Being a vegan or a vegetarian means that you have to be conscious of the foods that you are eating. While there is a vast world of nutrients present in plant-based foods, there are a few nutrients that are less readily available. One in particular is iron. So let’s take a look at plant-based sources of iron.
The reason why we are so interested in iron is because we can easily become deficient. Most often when we eliminate animal meat, we fail to pay attention to increasing our consumption of plant-based food sources of iron, leading to a host of symptoms. For many, this is a leading cause of fatigue, hair loss, brittle nails, and anxiety, so let’s remedy the situation by boosting our plant-based iron!
What does Iron do?
Iron is one of the most abundant minerals in the earth’s crust and it vital to many functions in the human body. The following are its prime roles:
- Transports oxygen in the blood.
- Hundreds of enzymes contain iron or need it as a cofactor.
- A component of enzymes needed for energy metabolism, amino acid production, and muscle function.
- Optimal immune function requires iron.
- Iron is essential for optimal brain and nervous system development and function.
- Iron is involved in producing the protective covering, or myelin sheath, that surrounds nerve cells.
- Needed to produce neurotransmitters.
Signs you are Iron Deficient:
- Brittle hair and nails
- Heavy periods
- You’re pale
- Shortness of breath
- Restless leg syndrome
- Cravings for dirt, ice, clay
- Hair loss
- Low thyroid function
- You’re vegan or vegetarian
- Celiac or Inflammatory bowel disease
Types of Iron
Heme Iron: most heme iron is part of the hemoglobin and myoglobin (oxygen transporting proteins) and is only found in animal tissue. Highly bioavailable (absorbable) to the body.
Non-Heme Iron: Type of iron found in plant-foods, less bioavailable.
Effects of GI function on Iron Absorption: In order for iron to be properly absorbed by the body, you need adequate stomach acid or hydrochloric acid (HCL). Since natural HCL production begins to decline after age 21, most people do not have adequate HCL to properly absorb iron. In addition, poor food habits such as excess amounts of fried foods, animal meat and processed food as well as the use of antacids also decrease HCL production.
Enhancing Iron Absorption: Vitamin C greatly increases the ability of iron to be absorbed by the body. Therefore, it is vital for vegetarians and vegans to have a good supply of natural vitamin C in their diet. You can choose to take an iron supplement that also contains Vitamin C, or you can boost your Vitamin C intake by eating foods rich in the vitamin. This includes citrus fruits, the superberry camu camu, papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, cantaloupe and cauliflower.
Inhibiting Iron Absorption: There are a few nutrients that inhibit or reduce the ability of the body to take in Iron (leading to deficiency). If you are iron deficient, it is best to minimize the consumption of the following until iron levels are normalized.
– Polyphenols: found in tea, coffee, dark chocolate and some berries
– Oxalates: found in spinach, beet greens, okra, parsley, leeks and collard greens
– Calcium: synthetic sources of calcium supplements
While these dosages are a helpful guideline, I recommend just focusing on including iron- rich food sources into every meal, combined with a natural source of Vitamin C such as a whole-foods supplement or from fruits and vegetables.
Based on recommendations from The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine:
- 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
- 14 to 18 years: 11 mg/day
- Age 19 and older: 8 mg/day
- 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
- 14 to 18 years: 15 mg/day
- 19 to 50 years: 18 mg/day
- 51 and older: 8 mg/day
Iron Supplements: While I prefer that you get your iron from your food, in some cases, such as heavy menstrual bleeding and anemia, it is necessary to use a supplement.
Be careful of what supplement you are purchasing. Not all iron supplements are created equal, with some forms causing nausea, and others leading to toxicity in the body. So how do you choose? Look for a plant-based, whole food source of iron. I personally like the supplement called ErthyroPro by Premier Research Labs. I love this produce because it derives its iron from natural food sources such as red beet roots, stabilized rice bran and bilberry. It also contains synergists and co-factors that help to increase the iron absorption and utilization by the body. No synthetics, no additives and no preservatives.
Plant-based Sources of Iron: While increasing your iron with a supplement is the quickest way to raise levels, incorporating food sources is recommended as well. I like to add the following plant-based sources of iron into my diet daily. As you can see there are many plant foods rich in iron, making it easier to get your daily recommendation than you might think. Eat up!
Plant-Based Sources of Iron
|Blackstrap Molasses||2 Tbsp||7.2|
|Lentils, cooked||1 cup||6.6|
|Spinach, cooked||1 cup||6.4|
|Quinoa, cooked||1 cup||6.3|
|Lima Beans, cooked||1 cup||4.4|
|Pumpkin Seeds||1 ounce||4.2|
|Swiss Chard, cooked||1 cup||4.0|
|Black Beans, cooked||1 cup||3.6|
|Pinto Beans, cooked||1 cup||3.5|
|Chickpeas, cooked||1 cup||3.2|
|Kidney Beans,cooked||1 cup||3.0|
|Peas, cooked||1 cup||2.5|
|Black-eyed peas||1 cup||2.3|
|Brussels sprouts||1 cup||1.9|