More and more people are switching to a vegan diet to prevent the tremendous animal slaughter and learn more about cooking and nutrition. A Vegan Diet is also said to be helpful for those looking to lose weight. But a common issue faced by most people who switch to a vegan diet is finding plant-based meat replacements for the nutrients and minerals they were used getting in animal products.
People who think about switching to a vegan diet often ask, where can vegans get iron. Most newly baked vegans worry that cutting animal meat from their diet would leave them at the risk of becoming iron deficient, which is not true.
You can find plenty of plant-based products that are as rich in iron as meat. Ensure you consume plant-based foods with a good amount of iron like lentils, tofu, cereals, cannellini beans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and spinach to get enough iron even on vegan diet.
We will discuss those great vegan sources of iron in depth later, but first let’s answer a few more iron-related questions people often ask.
What is Iron and Why do We Need it?
Iron is considered to be a very crucial mineral in a Vegan Diet. But what is iron and why do we need it? And should vegans be worried about getting enough of it?
Scientifically, iron is a mineral, a part of hemoglobin – a protein responsible for transporting oxygen around our body via red blood cells. We need iron because it is required to make hemoglobin in our bodies.
It is found everywhere in the environment, our food, and our bodies. Iron also supports the functioning of our immune system, growth, and learning.
Due to these vital roles played by iron in the functioning of our body, it is important to supply the body with iron regularly through the food we eat.
To get more in depth information about iron we recommend this NIH link – click here.
How do You Know if Your Iron is Extremely Low?
If our body does not get the sufficient amount of iron that is required for normal bodily functions, it simply will not be able to produce enough hemoglobin, limiting the body’s ability to transport oxygen to the muscles. But how do you know if your iron is extremely low?
Some early signs of iron deficiency include low energy levels, tiredness, and pale skin. Furthermore, iron deficiency anemia (a condition of severe iron deficiency) can result in hair thinning, mouth ulcers, bitter nails, and palpitations.
Are Vegans Iron Deficient?
Vegan iron deficiency myth is unfortunately still alive and kicking. According to many historical and cultural beliefs, meat is considered high in iron, and a vegan diet is considered deficient. Today we know this belief is far from truth. I mean, if it was true that vegans are iron deficient, they would be dropping like flies due to iron deficiency.
A large study of over 40,000 women suggested that vegans do not have higher rates of iron deficiency than meat eaters. In fact, this may surprise you, but some studies also showed that vegan populations tend to have a higher iron intake than any other dietary pattern.
But if Vegans get Sufficient Iron from Their Diet, Why Should We Worry?
The major concern with iron deficiency is not its consumption but its absorption. The concern of absorbability, also known as the bioavailability of iron, is the main cause of iron deficiency in vegans.
Forms of Iron Found in Food
Iron comes in two main forms; one is the heme iron, and the other is non-heme iron.
Heme iron is derived from animal foods and is highly absorbable, whereas non-heme iron comes from plants and is less absorbable than heme iron.
This is because plant-based foods contain other substances like phytates that bind with iron and reduce their bioavailability.
Phytates can be found in many plant-based foods like legumes, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. These foods are packed with antioxidants, nutrients, and phytonutrients.
So, it can be concluded that the reduced bioavailability of non-heme iron is the main reason long-term vegans have been found to have iron deficiency.
Who is at Risk of Anemia?
Vegans are at a lesser risk of developing anemia than the general population. This is because the iron derived from plant-based products allows our body to have greater control over its absorption, which means that the body will absorb more iron when its levels are low in the body, and the absorption would decrease if we have sufficient amount of iron in our body.
In contrast, iron from meat is absorbed without paying attention to the body’s iron status. This can be an unhealthy practice as the human body possesses no efficient way of getting rid of excess iron.
To learn more about importance of iron, we suggest reading NIH article – click here.
So the wisest decision is to meet your iron requirements by consuming a wide range of delicious vegan sources of iron. But where can vegans get iron?
Worry not, we have done the hard work for you and compiled the best vegan iron sources for you.
7 Incredible Vegan Sources of Iron
Lentils are packed with iron, protein, and fiber, which makes them a great addition to a healthy diet. Each cup of cooked lentils has 6.59 mg of iron and 17.86 grams of protein.
Lentils are also rich in other nutrients like magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, and zinc.
Vegans can include brown, green, and red lentils in stews, soups, curries, and other meals to meet their iron requirements.
Tofu is a very popular food item among vegans and vegetarians. It is a bean curd that is made by coagulating milk from soybeans. Tofu is rich in protein, calcium, and iron. Half a cup serving of tofu contains 6.65 mg of iron and approximately 10 grams of protein.
It is available in many forms, including firm, silken, and soft tofu. Tofu can be effectively used as a meat substitute.
- Fortified cereals
Many fortified cereals, like oats, contain a good amount of iron and provide about half of all dietary iron in the US.
Breakfast cereals that contain 100% of the daily value of iron per serving are one of the best sources of vegan iron.
While these cereals are a great substitute for vegetarians, vegans should look for added vitamin D as not all vitamin D sources are vegan friendly.
Spinach is a low-calorie, plant-based source rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. This makes one cup of cooked spinach a good vegan source that provides 6.43 mg of iron.
What makes spinach even greater is it can be easily incorporated into the diet in numerous ways, like sautéing, steaming, adding it to stir-fries, soups, etc. Raw spinach is also used in smoothies and salads.
- Cannellini beans
Cannellini beans, also known as white kidney beans, are packed with iron, providing 5.2 mg of iron per cup.
Like lentils, cannellini beans are rich in protein and fiber, making them a healthy vegan option.
They are also rich in other essential plant compounds and minerals.
Many studies also suggest that the consumption of white kidney beans significantly reduces the risk of heart diseases.
These beans are so versatile that you can include them in almost any dish, like tacos, soups, bean dips, salads, and many more.
- Cashew nuts
Who knew that snacking on a handful of cashew nuts could easily fulfill the body’s requirement for iron. Yes, you got it right; cashews are a very good source of iron, providing 1.9 mg of it.
Cashews can be paired easily with other nuts for snacking and munching; pair them with blackcurrants for a good dose of vitamin C with iron.
- Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkins and their seeds are rich in iron. Adding 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds to your diet every day will provide you with 3 mg of iron, and a glass of fresh pumpkin juice will enhance the body’s absorption of vitamin C.
You can do more research about certain iron rich foods at USDA website – click here.
If you have read everything we wrote in this article, by now you can understand where vegans can get iron and what are some of the best vegan food sources of it. If you have any concerns that put you at a higher risk of iron deficiency, it is advisable to get your iron levels checked by a healthcare professional and seek medication if the problem persists.
A general guide we in our family try to stick to: eat a varied plant-based diet with as many whole foods as possible, and make sure to add some of those iron packed foods. This is the best way to keep your blood iron levels within normal or even higher levels.