Iron can be one of the most concerned-about minerals when someone mentions they are vegan.
“Where do you get your iron from?”
“Are you anaemic?”
“Do you need to take iron supplements?”
“Are you sure you’re getting enough iron?”
It’s a known fact that meat contains high amounts of easily absorbable iron, but that doesn’t mean that vegans are often deficient in iron! Non-heme iron (iron found in vegetable sources) can be better absorbed by combining iron rich foods with a good source of vitamin C, although many iron rich vegetables (for example, broccoli) are also rich in vitamin C so naturally the iron in these foods are well absorbed by the body.
It’s also important to note that there are foods which can decrease iron absorption. Tea and coffee should be avoided around meal time, as these foods contain tannins, which can interfere with iron absorption. Calcium can also interfere with iron absorption, so try not to combine calcium rich foods with iron rich foods, and if you take a calcium supplement, be sure to take it a few hours before an iron rich meal. Another factor which can interfere with iron absorption is phytic acid – naturally found in legumes, beans, nuts, and wholegrains. One way to lower phytic acid levels is to soak and sprout these foods.
So how much iron do vegans need each day? When you consider the bio-availability of non-heme iron, it is recommended that vegetarians and vegans consume up to 1.8 times as much iron as omnivores. This could mean:
- For men and post-menopausal women: 14.4mg/day
- For pre-menopausal women: 32.4mg/day
- For pregnant women: 48.6mg/day
However, after various studies, it hasn’t been concluded if these increased recommended daily intakes of iron are totally necessary for vegetarians/vegans. So if you are a vegetarian or vegan and eating a varied diet, containing lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and wholegrains, you are most likely getting enough iron. This is particularly true for pregnant vegans – 48.6mg is a whole lot of iron – however there are studies suggesting during pregnancy you absorb more iron from your food so the recommended daily intake of 48.6mg might be a bit of an overstatement.
However, if you want to be on the safe side, you might be asking – where DO you get all this iron from?
Some non-heme sources of iron can include:
- 1 cup of cooked lentils = 6.6mg
- 1 cup of cooked spinach = 6.4mg
- 100grams of tofu = 5.6mg
- 1 teaspoon of spirulina powder = 5mg
- 1 cup of cooked chickpeas = 4.7mg
- 1 tbsp of blackstrap molasses = 3.6mg
- 1/4 cup cashews = 2.1mg
- 1/2 cup raisins = 1.6mg
If you are a pre-menopausal woman like me, by now you might be thinking “Holy cow! That’s a lot of iron I need to eat!”. I’ve made a pretty printable if you think you’re going to need a reminder to keep on top of your iron intake – particularly important also if you are pregnant and forgetful and not likely to remember to eat your whopping 48.6mg of iron each day ;) (although if you don’t manage to eat quite that much, as long as you are getting around 32.4mg of iron, based on the studies I have read I think that is ample for you and baby).
Click here to download your iron sources printable, or click on the image below.