Let’s dispel one thing right off the bat: a vegan diet can provide just as much, if not more, iron than a non-vegan diet. There are plenty of plant-based foods that are iron-rich. By avoiding coffee and caffeinated tea during meals and increasing your legume (lentils, peas, & beans) intake, you’ll be well on your way to fulfilling your daily iron requirement.
What’s So Important About Iron?
Every living cell, be it in a plant or animal, has iron, which is an essential element. The iron in your body is primarily found in two proteins: hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin, found in red blood cells, carries oxygen in the blood to your lungs and all tissues in the body. Myoglobin in muscle stores oxygen for use during exercise. Iron is also needed for red blood cell production. Additionally, iron helps enzyme production and generates energy, which is why a cup of hibiscus tea can help fuel you throughout the day. Did we mention that the immune system depends on iron for physical and mental growth, particularly during childhood? Well, it does and we lose iron by sweating, defecating, urinating, or bleeding, which is why women need more iron than men. Iron is the body’s gold and needs to be continually replenished.
How Much Iron Do You Need?
The recommended dietary intake of iron one requires depends entirely on age, gender, and condition. Since the body cannot produce iron by itself, it is important to have it in your daily diet, otherwise you could become iron deficient. Some people are naturally deficient in iron or experience events (heavy blood loss during childbirth or period, intestinal disorder that limits the body’s ability to hold iron, or too much exercise without increasing iron intake) that cause a loss of iron. If you lack iron in your diet, you may be easily fatigued, experience headaches, be grumpy, or have decreased energy.
Foods that Block Iron Absorption:
Believe it or not, there are foods that block the absorption of iron. Unless the person is truly iron deficient, iron blocking foods won’t have a negative effect when consumed with iron-rich foods. Tannins, which are in tea leaves, red grapes, chocolate, and coffee can block the absorption of iron by 50%. Zinc or manganese supplements, peppermint, chamomile, egg protein, calcium supplements, and dairy foods can also inhibit iron absorption. On the other side of that coin, there are foods, like vitamin C, that boost iron levels. Eating 63 milligrams of vitamin C (1 navel orange) during a meal can triple the iron absorption from plant-based foods. Below is a list of foods that can help you increase your iron levels.
- Sesame Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
- Lima Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Swiss Chard
- Beet & Turnip Greens
- Bok Choy
- Brussels Sprouts
Iron is a crucial part of your diet and is readily available for vegans and vegetarians. Don’t ever let anyone say that eating meat is the only way you can get your daily dose of iron. There’s no need to fret because lots of plant-based foods have the iron you need.