How do vegans get enough iron? What vegan foods are high in iron? Check out 10 vegetarian foods for vegans that are rich in iron.
Are you a vegan and want to know the best ways to add iron to your diet? The following sections will describe in detail the various veg foods high in iron and the best way to prepare them.
Hence, those wanting to increase their iron intake can now do so easily by including the given below list of iron rich foods for vegans in their diet.
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What is Iron and Why it is Important for the Human Body?
Iron is an important mineral that the human body needs for its balanced growth and development.
Iron helps the body carry out some important functions like:
- Transfer oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body
- Help the muscles get oxygen
- Build hormones
- Make certain tissues
As you can see iron helps regulate many bodily functions and its deficiency can result in problems like anemia and poor immunity. Some signs and symptoms of iron deficiency are tiredness, lower levels of concentration, pale skin and cold hand and feet.
Short term iron deficiency does not cause any marked difference in the health of a person. Body takes up its stored iron to make up for any short term deficiency. Long term iron deficiency can also be overcome by eating food rich in iron. Some acute cases of anemia might require the intake of iron pills.
Some excellent sources of foods to fight iron deficiency are lean beef, chicken, green leafy vegetables and beans.
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How Much Iron to Take?
The iron requirements differ from person to person. It is gender and age specific also. Men and non-menstruating women require less iron than menstruating and pregnant women.
Recommended daily iron intake for adult men is around 8 mg. But for pregnant women it can be as high as 27 mg.
In order to get your recommended daily dose of iron it becomes imperative that you include the right kind of food in your diet. Then again, not all dietary iron is of the same type.
Types of Dietary Iron
Dietary iron are of two types – heme and non-heme iron. They both differ in their food sources and their iron absorption levels.
Heme iron comes from animal based sources of food like eggs, chicken, fish and so on. It is absorbed easily by the human body.
Non-heme iron comes from both animal and plant based sources of food. Some vegetarian sources of iron include vegetables, fruits, grains and so on. Non-heme iron does not get absorbed easily.
Since all vegetarian sources of iron contain non-heme iron, it becomes difficult to boost iron on a vegan diet.
Though heme iron is absorbed easily, the human body does not have a mechanism to regulate its intake. This means that if your body has excess heme iron than it will not know what to do with it. People who eat meat are at a risk of excess iron intake which can have a negative impact on the body.
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What Vegetarian Foods are High in Iron?
How can a vegan increase iron levels if he/she is getting only non-heme iron from the diet? Well, there are enough high iron foods for vegans and when prepared in the right way can help your body get the recommended dose of iron daily.
Here is a list of such vegetarian foods that are rich in iron.
Soybean is one of the highest iron rich foods. 100 grams of raw soybeans contain 15.7 mg of iron.
Other vegetarian food sources of iron that are derived from soybean are tofu, tempeh and soy milk. All these are excellent vegan sources of iron.
Half a cup tofu contains 6.6 mg of iron whereas a cup of cooked soybeans contain 4.5 mg of iron. A cup of tempeh also contains 4.5 mg of iron.
Here are some combinations of soybean food items that will ensure highest iron absorption:
- Stir fried tofu with broccoli
- Soak and ferment soybeans before using them
- Soak soybeans in warm water and cook them with tomato paste
Chickpea is another excellent veg source of iron. It is a light brown colored legume. It comes in varieties of sizes and colors.
100 grams of cooked chickpea contains 2.89 mg of iron. Chickpeas can be used in curries or salads. When they are roasted and powdered they can be used to make a variety of delicious snacks.
Cooking, soaking or germinating does not change the iron content in chickpeas.
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Lentil is a common iron-rich food for vegetarians and vegans. 100 grams of lentils contains nearly 6.5 mg of iron.
Lentils come in various colors – green, yellow and red. They can be soaked and cooked. Cooking does not destroy the iron content. In fact soaking and cooking reduces the anti-nutrients found in lentils thereby aiding in the overall absorption of the nutrients.
Beans include kidney beans, white beans, navy beans, lima beans, black beans and pinto beans. All the varieties of beans are packed with iron and contain around 4.5 mg to 6.5 mg of iron per cup.
Some simple recipes that will help you get maximum iron from beans are:
- A meal of bean soup along with cooked broccoli
- Cook beans along with tomato sauce and serve with pasta
- Stir fry red peppers with beans
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Spinach is a green leafy vegetable and is one of the highest iron rich foods for vegans. 100 grams raw spinach contains 2.7 mg of iron. But, due its light weight you can consume more of it in cooked form rather than in raw form.
A cup of cooked spinach contains 6.4 mg of iron. You can have it in curries, soups or even smoothies. You can add raw spinach to salads.
Spinach contains highest iron concentration per portion and even beats animal based sources of iron.
100 grams of spinach contains more iron than an equal amount of red meat or salmon or chicken or even eggs.
Iron-rich veggies like spinach have certain substances that prevent absorption of iron in the body. Cook these veggies with vitamin C rich food items to aid iron absorption.
In order to aid iron absorption, combine iron rich food with foods containing Vitamin C like berries, tomatoes and bell peppers. Also, avoid taking milk products along with plant based sources of iron because calcium can prevent absorption of both types of iron – heme and non-heme.
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Hemp seeds, flex seeds and pumpkin seeds are great sources of iron. 100 grams of hemp seeds contain around 7 mg of iron. Hemp seeds are also a good source of protein and fiber.
Hemp seeds can be eaten raw or sprouted. There are various other products of hemp seeds like hemp milk and hemp oil which you can use.
Cashew nut is another iron-rich plant source that can help vegans avoid iron deficiency. A 100 grams serving of cashew nuts contain 6.6 mg of iron. Among all the nuts like almonds, pistachio and cashew, cashew nuts have the highest iron content.
Cashew nuts can be eaten raw, fried or roasted. Though fried or roasted nuts taste better than raw ones, roasting and frying can damage some nutrients of the nuts.
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Prunes are dried plums and an iron rich vegetarian food. In fact, a cup of prune juice can provide you with 3 mg of iron.
Prunes are also used as an ingredient in many sweet dishes.
Apart from having good iron content, prunes are also a good source of fiber and help in digestion.
Quinoa is another vegetarian food high in iron. In uncooked form, 100 grams of quinoa contains 4.6 mg of iron. A cup of cooked quinoa contains 2.8 mg of iron.
Cooked quinoa can be eaten in place of rice. You can also make various other delicacies with quinoa like quinoa patties, quinoa granola bar and so on.
Potatoes a favorite food for many, is also a high iron food for vegans. An unpeeled potato contains around 3.2 mg of iron.
Most of the iron in a potato is concentrated in its skin hence a meal containing unpeeled baked potato can give you a boost of iron.
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Wrap up – Top Iron Rich Foods for Vegans
Sufficient iron intake for vegetarians should no longer be a problem with so many iron-rich plant sources. In fact, many vegetarian foods that are high in iron provide more iron per serving than what animal based food provide.
A good source of iron will be one that provides at least 15% of the recommended daily iron intake. Such iron rich vegetarian foods are beans (44%), lentils (17%), spinach (17%) and tofu (17%).
While cooking and consuming such iron-filled food remember to prepare them in such a way that increases their absorption rate. Also, avoid taking food items that can hinder the iron absorption like tea or coffee. Instead, go for a glass of orange juice with your iron fortified breakfast cereal!