There is a lot to be said for following a vegan or vegetarian diet; an excess of iron generally isn’t one of them, particularly vegan iron sources.
Food has two types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin and is found in animal-based foods, notably meat and mollusks. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods and isn’t as easily absorbed as heme iron. In fact, heme iron is absorbed two to three times more efficiently than non-heme iron – so if you are avoiding hemoglobin-based food (as in, animal products) it’s important to make it up with iron-rich plants.
How much iron does a body need? The estimated Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for iron in males aged 19 and older is 8 mg daily; females aged 19 – 50 should get 18 mg daily, and 8 mg daily for females 51 and older.
Here are some of the richest plant-based sources of vegan iron:
1. Fortified dry cereals 1 oz: 1.8 to 21.1 mg
2. Spirulina (1 tsp): 5 mg
3. Fortified oatmeal, 1 packet: 4.9 to 8.1 mg
4. Soybeans, cooked, ½ cup: 4.4 mg
5. Pumpkin seeds, roasted, 1 oz: 4.2 mg
6. Quinoa (4 ounces): 4 mg
7. Tomato paste (4 ounces): 3.9 mg
8. White beans, canned, ½ cup: 3.9 mg
9. Blackstrap molasses, 1 Tbsp: 3.5 mg
10. Lentils, cooked, ½ cup: 3.3 mg
11. Spinach, cooked fresh, ½ cup: 3.2 mg
12. Kidney beans, cooked, ½ cup: 2.6 mg
That said, it should be noted that iron can be a fickle little mineral, and doesn’t always play nicely when it comes to absorption. To get the most iron out of your food, follow these tips:
• Eat iron-rich foods along with foods that contain vitamin C, which helps the body absorb the iron.
• Tea and coffee contains compounds called polyphenols, which can bind with iron making it harder for our bodies to absorb it.
• Calcium also hinders the absorption of iron; avoid high-calcium foods for a half hour before or after eating iron-rich foods.
• Cook in iron pots. The acid in foods seems to pull some of the iron out of the cast-iron pots. Simmering acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, in an iron pot can increase the iron content of the brew more than ten-fold. Cooking foods containing other acids, such as vinegar, red wine, lemon or lime juice, in an iron pot can also increase the iron content of the final mixture.