Vegan Iron – Explained


Our ‘Explained’ series of posts aims to simplify the information surrounding vegan nutrition. This article discusses vegan Iron.

Key Points

  • Iron is essential and it’s important you are eating iron rich foods in your diet
  • Eating Vitamin C rich foods substantially helps the absorption of iron
  • Iron and Vitamin C food combos are an easy and fun way to ensure you’re getting enough
  • Too much iron (45mg+ p/day) is toxic!
  • If you are worried about your iron levels go get tested and consult a doctor before taking a supplement
  • If you are anaemic and want to eat a plant-based diet, consult a doctor and/or dietician before doing so

‘Make Sure You Get Enough Iron’

Did you know that iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world? If you were vegan 10+ years ago the issue of iron in a vegan diet is similar to the vegan protein hysteria of today.

Unlike popular belief, vegans can easily get all their required iron in their plant-based diet. Which is great news!

Unlike popular belief, vegans can easily get all their required iron in their plant-based diet.


Is Iron important?

It is an essential mineral. To put it simply, you need iron because it transports oxygen throughout your body. So it’s pretty important. If you don’t have enough iron your body is going to struggle to make enough healthy oxygen-carrying blood cells. This leads to anemia.

The most common signs of iron deficiency are:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Poor mental performance
  • Feeling of coldness in hands and feet
  • Shortness of breath during exercise
  • Restless leg syndrome (common in pregnant woman)
  • Brittle nails
  • Poor appetite

If you feel you maybe iron deficient, go to a doctor and get tested.


Vegan Iron Myths

Iron Deficiency is Common in Vegans

Did you know it is estimated that 80% of the world’s population is iron deficient and 30% of the world suffers from anemia?

There is no sufficient evidence to suggest vegans specifically are more prone to iron deficiency. In fact, there are studies dating all the way back to the 1980s that found there was little to no difference in the levels of iron found in people on regular diets and vegetarians/vegans.

I am anaemic. I can’t be vegan.

It is possible to live a vegan life despite being anaemic. You need to make sure you are tracking what you eat to ensure you are getting enough iron in your diet. You will also need to take an iron supplement.

If you are anaemic and wish to follow the plant-based diet I highly suggest you consult a doctor or dietician before doing so.


Iron Rich Foods

Here is a list of the most common food sources:

  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Quinoa
  • Cashew Nuts
  • Chia Seeds
  • Ground Linseed
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Kale
  • Dried Apricots
  • Figs
  • Rasins
  • Dark Chocolate (80%)
  • Cacao
  • Fortified Breakfast Cereals

How Much Do I Need?

Below are the RDA’s for iron. If you include the food above into your regular diet and keep it varies you should have no issue with your iron levels. The body is quite good at regulating the amount of iron in the body. It absorbs more when required and less when stores are full.

Iron Toxicity is real. Too much iron ‘promotes the formation of free radicals and cause cell death due to excess oxidation of celular components’. The upper limit for iron is set at 45mg per day.


Vitamin C Increases Absorption

The absorption of iron is well supported by Vitamin C. Therefore, it’s important to include Vitamin C rich foods in your diet too. These include:

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Pepper
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Kiwi
  • Orange
  • Pineapple
  • Grapefruit
  • Strawberries

Food Combinations

A simple and easy way to ensure you are getting a good amount of iron and supportive Vitamin C from your food is to create powerful combos. Here are some examples:

  • Weetabix cereal with blueberries and strawberries
  • Scrambled Tofu with red/yellow peppers
  • Oats and kiwi
  • Quinoa bowl with peppers, tofu, broccoli, pumpkin seeds and kale
  • Protein smoothie with cacao powder and strawberries

Iron Supplementation

Do you really need to supplement iron? Probably not. If you are anaemic, then yes.

If you feel you may be deficient or are particularly worried, go see a doctor and get tested first before buying an iron supplement.


Superfoods

Above I listed out the most common food sources of iron but if you want (and if you have the cash) you could opt for these iron-rich superfoods.

Click links to buy


Fortified Foods

There are some foods fortified with iron such as various breakfast cereals and condiments. By incorporating these foods into your daily diet you can work better towards getting adequate amounts of Iron in your diet.

It’s worth noting that getting iron from healthy natural foods alongside Vitamin C rich foods is the best way to incorporate more iron into your diet. Fortified foods should only be used as a booster and not solely relied on.


 Bottom Line

  • Iron is essential and it’s important you are eating iron-rich foods in your diet
  • Eating Vitamin C rich foods helps the absorption of iron
  • Iron and Vitamin C food combos are easy and fun way to ensure you’re getting enough
  • Too much iron (45mg+ p/day) is extremely dangerous
  • If you are worried about your iron levels go get tested and consult a doctor before taking a supplement
  • If you are anaemic and want to eat a plant-based diet, consult a doctor and/or dietician before doing so

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