Updated: Sep 6
Usually, when someone finds out you are plant-based, there are a few worrisome nutrients that seem to come to mind with iron being one of them. Iron needs depend on your age, gender, and pregnancy status but many do not know that individuals that are vegan or vegetarian also have increased needs due to the availability of iron in plant-based sources.
There are two types of iron- heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal sources and is better absorbed than non-heme iron which is found in plant sources. Though it is true that iron is better absorbed in animal sources, it doesn’t mean that you cannot receive adequate iron intake on a plant-based diet. In fact, it is quite the opposite! Plant-based foods are rich in iron. Below are a few iron plant-based iron sources to start adding to your diet today.
1. Lentils: 1 cup = 6.59 mg of iron
Not only are lentils rich in iron but also protein and fiber!
2. Cannellini beans: 1 cup = 5.2 mg of iron per cup
3. Tofu: 1.2 cup = 6.64mg of iron
Contains a lot of iron, calcium, and protein (10g!).
4. Amaranth: 1 cup = 5.17mg of iron
An ancient grain with over 9g of protein!
5. Dark Chocolate: 3-ounce serving = 7mg of iron
6. Baked potatoes: A medium potato provides 2 mg iron.
The skin is especially a great source of iron!
7. Spinach: 1 cup = 6.43 mg of iron
Though it is a rich source of iron, it is not always the best source because of the oxalates inhibiting the iron absorption in the iron. Try pairing spinach with a source of vitamin C to increase iron absorption!
8. Dried Apricots: 1 cup of dried apricot contain 4.1 mg of iron
The key with plant-based iron is to absorb as much of the iron that you consume! Non-heme iron is less bioavailable than heme iron, but there are plenty of ways to make the iron more bioavailable.
Eating fewer amounts of iron at a time and pacing it throughout the day may help to increase absorption.
Eating non-heme iron foods with vitamin C can increase absorption by 5x! Good sources of vitamin C include bell peppers, broccoli, citrus fruits, kiwi, mango, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Eating non-heme iron foods alongside foods high in beta carotene. Good sources of beta carotene include leafy greens, orange, yellow and red peppers, carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin.
Avoid drinking coffee, tea or red wine when consuming high iron meals, they can inhibit iron absorption. Try and not have these items up to 2 hours before eating meals rich in iron.
Cook with an iron skillet to increase absorption.
Take calcium supplements separately and avoid eating calcium-rich foods when eating an iron-rich meal.
Try soaking or fermentation. Phytates in some iron-rich plant-based foods decrease the bioavailability but soaking can help to increase absorption and decrease phytates.
Hello! My name is Caroline Williams and I am a dietetic intern in Georgia State's coordinated program. I am studying to become a registered dietitian with hopes to one day work in pediatric weight management. Weight management and choosing more plant based foods go hand in hand, so I have become increasingly interested in a plant-based lifestyle!