12 Top Vegan Iron Sources

12 Top Vegan Iron Sources

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.

Read more about iron deficiency

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

Source: USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines for Americans

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.

Read more about the best vegan protein sources

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Melissa Breyer is a Brooklyn-based writer specializing in food, science, and design.