According to the World Health Organization an iron deficiency is the number one nutritional disorder worldwide. Women with heavy menstrual periods, vegetarians, and vegans are at higher risk.
Iron is a vitally important mineral. It contributes to the production of red blood cells and is needed to transport oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency include headaches, dizziness, weight loss, energy loss, irritability, weakened immunity, and shortness of breath.
It is not impossible to have sufficient amounts of iron on a plant-based diet, the problem is that many vegans or vegetarians eat too much processed food like fake meats, deserts, or prepackaged meals. Here are my easy tips and tricks to make sure you get enough iron through the food you eat and avoid iron deficiency or anemia.
Not All Iron Is Created Equally
There are 2 types of iron, heme or non-heme iron. Heme-iron is found in animal products, while non-heme iron is found in plant-based food. The difference between the 2 is that heme iron is absorbed up to 3 times better than its plant-based counterpart, making it harder for vegans or vegetarians to meet their daily need.
Luckily there are a few tricks to help your body absorb more iron when you’re on a plant-based diet.
Up Your Vitamin C Intake
Probably the easiest way to get more iron from the food you eat is to add some vitamin C to your meals. This can be as simple as adding lemon juice to your water or meal and opt for vitamin C and iron rich food sources such as leafy greens, tomatoes, parsley, sweet peppers, beets, seaweeds, and peas.
Go Easy On Coffee or Tea
Natural occurring compounds, called polyphenols, in tea and coffee block the absorption of iron. So try not to drink coffee or tea 1 hour before and after a meal to make sure more iron gets absorbed.
Avoid Calcium-rich Foods
Just as the polyphenols in tea and coffee, calcium-rich foods hinder the absorption of iron. So avoid dairy products, fish, tofu, etc. at least 1 hour before consuming iron rich foods to max the absorption.
Natural Iron-Rich Foods
- Pumpkin seeds
- Quinoa and other whole grains
- Blackstrap molasses
- Dark raw chocolate
- Sun dried tomatoes
- White beans
- Unsweetened prune juice
- Dried thyme
- Dark leafy greens (especially arugula, kale, and cooked spinach)
- Dried fruit
- Chick peas
And don’t forget to combine these with vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits, berries, mangoes, papayas, kiwifruits, sweet peppers, melons, pineapple, etc. to improve absorption.
Adult women need around 18 mg a day and men around 11 mg. If you are on a plant based diet, iron is not that easily absorbed and therefore vegans or vegetarians need almost twice as much than people who include meat in their diet.
Make sure to get your nutrients from fresh, whole foods and skip the processed foods as much as possible to avoid further depletion of most essential nutrients.
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