Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, around 30-35% of the population is iron deficient. That corresponds to around 2 billion people. Iron is an essential nutrient that is of great importance for many important body functions. Many people still think that iron is mainly found in meat. One of the most common myths about the plant-based diet is that vegans don’t get enough of it and suffer from iron deficiency. But according to the latest scientific studies, people who follow a vegan diet are no worse supplied with the nutrient than meat eaters. In this article you will find everything to do with iron vegan, as well as the best plant-based sources of iron and many tips on how to prevent iron deficiency.
Iron plays a large role in many essential functions in our body and is particularly important for the binding of oxygen to hemoglobin in the red blood cells. It is also a component of vital enzymes and strengthens our immune system. The nutrient is available in the foods in two forms – heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is only found in animal products and has a bioavailability of around 15 to 35%. Non-heme iron, on the other hand, occurs mainly in plants and is only absorbed by the body to an extent of around 2 to 20%. Because of this, the thought prevails that vegans cannot achieve adequate iron supplies. However, a Japanese study from 2009 found that diet did not correlate with iron deficiency. In other words – an unhealthy plant-based diet, just like an unhealthy omnivore diet, can lead to various nutrient deficiencies.
Iron vegan – How much iron do we need per day
How much iron our body needs per day depends on many different factors, such as gender, age and physical activity. According to the World Health Organization, the recommended levels for adult men are 10 milligrams, while women should consume around 15-16 milligrams of iron. The reason for the higher requirement in women is that they lose a lot of iron through their menstrual period. A daily intake of 30 milligrams is recommended so that pregnant women can also supply the unborn child with the nutrients. Since non-heme iron is more poorly absorbed by our body, the values for vegan iron and vegetarians are 1.8 times higher than for meat eaters. The quantities mentioned do not, however, indicate actual requirements. Since only a small part of the iron ingested is absorbed by the body, you have to consume a lot more of it.
Preventing iron deficiency in a plant-based diet – helpful tips and tricks
Anyone who refrains from consuming animal products should pay attention to a healthy and varied diet, because this is the only way to supply the body with all the important nutrients. The correct composition of the food is of great importance for an adequate iron intake. While some encourage uptake, others may hinder it. Below are some helpful tips on how to cleverly design your meal plan.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C According to a scientific study, combining foods rich in iron with foods rich in vitamin C can increase iron absorption by as much as 300%. Try adding more citrus fruits to your diet like oranges, strawberries, and grapefruits. Other foods that are high in vitamin C include tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and green leafy vegetables.
- Onions and garlic promote iron absorption – A study conducted in India found that eating onions and garlic, whether raw or cooked, can boost iron and zinc absorption.
- Soaking, fermenting and sprouting of grains and legumes reduces the amount of phytates they contain and in this way can improve the absorption of iron in a vegan way.
- Cook the dishes in a cast iron pan – Food prepared in a cast iron pan usually provides 2 to 3 times more iron.
- It is best to distribute iron-rich meals throughout the day – That sounds strange at first, but it’s true – the more iron a single meal contains, the less of it is absorbed by the body. For this reason, it is recommended that you add a good source of iron to each of your meals. This ensures that the body can use as much of it as possible. A menu plan could look like this: pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds in muesli in the morning, a green smoothie as a snack, leaf salad with oranges for lunch and tahini in a salad dressing in the evening.
- Drink less coffee and tea – There are certain substances that inhibit the absorption of iron in a vegan way. Such is the case with the tannins found in coffee and tea and it has been confirmed that consuming them 1-2 hours before or after a meal can reduce intake by up to 90%.
- Calcium inhibits iron absorption – If you are taking calcium supplements, you should take them at least 2 hours before a meal.
Suitable vegetable sources of iron – legumes
Iron is responsible for the transport of oxygen in the body and if you are undersupplied with it, you often feel tired, limp and suffer from severe headaches. Below we are going to show you the best plant-based foods that are high in iron. Although pulses are primarily known as a suitable source of protein for vegans, they also provide our bodies with plenty of iron. Some legumes provide this much iron per 100 grams:
- Soy protein – 11 milligrams
- Kidney beans – 8.3 milligrams, or about 30% of the recommended daily allowance. Additionally, beans are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, folic acid, potassium, and phosphorus. Regular consumption of beans lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- lenses not only provide 8 milligrams of vegan iron, but also contain around 18 grams of protein – real all-rounders.
