iron if you’re going to render them useless straight away? This doesn’t mean that you should say goodbye to tea and coffee altogether, but don’t drink them with your non-heme iron rich meals. Try wait at least 30 minutes to an hour before drinking tea or coffee.