10 Iron-Rich Foods For Your Plant-Based Diet
You gave up eating animal proteins, but ever since then, have your energy levels been low? One cause may be that you are deficient in iron. This essential nutrient has to come from your food - your body doesn’t make iron. Iron deficiency in vegans is common, but easily fixed! Simply being knowledgeable and intentional about eating the right foods will make it possible to get your recommended daily iron intake.
Make sure that you get the foods listed below when you grocery shop and prepare your meals. I’ve also included a few new studies and tips that are important for iron levels.
WHY IRON IS IMPORTANT FOR YOUR BODY:
Iron is a vital nutrient to several functions in your body. Iron is an essential ingredient in creating hormones, brain cell development and most importantly - to make hemoglobin which carries oxygen throughout the body. An inability to create hemoglobin leads to anemia. Symptoms of anemia and iron deficiency include:
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
IRON FROM ANIMAL SOURCES vs. IRON FROM PLANTS:
Have you heard of heme and non-heme iron? These two types of iron are absorbed differently. Non-heme iron is from plants while heme iron, from animals, is actually more easily absorbed. The best way to make sure that you’re absorbing the iron you get from plant food is to take a Vitamin C supplement or to get a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Eating lots of grains and legumes (high in phytic acid) can undermine iron absorption. Polyphenols also inhibit iron absorption (found in wine, coffee, tea, chocolate, and berries). By soaking your legumes, sprouting, and eating foods high in Vitamin C will counteract those inhibitors.
FOODS HIGH IN IRON:
- Beans & Legumes - offer anywhere from 24-49% of daily RDI
- Navy beans, white beans, lentils, tofu, soy beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas
- Nuts & Seeds - offer anywhere from 9-27% of daily RDI
- Pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, macadamia, cashews, pinenuts
- Whole Grains - minimally processed grains offer anywhere from 16-29% daily RDI
- Quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat, amaranth
- Sun Dried Tomatoes -
- Dried tomatoes have a higher content of iron than regular fresh tomatoes.
- Leafy Greens - anywhere from 14-36% daily RDI - best consumed cooked.
- Kale, rainbow chard, swiss chard, collard greens, spinach
- Potatoes -
- Offer anywhere from 12-18% depending on the type of potato. Potato skins are high in iron. Sweet potatoes contain less than regular potatoes.
- Mushrooms - offer up to 15% of daily RDI
- Oyster mushrooms and white mushrooms have higher iron levels
- Hearts of Palm -
- Have about 9% of the RDI
- Mulberries -
- 14% of daily RDI for Iron as well as Vitamin C to help with absorption
- Coconut milk & Coconut Water -
- Contains about 21% of the daily RDI
A few tips on making sure you get the most iron absorption out of the food you eat: cooking in a cast iron pan, including foods with Vitamin C, avoiding coffee and tea with meals, sprouting and soaking your legumes & grains, and consuming lysine-rich foods.
It is really only recommended that people who have an iron deficiency or need iron to support pregnancy take iron supplements. Consuming too much iron can be toxic and cause serious health concerns, especially in children. If you think you may have an iron deficiency, you can ask your doctor to test your blood for iron. If you are deficient, they may suggest including more iron-rich foods in your diet or iron supplementation.
The benefits of an iron supplement for someone who is deficient will include:
- Increased energy.
- Better brain function.
- Improved immune function.
- May support better muscle function.
- Improved overall feelings of well-being.
- Support fetal brain development
I don’t recommend taking iron supplements unless you and your practitioner determine that you have a deficiency or other need. Many people can absorb the iron that they need from their food and iron can be very toxic when you consume more than you need.
XO - Serena