Vegetarian + Vegan eating vegan

Published on May 9th, 2012 | by Heather Nauta

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Eating Vegan: Plant Sources Of Iron

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eating veganPlant Sources Of Iron

Vegan iron sources are easy enough to find, but they do need a bit of help getting properly absorbed into your body.

You can find iron in most beans, as well as in leafy greens and molasses. The iron intake of most vegans and vegetarians is actually pretty high, since iron per calorie is higher in plan foods than animal foods. But there’s an issue with absorption of plant-based iron.

Iron Absorption From Plant Foods

The iron in plant foods is a different form than the iron in animal foods and can be more difficult to absorb. But there are some simple things you can do to counteract that and get plenty of plant-based iron.

Vitamin C helps your body absorb plant food sources of iron, so eating lots of vitamin C-rich foods is a great way to improve your iron levels. Leafy greens are a great source of vitamin C as well as iron, so they do double duty. Citrus, berries and bell peppers good source of vitamin C as well.

Vegans and vegetarians who eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit have a pretty high intake of vitamin C, and it tends to offset the lower absorption rate of plant sources of iron.

The tannins in coffee and tea (black or green) interfere with iron absorption when you drink it at the same time as you eat foods with iron. Drinking coffee and tea only between meals seems to be all right.

Phytic acid (in things like seeds, beans, grains and raw spinach and chard) also interferes with iron absorption, but vitamin C helps counteract that effect. It’s also broken down when you soak and/or cook those foods properly.

The government’s daily reference intake of iron is 8mg/day for adult men and 18mg/day for adult women before menopause. Iron needs jump to 23mg/day for pregnant women, and drop to 8mg/day for women after menopause.

Those recommendations are based on a mix of animal and plant sources of iron. For vegans, who only get plant sources, the government recommendation is to get nearly twice that amount because of the lower absorption rate.

If you want to read more about the scientific studies and research, and get a more in-depth look at the differences between plant and animal sources of iron, check out this article by Jack Norris on VeganHealth.org.

Vegan Iron Sources

  • Spinach – 1 cup (cooked) has 6.4mg (from only 41 calories)
  • Beet Greens – 1 cup (cooked) has 2.7mg (from only 39 calories)
  • Parsley – 1 cup has 3.7mg (from only 54 calories)
  • Swiss Chard: 1 cup (cooked) has 4mg (from only 35 calories)
  • Wheat germ – 1 cup has 7.2mg
  • Chickpeas: 1 cup (cooked) has 4.7mg
  • Lentils: 1 cup (cooked) has 6.6mg
  • Quinoa: 1 cup (cooked) has 2.8mg
  • Sunflower seeds: 1 oz (28g) has 1.9mg
  • Sesame seeds: 1 oz (28g) has 4.1 mg
  • Cashews: 1 oz (28g, 23 nuts) has 1.9mg
  • Sunflower Seed Butter: 1 Tbsp has 0.8mg
  • Tahini: 1 Tbsp has 3.1mg
  • Molasses: 1 Tbsp has 1mg
  • Cocoa Powder: 1/4 cup has 3mg

Data from nutritiondata.com

Try out some of these recipes using the iron-rich foods listed above:

Iron Supplements

Getting enough iron for the day entirely from food is possible, but it can be difficult for vegans to get enough – especially for women during pregnancy.

Iron supplements are one to be very careful of, because you can take too much. If you think you’re deficient, the best plan is to get your blood tested to be sure. If you are deficient, work with your doctor to figure out a safe dose for yourself to catch up.

The government’s ‘tolerable upper intake level’ (aka the maximum amount you should take without a doctor telling you to because you’re severely deficient) is 45 mg/day for adults (40mg/day for children).

If you want to know more about healthy eating and nutrition for vegans and vegetarians, check out the free ‘7 Secrets For Shaping Up Your Healthy Eating Habits‘.

Image Credit: Heather Nauta of Healthy Eating Starts Here

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About the Author

Heather Nauta is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, showing you how to have fun while making simple, fast, incredibly delicious, healthy meals that leave you and your family satisfied and full of energy at HealthyVeganRecipes.net. She specializes in helping people get to an optimal level of health by getting them on a nutritionally-complete healthy eating plan, and supporting them to guarantee they achieve their health goals at HealthyEatingStartsHere.com.



  • patricia

    When my son, now sixteen, was younger, he didn’t want to eat meat. Due to my dairy allergy, milk products were out, so I tried a vegan diet, for a while. My son didn’t eat the bean dishes I made, and I couldn’t find a B-12 supplement that one of us wasn’t reacting badly to. The end result, we went back to meat.

    There were advantages to the vegan way, however, and I’d like to try having some vegan days, each week. I’ve found new recipes to try, but am still concerned about tge B-12 issue. Are there any B-12 supplements that are only B-12 and water? I react badly to calcium supplements, so rice milk that has B-12 has been out of the question, since they also had added calcium!

    • Tanya Sitton

      I just wanted to chime in — this is what I use; do any of these ingredients trouble you? Seems like not a lot of extra stuff in there: http://www.devanutrition.com/vitamin_b12.html

      I think it’s great to incorporate more vegan meals, even if you don’t find a way to go full-throttle! If for some reason I had a hard time with 100% vegan-ness, I’d try to incorporate lower impact stuff in non-vegan ingredients — eggs have b12 as well as meat; and things like clams/ oysters/ mussels or locally caught or farmed fish typically involve less environmental impact and less animal suffering, compared to factory-farmed land animals or commercially caught sea fish/ other shellfish… submitted for consideration. :-)

  • http://www.healthyeatingstartshere.com/ Heather Nauta

    Yeah, B12 is one that definitely should be supplemented. I like a brand called ‘Now’, they make a liquid called ‘Ultra B12 Liquid’ that includes folic acid, and a few other of the B vitamins to make sure you stay balanced. Check it out, I think they sell on Amazon and other online retailers, and see if the ingredients work for you.

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