When I shifted from being a vegetarian to vegan nearly 3 years ago it was a question I was asked so many times. I expect I am not the only one to hear that. Even my Dr was a little worried because of my long bouts of anaemia ( not down to wrong food choices). I am glad to say that over the last two years my levels have been good.
I think it is down to the old impression of a vegan being pasty-faced, lethargic, and ready to faint at the drop of a hat.
Why do we need iron?
There is no doubt about it our body needs. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, this is a protein in our red blood cells that transports oxygen from your lungs around your body to your organs and tissues. Not enough iron and this vital function fails and your body cannot make enough of the much needed healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Insufficient amounts of red blood cells is called iron deficiency or anaemia. This deficiency is certainly no joke as it leads to
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of Energy
- Unhealthy pallor to the skin
- Heart palpitations
- Inability to concentrate
How much iron do we need?
Men and women require different amounts of iron per day. For men over 18 and women over 50 8.7mg is needed per day, on the other hand, due to a woman’s menstrual cycle women aged between 18-50 require a higher amount of 14.8mg daily.
Meat vs plant-based iron
It seems that there is a mass assumption that iron found in meat is far superior to that found in plant-based food. It is true our bodies absorb the iron from meat(heme) iron better than from plant-based(non-heme) iron. There are however a few ways for vegans to boost their iron intake such as
- Eating foods high in Vitamin C in your meals, this will help to increase the absorption of iron in our bodies
- Eat a diet high in plant-based iron-rich foods
- Increase your intake of fortified bread and cereals
8 Iron-rich sources of plant-based foods
1.Tempeh and tofu
Both of these contain on average 5.4mg of iron in 100g, which makes it great to add to a vegan diet. Easy to use and works so well in Asian food like curries or stir-fries. My favourite include these Southern-fried baked nuggets
2. Brown and green lentils
Both cooked brown and green lentils contain 3.3mg of iron per 100g. The easiest thing is to add some tinned ones to a salad or add to roasted vegetables with a dressing. Many vegans use lentils as a staple meat replacement in foods such as chilli, cottage pie, spaghetti bolognese, https://theglutenfreeveganalchemist.com/portfolio/green-lentil-bolongese/ or my favourite lasagne https://theglutenfreeveganalchemist.com/portfolio/lasagne/ .
Tin lentils are a great store cupboard item as there is no need to cook them, they have a long shelf life, and so inexpensive. I always keep a few in my store cupboard as well as dried ones.
Quinoa contains 2.8mg of iron in one cup of cooked quinoa. I think it is a fabulous food to cook with as it is so versatile, It works well in sweet and savoury. I love using it as an oat substitute in porridge, in chili and in burgers like these https://theglutenfreeveganalchemist.com/portfolio/sundried-tomato-quinoa-burgers/
It is also high in protein, gluten-free and simple to cook.
4. White kidney beans ( cannellini beans)
A cooked cup of these lovely soft beans provides you with 5.2mg. These are so good in soups, stews and tagines. Another way to serve them would be a white bean mash or used in a hummus type dip. In this cassoulet, I often replace the haricot beans with cannellini bean. https://theglutenfreeveganalchemist.com/portfolio/vegetable-cassoulet-stew/
Other beans are also rich sources of iron including kidney beans, haricot beans and butter beans.
In a cup of cooked oats there are 3.4mg of iron. To me there is no better way than starting your day than a steaming bowl of topping with various toppings, or why not try overnight oats? there are so many recipes out there for them. Making your own granola is another good use for oats as you are in control of the sugar content.
6.Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds such as sesame, chia, sunflower, pumpkin, flaxseeds and hemp are a good source of iron as well as being full of good fats, vitamins and minerals. Pistachios contain more iron than many other nuts at 3.9mg per 100g. Nuts and seeds are so easy to incorporate into your diet and make a great snack, just be wary to make it a handful and no more because of the high fat content.
7. Dried fruit
Dried Apricots contain 2.7mg of iron per 100g and raisins provide 1.9mg. Other dried fruit which are a good source include prunes, sultanas and figs. Again easy to incorporate into your diet as a snack or as an addition to your breakfast cereal.
8. Dark leafy greens
I love my dark leafy greens such as Kale, spinach, cavolo nero and swiss chard. They are all a rich source of iron. Per 100g swiss chard is 1.8mg, cavolo nero 1.6mg, kale 1.6mg and spinach raw 2.71mg and cooked higher at 3.57mg. Mix them up for a super green salad, add them to soups and curries or your hot meals.
There are indeed more such as molasses, peas, parsley, soya bean and fortified cereals. Every little helps to build up to your recommended daily allowance.