What are the Best Vegetarian & Vegan Iron Sources?
A balanced diet coupled with adequate water intake and exercise is a recipe for good health and longevity. Although many of us have different eating habits, we can all possibly rank just as healthy as the other. Problems only arise when nutritional gaps and lack of specific minerals, like Iron, cause noticeable deficiency symptoms and interfere with our daily lives.
Iron is a key mineral in the body, it plays a special role in the function of hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen to all of the body’s organs. Iron is completely essential in maintaining basic life functions and overall health of our cells because of this. Pregnant and menstruating women require higher levels of iron during these times. When our body lacks this mineral, it also lacks healthy red blood cells, which in turn leads to a lack of oxygen in the body. This condition is called Anemia and it carries with it symptoms of extreme fatigue, lack of energy, headache and shortness of breath. Iron’s presence is abundant in animal protein so deficiency isn’t very common among meat eaters. There are many iron rich vegetarian foods as well so we will be exploring some of the best vegan iron sources in this article.
How much Iron Do you need?
According to the National Institute of Health, the daily recommended intake of iron varies amongst gender, age and lactating or pregnant women. Male adults between the ages of 19-50 years old, are said to need only 8mg of iron a day, whereas women in the same age bracket, require a whopping 18mg a day. This is due to the blood loss during monthly menstruation cycles. This number increases to 27mg a day during pregnancy.
Sea Moss (or Irish Moss) is a seaweed and type of algae that’s been around for ages, but has recently come on the scene booming as a Superfood must-have. Its nutrient profile is impressive, containing vitamins and over 92 minerals, including calcium, magnesium and iron. 100g of Sea Moss contains 9mg of Iron, which is more than enough for the average male adult. Sea moss has a gelatinous texture and is used on its own as a mineral supplement or added to smoothies and made as a drink.
Leafy green vegetables on a whole offer a wide array of nutrients. The rule of thumb is that the darker the leaf, the more nutrient dense it is and spinach is no exception. 1 cup of spinach offers 6mg of iron, making it one of the best vegan sources of iron. It also contains adequate amounts of B-6, which is great for stress, along with vitamin C and folic acid. Enjoy it raw in a salad or lightly sautéed in a hearty dish.
Blackstrap Molasses is used as an alternative sweetener and is one of the best vegan sources of iron. This thick syrup is nutritionally dense and contains 4.7g or iron for every 100g. Blackstrap Molasses is also high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins and dietary fiber. Usually used in baking and as a syrup on pancakes or taken directly as a supplement.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats, proteins, B complex, vitamins and minerals including Iron. Pistachios, Pine nuts and Cashews have the highest iron content in nuts, while pumpkin seeds, hemp and flaxseeds are a great source of iron in seeds. For every 100mg of Cashews there is 6.7mg of iron, an easy and delicious way to get your recommended daily intake.
To improve digestibility, nuts can be soaked overnight or lightly toasted before eating. Nuts and Seeds are a nutritious on-the-go snack; toss in a salad, eat alone or enjoy is any complimentary dish.
This tasty legume comes in an array of different colors with unique flavors, and is a great vegetarian iron source. They are plentiful in fiber, potassium and protein, while also offering 6mg of iron for every 1 cup of cooked lentils across the board. I personally enjoy the deep flavor of green lentils as a side dish but they can also be enjoyed in burgers, soups and stews.
Herbs are a great source of iron and can be consumed simply by drinking a cup of tea or garnishing a plate of food. High iron plant sources include Nettle leaves, Sarsaparilla, Yellow Dock and Dandelion. Nettles contain 1.6mg of iron for every 100g of loose leaves. The great thing about herbs as well is that they can be combined in a tea and also contains other nutrients like Calcium and Magnesium and B vitamins, which makes it an overall rich nutrient source.
Non-Heme Iron Supplement
Most iron supplements are of an animal source, containing heme iron which comes from the hemoglobin in meat, fish and poultry. Non-heme iron is a vegetable-based iron and is suitable for vegans or those who wish to get their iron from a non-animal source. These supplements are usually whole food or plant-based iron sources and are great and convenient way to balance deficiencies or substitute for a poor diet.
Iron Absorption and Dosage
Vitamins and minerals work as a team or in pairs. This means that the presence of one or more vitamin will help the absorption of another. In this case, Iron requires protein and vitamin C to aid its absorption by attaching on to the mineral and carrying it across the intestinal wall for absorption. Excess iron can accumulate in the body and toxicity can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. When supplementing with iron over a long period of time, always do so under the supervision of a health practitioner.
All in all, Iron’s presence in the body is essential to all organ functions and life itself. This mineral plays a key role in the transportation of oxygen to all cells, making it vital for body function and overall energy. Although iron is readily available in animal protein, there are many vegan foods high in iron that should become a staple in the vegetarian diet. Iron deficiencies are preventable when we take preventative measures by understanding how much we need and choosing the right foods to eat. To supplement iron intake you can check out our vegan multivitamins for women or our vegetarian children’s multivitamin with Iron.