When one turns plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan most people prioritize getting the right amount of protein even me therefore this article would like to introduce the best plant based sources of iron, a mineral that our bodies need as well.
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It doesn’t matter if you are just curious about plant-based sources of iron, my goal here is to spread the information that our bodies can thrive and adapt to plant-based sources of nutrients and minerals like iron.
If you are new to adopting a plant-based lifestyle here is an article about the key differences of vegan, vegetarian and plant based.
What Is Iron?
Iron is an important mineral that human bodies need. The human body cells contain iron which is important and works together with hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen and supplies in our bodies therefore Iron is as important as protein and carbohydrates.
Iron also plays an important part in our immune systems, muscle strength, and for our brains to function. For men, total body iron can average approximately 3.8g while for women it is around 2.3g.
What happens to our bodies if there’s not enough iron?
We have heard the terms anemia and iron deficiency which are important to learn about and become more familiar especially if you choose to follow having plant based sources of iron.
Not having enough iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. This occurs when there is not enough iron in the body to supply and support body needs.
When there’s not enough iron supply in our body, it will be hard to supply oxygen and therefore the body will experience being tired, weak, and having pale skin.
The feeling of tiredness or being tired even after having a good sleep and rest, shortness of breath, tendency to lose hair, brittleness of nails, having restless legs, heart palpitation, and having pale skin are some of the common observations of having an iron deficiency and therefore it is important to consult a doctor proper checking, diagnosis, and treatment.
People who do not take or limit meat intake are prone to iron deficiency as well as women because of menstruation. Kids and children may also be affected especially if born prematurely.
According to the National Institute of Health, the amount of iron that our bodies need varies depending on our age and sex. For example, men aged 19 years old and above need to consume 8mg of Iron while for women recommended iron absorption is 18mg. For more information about it, you can their website.
Types of iron
Since iron is also an integral mineral that our bodies need, here I would like to give information about the two types of iron.
The two types of iron are known as heme iron which can be found in fish, meat, and poultry which are normally consumed. Next is nonheme iron, which can be found in plant based foods which I will discuss and list below.
Although non-heme iron is not easily absorbed by our bodies the good news is by consuming vitamin C after your meal like oranges or other citrus fruits it can help increase absorption of non-heme iron.
While children, in general, may have little absorption of iron because they eat less it is important to consult a doctor for proper guidance on giving them the right meals rich in nutrients.
Plant based Sources of Iron
A 100g of Asparagus contains 2.14mg of iron, it is also rich in other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Thanks to its vitamin C as well which means when you consume asparagus it increases the absorption of iron.
Consuming broccoli is both a good source of protein and iron. A 100g of it contains 0.73mg of iron and it also has 89.2mg of vitamin C which can help increase the absorption of iron.
Here is an easy recipe of one pot vegetable fried rice with broccoli.
From the family of legumes which also includes soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, beans, and edamame. Aside from being high in protein, beans are also rich in iron.
Soybeans: 100g can contain 15.7mg iron | Lentils: 100g (cooked) contains 3.3mg | Chickpeas: 100g (cooked) contains 2.89mg
Beans are also a good alternative in replacement of meat. Same with tofu which is made from soybeans. While for snacks, here is an easy recipe of Garlic Edamame rich in both protein and iron.
For edible mushrooms, 100g of cooked white mushrooms contains 1.7mg. The best thing about mushrooms is they are lower in calories and free of sodium. Oyster mushrooms contain up to twice iron compared to button mushrooms.
Here’s an easy mushroom recipe to try: Garlic Mushroom
A 100g of roasted and salted pumpkin seeds can contain 8.07mg of iron. Aside from iron, pumpkin seeds also contain other nutrients, vitamins and minerals. It has antioxidants, and is high in fiber.
It can be eaten as snacks and toppings to your smoothie bowl or overnight oats.
Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach are a good source of iron. 100g of raw spinach contains 2.71mg of iron and 28mg of vitamin C. According to USDA, a 100g serving of cooked spinach contains 3.57mg of iron.
There is information that spinach contains oxalate and therefore it is advised to consume in moderation.
Spinach can be added to your daily meals or try this Korean Japchae noodles with baby spinach.
While sweet potato may not have high iron content, thanks to its vitamin C when consumed with other plant based sources of iron you still increase your iron absorption. It has fiber and antioxidants rich in nutrients and other minerals.
Not only it is a good source of amino acids and protein, a 100g of quinoa contains 4.6mg of iron. It is gluten-free, high in fiber, rich in antioxidants, it is also found to help improve blood sugar and can help in weight loss.
Whole-grain foods such as those in oats, quinoa, amaranth, spelt, rye, red, brown and black rice have iron contents. It is best to consume unprocessed grains in order to absorb the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that it can provide.
Other plant based sources of iron
According to the National Library of Medicine, foods cooked using iron utensils such as cast iron pans increase the iron content of the food compared to those noniron pans.
Iron for plant based atheletes
As for athletes and those physically active, iron is something we have to make sure we are getting enough and not only focus on protein. With so many vegetables and fruits available to eat and consume it shouldn’t be a problem on where to get it.
It is also advised to avoid drinking coffee or tea with meals or if possible consume them a few hours before or after each meal as it reduces iron absorption.
I hope you have found this article on plant-based sources of iron helpful, as an active runner and blood donor it is important for me to ensure I get the right amount of nutrients and minerals with the plant-based food I eat.
This article is for general information only in order to ensure you get the right nutrients and minerals that your body needs please consult your doctor or dietician for proper recommendation.
Other related articles
- Key Differences: Vegan, Vegetarian, Plant based
- Best Plant based Protein Vegetables
- Easy Healthy Meals
- National Institute of Health | National Library of Medicine | Iron Deficiency in wikipedia | Healthline | mydr.com.au | vitaminstuff | food.ndtv.com | mayo clinic | studentaffairs.duke.edu