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  • UHG Team

Iron-rich foods for vegetarians and vegans

Iron is an essential mineral for health. Although red meat and seafood are good sources of iron, many plant-based foods also contain plenty of this mineral.

Numerous vegetables, legumes, and other foods contain a form of iron called nonheme iron, which accounts for the majority of people's iron intake in the United States. The type of iron in animal products is called heme iron.

Although the body can absorb it more easily, heme iron is not essential to the human diet.

By selecting the right foods, people eating a vegetarian or vegan diet can meet their daily iron requirements without needing to take supplements.

In this article, we list the best iron-rich vegetarian foods. We also provide some tips to help people maximize their iron absorption from nonheme sources.

The following are some of the best iron-rich foods for vegetarians and vegans:

1. Lentils - Lentils are rich in iron, protein, and fiber, making them a great addition to a healthful diet.

2. Cannellini beans - They also contain many other essential minerals and plant compounds. Several studies support the consumption of beans to reduce the risk of heart disease and related conditions.

3. Tofu - Tofu is a bean curd that manufacturers make by coagulating the milk from soybeans. It is popular among vegans and vegetarians as it contains significant amounts of protein, iron, and calcium.

4. Amaranth - This ancient grain is gluten-free and contains many other nutrients that are essential for health, including fiber, manganese, and magnesium.

5. Fortified cereals - Many types of breakfast cereal, including oats, contain iron that manufacturers add during processing.

6. Dark chocolate - a 3-ounce serving of dark chocolate provides 7 mg of iron. Cocoa is also one of the best sources of flavonoid antioxidants, which may provide heart benefits, protect nerves, boost immunity, and improve cognitive function and mood.

7. Baked potatoes - Potatoes, especially their skins, are a good source of iron. They are a source of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, resistant starch, vitamin C, and potassium.

8. Spinach - Spinach is low in calories but high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 

9. Dried apricots - Dried fruits are also rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They make ideal snacks as they are easy to eat on the go.

10. Hulled hemp seeds - These seeds are one of the few plant-based sources of omega-3 fats, which are essential for heart and brain health.

11. Blackstrap molasses - A byproduct of sugar production. Unlike sugar, the molasses retains the nutrients from sugar cane, which include calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B-6. This thick syrup is also a good source of iron, providing 3.6 mg per tablespoon. However, it is best to limit the intake of blackstrap molasses to avoid consuming too much sugar.

How much iron do you need?

The National Institutes of Health recommend that women over the age of 50 years and all adult men get 8 mg of iron daily.

Women aged between 19 and 50 years should aim for 18 mg per day, while pregnant women require 27 mg of iron for fetal health.

A person can increase the amount of iron that their body absorbs from plant-based sources by eating iron-rich foods alongside a source of vitamin C.

Good sources of vitamin C include bell peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe melon, cauliflower, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, leafy green vegetables, mango, papaya, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes.

They should also avoid foods, beverages, and supplements that reduce iron absorption for up to 2 hours before and after iron-rich meals. These include black tea, calcium supplements, coffee, dairy, egg, peppermint tea, red wine. Antacid medications also inhibit iron absorption.

Vegetarian foods can be excellent sources of iron, especially when people eat them in combination with a food that is rich in vitamin C.

People who do not eat meat can ensure that they get enough iron by consuming a wide variety of iron-rich, plant-based foods.

Anyone who is concerned that they may not be getting enough iron from their diet should speak to a doctor or dietician.


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