Eating Vegan: Where Do You Get Your Iron?

Eating Vegan: Where Do You Get Your Iron?

Most folks associate dietary sources of iron with animal foods like red meat and eggs. Fortunately, there are lots of veggie sources of iron, and with a little bit of knowledge, it’s easy to work sufficient iron into a vegan diet.

The tricky thing about dietary iron is that there are two sorts: heme and non-heme. Non-heme iron is the type found in plant sources of iron, and it is harder for the body to absorb than heme iron.

That said, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, iron isn’t as big a concern for most vegans for a couple of different reasons:

Vegetable sources of iron are much higher in the mineral than meat sources. That’s a good thing, because the RDA for iron in a vegetarian or vegan diet is 14 milligrams for men and 33 milligrams for women, versus 8 milligrams for men and 18 milligrams for women that eat a standard American diet (SAD).

Vitamin C is also critical to iron absorption, and vegan diets tend to be higher in Vitamin C than the SAD.

There are lots of good veggie sources of iron. Here are just a few:

  • Cooked beans or lentils contain about 2 milligrams per 1/2 cup serving.
  • A cup of raisins or dates contain 5 milligrams.
  • One cup of cooked Swiss chard contains 4 milligrams of iron.
  • Quinoa contains about 3 milligrams in a one cup serving.
  • Just 2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses has 7 milligrams.
  • Cooked spinach has 4 milligrams in a one cup serving.

Of course, this is just a partial list. In general, dark, leafy greens, any sort of beans, whole grains, and dried fruits are great sources of iron. When possible, it’s a good idea to combine your iron sources with something that’s rich in vitamin C to help your body absorb. For a more comprehensive list of vegan iron sources check out this chart from the Vegetarian Resource Group.

So, vegan and vegetarian people: what are your favorite sources for iron? Am I missing anything?

Image Credits:
Iron Man. Creative Commons photo by icedsoul
Swiss Chard. Creative Commons photo by eflon

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15 thoughts on “Eating Vegan: Where Do You Get Your Iron?”

  1. Kale is great, but has to be prepared right. We had the hardest time getting my mom to eat it!

    The most important thing is: Don’t overcook! Second, remove the tough central spine – I’ve known people who just chop the whole leaf up, then don’t understand why their kale is so stringy and hard to chew…

    I splash of balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking really gives it a nice flavor. Also lemon juice…

    For some suggestions, try these recipes at the GlutenFreeHippie blog.

    1. That simple kale recipe on you wife's site looks excellent! Recently, I've been really into cooking leafy greens in olive oil and white wine with lots of ginger. It comes out with a citrusy flavor that's just lovely.

  2. All the fuss over where vegans get their nutrients.

    The scientific information about the benefits of a vegan diet and the hazards of a meat and dairy diet are well known in the medical and scientific community.

    Just take a look at the many great veggie/vegan athletes that are the picture of health. None seems to have a problem with getting enough iron or protein or eating nutritious food.

    There are hundreds of famous top level athletes -even Olympians- who are vegetarian or vegan. “Olympian of the Century” track star Carl Lewis, tennis champions Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, cricket star Anil Kumble, Mr. International bodybuilder Andreas Cahling, Heisman trophy winner Desmond Howard, Debbie Lawrence Olympic race-walker, four time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl, 4-time Olympic gold medalist Al Oerter, WBC World Middleweight Champion Keith Holmes, double Olympic Gold medalist in hurdles Edwin Moses, and Dave Scott, six-time Ironman triathlon winner, to name but a few.

    1. That's an excellent point, Walt! I think it's definitely a misconception that vegans and vegetarians have to struggle to get enough nutrients. Thanks for sharing some awesome examples of vegans who exemplify how healthy this lifestyle can be.

  3. my daughter had to take supplemental iron when she was a toddler to maintain her iron levels (we were full-on meat eaters) – then when she was 2.5 years old we went vegan, and she hasn’t needed supplements since

    she’s 7.5 yrs old now and every time they test her iron lvls the lab results come back higher than normal

      1. we don’t worry at all about any specific nutrients

        my nutritional philosophy is that if the bulk of your diet is comprised of a wide variety of whole foods then you’ll get everything you need

        people love to talk about iron and especially b12 deficiencies as virtual proof that vegan diets are wrong, and unhealthy, but the reverse seems incredibly obvious when you look at all the diseases associated with the consumption of animal products – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer – what diseases are associated with eating vegetables? not a single one.

        1. ps. that picture above looks like my chard!

          I had an empty space up by my mailbox about 16″ wide and 8′ long and planted bright lights swiss chard for the first time. Not because we needed the specific nutrients it provides, but because it’s completely delicious!

          We had a HUGE crop for such a small space. oh it was soooo very good, but it’s all gone now – too hot. (atlanta)

          1. I bet that looked beautiful!

            I’m actually in Atlanta, too! I’ve got some arugula out back that’s doing quite well, despite the heat. We’re unfortunately not growing a lot of edibles right now, but that arugula is chugging along despite my neglect!

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