- Mung beans – 6.9 milligrams
- Chickpeas – 6.2 milligrams
- Tofu, tempeh and soybeans – 5.8-6 milligrams
- Black beans – 5 milligrams
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are not only particularly rich in protein, but also excellent vegetable sources of iron. Whether as a snack between meals, as an addition to muesli or smoothies or as a topping for a salad – they are very versatile. Try adding the following varieties to your diet:
- Pumpkin Seeds – 12.5 milligrams. A handful of these already cover the daily iron requirement vegan.
- Sesame – 10 milligrams. Tahini paste made from sesame seeds is a very popular ingredient for salad dressings and just 2 tablespoons of it gives us around 3 milligrams of iron. In addition, sesame seeds are a health source of lots of calcium, unlike milk, yogurt and curd.
- Hemp seeds In addition to 10 milligrams of iron, they also contain large amounts of healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
- linseed provide 9.6 milligrams of iron and due to their high fiber content they stimulate digestion and keep us full for a long time.
- Pistachios are also some of the best vegan iron suppliers at 7.3 milligrams. They also contain 15 grams of protein per 100 grams and are ideal for preparing high-protein meals.
- Cashews – 6.4 milligrams
- Pine nuts – 5.2 milligrams
- Almonds – 4.1 milligrams
Iron vegan – Which vegetables are good sources of iron??
Not only are legumes and nuts good vegetable sources of iron, but some vegetables are perfect too.
- Chanterelles and other mushrooms contain 6.5 milligrams and thus even exceed the iron content in beef!
- Spinach – 4.1 milligrams, and the high vitamin C content promotes iron absorption even more.
- Fennel and Swiss chard – 2.7 milligrams. Another advantage of Swiss chard is its high vitamin K content – just a handful of it covers our daily needs.
- Potatoes – A medium-sized potato contains approximately 3.4 milligrams of iron. However, the nutrient is mainly concentrated in the shell. In addition, one large potato can provide up to 46% of your vitamin C and potassium needs.
- cress provides around 2.6 milligrams of iron and is also very rich in calcium, vitamins C and A..
- Carrots – 2.1 milligrams
- Peas – 2 milligrams. The vegetables are also a wonderful source of protein and contain a lot of fiber, which aid our digestion.
- Radishes – 1.5 milligrams
- Broccoli – 1.5 milligrams
Some types of fruit and dried fruits also contain large amounts of iron
When it comes to vegan iron, fruit probably wouldn’t be the first thing to think of. Even so, some fruits are surprisingly good vegetable sources of iron.
- Mulberries – 2.6 milligrams
- fresh berries (Blackberries, blueberries, and currants) – 0.7 to 1.8 milligrams
- Elderberries – 1.9 milligrams
- Raspberries – 0.9 milligrams
Dried fruits are also a perfect snack between meals and contain significant amounts of iron. When buying, it is particularly important to ensure that these do not contain any chemical additives or harmful preservatives.
- Dried peaches – 6.5 milligrams
- Dried apricots provide 4.4 milligrams of iron.
Cereals and cereal products
In addition to lots of healthy fiber, most grain products also contain a lot of iron.
- Amaranth does not contain gluten and is also known as pseudo-grain. It provides 9 milligrams of iron per 100 grams and is also very rich in protein and calcium.
- Quinoa is an excellent gluten-free alternative to rice and contains 8 milligrams of iron. The high antioxidant content of quinoa reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Millet – 6.9 milligrams
- oatmeal At 5.1 milligrams, they are a delicious and easy way to get vegan iron. Additionally, oats contain soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which can promote gut health and lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- Spelt – 4.2 milligrams
- Whole Wheat Pasta – 3.7 milligrams
- Brown rice – 3.2 milligrams
An overview of other vegetable sources of iron
- Canned coconut milk is a delicious vegan alternative to conventional cow’s milk. Although it is very high in fat, it is a wonderful source of iron at 3.8 milligrams per 100 ml and contains other important vitamins and minerals, including copper and magnesium.
- Dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% contains 3.3 milligrams of iron per 30 gram serving.
- molasses is a natural sweetener and much healthier than table sugar. In terms of iron vegan, 2 tablespoons of molasses contain approximately 2.1 milligrams of the nutrient.
Foods fortified with iron are healthy?
The supply of food artificially fortified with iron in supermarkets is constantly growing. This mainly includes mueslis, corn flakes, muesli bars and some drinks. However, most of them contain far too much sugar and should therefore not be consumed. In addition, they harbor the risk of an excess of iron, which is just as harmful to health as an iron deficiency. Elevated iron levels can in some cases lead to cardiovascular disease and are associated with an increased risk of cancer. Regardless of whether you are vegan or meat eater – in order to avoid the risk of iron deficiency or excess iron, it is important to ensure that you eat a healthy diet.